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Growing gardens & returns

Landlords are probably well aware that many areas are suffering from an oversupply of apartments as speculative building has outpaced the demand from tenants. One of the reasons for this potential over supply is the fact that many of the young trendy tenants that these apartments were meant to appeal to are actually inherently more conservative in their tastes than both developers and investors first anticipated.

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The fact is that many tenants, young and old like having a garden however old fashioned this may seem. An outside space to sit out in or even try their hand at a little bit of horticulture or increasingly agriculture as higher food bills turn us all into a nation of small scale farmers. Landlords know that tenants don’t need a large space.

Even the smallest of outside areas can add another dimension to the living space you’re hoping to let. And, the good news is that it can be created with minimum effort and little outlay – it doesn’t have to be time consuming or high maintenance either.

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Property Hawk has been given some top tips from a national letting agent Belvoir Lettings who have asked some of their letting agents how to create a stunning low-maintenance garden on a budget:

Q. What are the benefits of having an investment property with an outside space?

A. “Properties with outside space can increase the living area of a dwelling and are particularly popular with young couples who do a lot of of their entertaining alfresco or have barbecues,” says Neil Jones proprietor of Belvoir Cambridge. “Families with young children also say they are attracted to properties with space for their kids to runaround or a have a paddling pool. And, for tenants with pets outside space is a real plus.”

A well thought out and well-maintained front garden can also make a big difference to first impressions when a prospective tenant comes to visit. Even gravelled driveways should be weed-free and in immaculate condition.

“Having space for off-road parking can even add a premium to the monthly rent you can ask,” adds Neil.

Q. How can I make a small space look bigger?

A. “Make a plan – and stick to it,” says Neil. “Map out your space on a piece of paper and fill in the details like a jigsaw puzzle, remembering to keep ideas simple.”

If you have room for a small flower bed, choose a maximum of five different plant types and avoid rapidly spreading crawling plants. It’s useful to have a colour scheme too, contrasting two or three colours that work well together, such as lilac and yellow or white and pink. If you can’t find room for a flower bed, a clever use of pots and containers will create the illusion of space. Cluster them in groups of two or three in the corner-spaces or line them against a border wall.
It is essential to create height with tall bushes and shrubs, such as a bamboo plant. A high trellis is ideal for climbers and vines, such as clematis, honeysuckle and morning glories. If you have room, raised decking or steps to a staged seating area can also look very dramatic. Create a focal point of the garden too with a tall-standing plant, shrub or tree. And, don’t forget those sweetly scented plants, such as jasmine, roses and sweetpeas – their beautiful perfumes will make a small space an even more enjoyable place to spend time. Even the smallest of spaces can smell gorgeous.

“Whether you have a lawn, borders or shrubs, always make sure you keep the area tidy and cut back as much as possible,” advises Neil. “Overgrown shrubs or weeds will instantly make your space look smaller and less attractive.”

Q. How can I make the garden low maintenance?

“For an all-year round low maintenance garden replace lawned areas with paving slabs, gravel or slate and concentrate the garden’s focal point on an attractive seating area,” says Neil.

A raised platform or decking can create visual interest with virtually no on-going maintenance. Patios and slab-work are very labour-intensive but a ready-made decking kit for home assembly is a practical solution and can usually be laid within a day.

“Also, choose plants that don’t grow wild and spread too quickly – these can quickly get out of control,” continues Neil. “Clever planting will create an impression of a well-stocked garden, even through the winter months.”

And, remember pots and containers are much easier to maintain than heavily-planted flower beds. But watch out for those vintage aged pots. They may be attractive but the porous pottery can be brittle and may not survive more than a couple of seasons. Stick to durable lightweight or glazed containers which will be able to handle extreme weather conditions and should last for as long as your property is available to let.

Q. Who’s job is it to look after the garden? Landlord or tenant?

A. “Unless stated otherwise in the contract the general upkeep of the garden is usually up to the tenant, much like keeping the interior of a property in a good condition,” says Neil.

A landlord is still responsible for structural problems, like fencing or tree surgery etc, but the day-to-day upkeep, such as mowing the lawn and weeding gravel, is the tenant’s responsibility – for this reason a low-maintenance space is usually the most attractive to potential tenants.
A landlord may want to provide a lawn mower and other gardening essentials to enable their tenants to do this.

Q. How can I create a gorgeous garden on a budget?

A. “The secret to creating a low-budget yet well-stocked garden is all in the planning,” says Neil.

“Forward planning means you can take advantage of end-of-line sales at garden centres for low-cost furniture, paving slabs and trellises. Even cut-price plants can be available at certain times of the year. And, if you have more than one property, buy large spreading plants that you can split between the two gardens.”

Cuttings from your own garden, or that of a friend, are also an ideal way to pack borders or containers without any expense – although they will need some short-term maintenance.
Invest in sturdy pots, too, that you won’t have to replace through breakage – you can sometimes pick these up for a few pounds at charity sales, markets or car boot sales.

“In addition,” concludes Neil “Buy plants which come back year after year and search the web for mail order garden centres – their bulbs and seeds are often much better priced than those on the high street and can sometimes be bought in bulk at a reduced price.”

Belvoir Lettings is recognised as the largest specialist letting franchise agency in the UK, with more than 135 franchises nationwide and aims to have 300 franchises in the next ten years.

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