Issues affecting dark, idle real estate
A common problem, especially during our current economic times, is the increasing occurrence of dark, idle commercial real estate. Furthermore, facility managers from time to time are not even informed by corporate management that a location is closing, resulting in an idle property that lacks any clear management. These locations are still valuable real estate investments that must be maintained, however, when the facilities’ operations no longer have clear ownership, maintenance falls by the wayside and locations are neglected.
Over the years, I have visited my share of idle locations, and have encountered numerous problems that are a result of neglect and improper maintenance. Unfortunately, when locations are poorly maintained fire hazards and costly problems associated with its exterior assets can arise. Often enough, code violations, vandalism, illegal dumping and exterior damage result when a regular maintenance program is not in place. Graffiti taints the once respectable appearance of the exterior walls, dumpsters and windows. The appearance of landscaping, which is at the heart of curb appeal, is largely impacted as turf growth is unrestrained, planting beds become weed-ridden and trees require pruning. Without proper fertilization and herbicide applications, plants may die due to lack of sufficient nutrients and diseases. Eventually, Mother Nature takes a toll on parking lots, leaving them marred by cracks, birdbaths and faded striping. Plus, we have all seen what happens when vehicles are not using the lot, it comes to “life” with weeds in every crack. Windows break and lighting systems fail, opening the door to further safety hazards and increasing the potential for vandalism.
As the seasons progress and winter approaches, irrigation systems become a significant concern. If the system is not properly blown out and deactivated prior to the location’s closing, lines will freeze and severe, costly code violations can result. In some regions, snow removal and ice control also becomes a concern as locations must still be plowed and de-iced to ensure fire lanes remain accessible, property maintenance can be performed and any cars that might be in the lot are not snowed-in.
As problems such as these accumulate over time, the real estate value will decline and the company’s image may be tarnished while residential and commercial neighbors become increasingly displeased with the unkempt, unsafe appearance. In situations where idle locations face a similar scenario due to little or no regular maintenance, initial clean-ups must be performed and may be very expensive depending on the level of abandon.
When it becomes apparent that a location will be closing, it is essential that the location’s exterior assets are inventoried and idle property specifications are developed. A valuable resource in these situations is a professional exterior service company. They will inventory the idle locations, and work with you to develop idle specifications for a maintenance program that ensures properties will be maintained in a condition, which would prevent the property from declining in current value due to appearance, meeting local ordinances and upholding a sellable or leasable condition. At minimum, maintenance service should not be reduced to any level less than a bi-weekly maintenance program. Idle service specifications for turf management, planting bed maintenance, weed control, and litter removal on a bi-weekly basis would include items such as:
- Removal and off-site disposal of all litter prior to each mowing/trimming
- Turf mowing
- Sweeping / blowing of clippings from walkways and paved areas at the completion of each mowing service
- Using a trimmer to maintain proper turf height, trim all turf areas inaccessible to mowing equipment as well as around all trees, fences, fire hydrants, buildings, signs, etc.
- Remove weeds and all organic matter from planting beds and all hard surfaces including, but not limited to: sidewalks, driveways, parking lots, curb lines, loading docks and gravel/ornamental stone areas through chemical and/or mechanical means in order to meet local ordinances and keep property from declining in value.
In most cases, snow removal needs and costs for an idle property can be greatly scaled back. A typical scope of work would not call for snow removal until four or more inches of snow has fallen. When a location is maintained with idle service specifications, only the property and building access is addressed with the entrances and main drive lane leading to and around building being the most critical areas. A common belief is that if a fire truck can easily access the building, then the snow removal schedule is adequate. Normally, the liability concern of a slip and fall is excused and ice melt products are not applied. However, an exception to this rule applies to municipal walks, which must be clear and safe for the community’s use. In the event of a major winter storm, more work would be required and specific needs can be addressed at that time.
Step Into The Light
If you or your properties appear to be left in the dark, contact a professional Exterior Services Management® (ESM) company. These service providers are a valuable resource when companies are forced to handle the maintenance of these idle sites and can help shed some light on your locations’ maintenance situation.
Although a location maybe idle and not generating revenues, it is imperative that the location still appropriately represent the company’s brand. An ESM company can reduce or eliminate the worry associated with your dark locations by serving as your “eyes and ears,” visiting your sites regularly and proactively reporting each site’s conditions. Implementation of a management program with reduced idle specifications will not only curb or eliminate the problematic situations that can arise at neglected locations, but it will also improve the curb appeal to sell or release the property, as well as save thousands in potential code violations and property maintenance in the long-run.