How The Outside Of Your Building Can Work For You – Steve Griggs
Property owners know that location, location and location are the three most important factors that determine whether someone becomes a tenant. The floor plan/layout and the actual rent amount also play a huge role, and owners spend a lot of time thinking about these. Just behind those top factors is another that often can be overlooked: the outside of the building. More specifically, entryways and rooftop gardens/entertainment areas.
The National Multifamily Housing Council reports that a property’s appearance is the fourth most important factor in whether a potential tenant decides to sign a lease (behind location, floor plan and rent). In New York, building owners are somewhat limited in what they can do to the outside of their buildings. Expansive courtyards and spacious pool areas just aren’t possible. My advice is to work with what you’ve got. And what you’ve got are entryways and rooftops that could really make a big difference.
A nice landscaped entry is the first thing a potential tenant sees. Little things can make a difference. Entryways are more than just the way to get into the building. They really set the tone for the entire experience. In the last couple of years I’ve seen owners in Washington Heights, Brighton Beach, Ditmas Park and elsewhere take out the concrete in the front entries of their buildings and install brick pavers and plantings—something that has generally been unheard of in some New York neighborhoods.
So let’s look at what you walk on, what you walk by, and how you illuminate the areas leading up to the front door of your building.
What you walk on
For most apartment buildings, any walkway leading to the front doors simply has a concrete floor. Nothing could be less welcoming. The good news is that for not a lot of money, building owners can create a truly unique, clean and welcoming way to get tenants (and potential tenants) from the street to inside.
There are a lot of options for material, depending on budget and the environment surrounding the entryway. Brick pavers, exterior porcelain tile and colored concrete have versatility and relatively low cost. My favorite is the brick paver because it offers so many color choices. Also, brick pavers are “dry laid,” which means you set them in a compacted base and don’t have to worry about cracking. If the paver settles, you can simply lift up and re-set.
Of course, the look of the flooring is only one important factor to consider. Functionality is also critical. The flooring has to drain well and be able to withstand the harsh extremes of New York summers and winters. Speaking of winter, material that won’t be damaged by sand, salt and other snow and ice maintenance material is best. That’s why we typically avoid soft stone like limestone and tend to lean toward a natural hard stone like bluestone. It also helps if you use ice management products that are less harsh on your material. We recommend Safe Step 8300, which is made with magnesium chloride crystals and are less damaging to concrete.
What you walk by
A little bit of greenery can go a long way in an apartment entryway. And a little really is best. Too much shrubbery can make the entryway seem cramped and claustrophobic. But a few plants, spread out nicely, can make a big difference. Much like with flooring materials, the choice of plants is an important one. Building supers need to be educated on picking and caring for the right plants. And that’s critical, because the only thing worse than having no plants in an entryway is having dead plants there. So we work with building managers to pick the right plants: those that have low water requirements and can tolerate snow and salt from the roads and sidewalks. In this case we prefer evergreens and knock out roses, which bloom from June until the first frost.
Lighting the area
If you don’t take the opportunity to effectively light your entryway, you’re throwing away half of a day, plunging your entryway into darkness, or even worse, lighting it poorly. Proper lighting can mean the difference between an inviting beacon welcoming tenants home to stark illumination that makes your building look like a scene from a film noir. The good news is that in the last five years, lighting options have blossomed while prices have dropped. Solar and LED lighting in particular have made significant improvements and given landlords another tool to make their property more appealing.
Now that we’ve talked about what can be done on the ground floor to lure in potential tenants, let’s take it up a notch … as in all the way up to the top of the building. I believe these can be hidden gems that really set one building apart from another. Honestly, the gym in your building’s basement looks a whole lot like the gym in another building’s basement. A rooftop garden, however, can be just as appealing to tenants as a gym. Who doesn’t like a rooftop in the city on a summer night?
The good news is that no matter how much space you have, there are good options. Larger rooftops can have pergolas, outdoor seating, night lighting and plantings. If you don’t have a huge rooftop, large pots with seasonal flowers is a great way to maximize space. You could buy a large planter with a hanging basket, remove the hanger, put it in the planter, and you have an instant garden.
Everyone loves to claim their slice of the earth and a well done rooftop can do that. Let’s face it, New York winters are long, and anything that can be done to extend the outdoor season is a home run.
In addition to the happy tenants you’ll have, rooftop gardens have other benefits as well. In some cases, tax credits are available for certain kinds of rooftop gardens. That’s because those gardens are actually energy efficient. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that “green roofs are ideal for urban buildings with flat or shallow-pit roofs, and can include anything from basic plant cover to a garden. Green roofs also provide insulation, lower the need for heating and cooling, and can reduce the urban ‘heat island’ effect.”
For rooftop gardens, just as with entryways, plant selection is key. In the entryway we were worried about durability due to salt and chemicals. Upstairs we’ll want plants that are good in direct sunlight, don’t require a ton of maintenance, but can also withstand some nasty rain and higher winds. Plants such as ornamental grasses, boxwood and Japanese maples make good rooftop plants. They are low maintenance and maintain their color through the fall. It’s also important to be mindful of the weight of the soil; we use a special lightweight mix in the gardens we create in the city.
Paying some attention to your options on the outside of your building can bring results that truly draw in prospective tenants, and make the ones that you have glad to come home and enjoy their home. In the end, our goal is to maximize the value we provide for our tenants. Spending some time on the top floor and the ground floor can help do just that.