Vacant Commercial Property? How to Maintain (& Improve!) Curb Appeal

Even when a commercial space is vacant, whether it’s for sale or lease, or the owners or tenants have closed the business or moved elsewhere, it’s still important to maintain the building – as well as the outdoor spaces surrounding it.

Risks Associated with Unmaintained Vacant Commercial Properties

Vacant commercial premises of all types and sizes can be a target for vandals, thieves, arsonists, and even squatters. The damage done not only diminishes the value of the property, but it also increases the risk of potential litigation and may not be covered by your insurance policy.

For office, retail, and industrial spaces, the Insurance Services Office (ISO) Building and Personal Property Form CP 00 10 specifies that

A building is considered vacant unless at least 31% of its total square footage is rented to a lessee or sub-lessee to conduct its customary operations and/or used by the property owner to conduct customary operations.

If your commercial building is vacant for longer than 60 days, it may lose coverage for loss caused by vandalism, theft, water damage, broken glass, and sprinkler leakage. You’ll also find that standard business insurance lowers loss payments by 15% for the majority of losses that occur on vacant property.

In addition to any loss or property damage that may occur, keep in mind that the owner of a property can be held liable for criminal activities or accidents that take place on the premises.

NOTE: Always notify your insurance company about the vacancy so proper coverage can be continued.

Simple Steps to Lower the Risk

While we understand the desire to conserve scarce resources during times of economic uncertainty, we encourage you to take a proactive approach to maintaining the value of closed locations. This is not the time to cut back on landscape maintenance or reduce the frequency of recurring services, such as mowing and snow removal. Taking responsibility for the appearance and integrity of the building and public spaces will help protect your investment and make it easier to sell or lease.

Below, we recommend some simple and cost-effective actions commercial property owners can take to safeguard their vacant buildings, as well as some small enhancements that can reduce future maintenance costs if planned (and executed) appropriately.

Keep Up with Ongoing Maintenance

If nothing else, ensure that basic landscape maintenance continues on its regular schedule to help project an “occupied” appearance and decrease the risk of sustaining damage. This applies to services such as:

  • lawn maintenance
  • bed maintenance
  • edging
  • mulching
  • pruning
  • leaf removal
  • snow and ice management
  • sweeping and trash pick-up

Ensure that the quality of landscape maintenance remains at high standards. When things start to slip, it’s obvious to tenants and passers-by that the building isn’t well cared for – plus, it will cost you more in the long run.

For example, large clumps of clippings left in the turf will kill the grass, while sheared plant material will thin out and start to die back from the bottom (unlike pruned plants). In both cases, the cost to remove and replace the dead plant material will far exceed the cost of ongoing, high-quality maintenance.

Treat turf with weed applications and fertilizer to strengthen roots, eliminate unsightly weeds, and enhance the lush green color.

Regularly remove trash and/or combustible items (such as brush, scrap materials, and dead plants) that could show that the building is not being maintained and make it more vulnerable to fire.

Keep parking areas and sidewalks in good condition, remove fallen leaves that could pose a slip hazard, and ensure that these areas are properly cleared of ice or snow during the winter.

PRO TIP – With many owners and mangers absent or choosing not to visit their properties, we’ve noticed that not all contractors are maintaining properties as specified in their contracts. We encourage you to inspect your property regularly to make sure your current provider is living up to their contract and that all maintenance is properly performed. Here are 11 things to look for >>

Consider Affordable Landscape Enhancements

You don’t have to spend a lot to improve the appearance or functionality of your commercial landscaping and help it stand out. Simple enhancements can make a big impact on how appealing the landscaped area is to passers-by and potential buyers, customers, or tenants.

We recommend focusing on these five quick and affordable opportunities for improvement to your vacant commercial property:

Remove Eyesores & Safety Hazards

While regular maintenance should take care of many items that detract from the overall appearance of your property, some things fall outside the scope of maintenance contracts. Take advantage of fewer people on site while the property is vacant or under-utilized by taking care of larger landscape tasks now.

Simple things to look for and handle now include:

  • Dead, dying, or diseased plant material that should be removed (larger tree removals, particularly those involving heavy equipment, are easier to manage when a property is vacant)
  • Dead, overgrown, or unshapely woody plants that should be cut down/back
  • Tree and shrub stumps should be removed
  • Damaged areas in turf, as well as areas where a tree was removed, should be seeded or sodded
  • Inspect the property for significant hazards (for example, broken railings or steps, cracked sidewalks, broken or non-functioning outdoor lighting) that could cause injuries to anyone on the property and have them fixed ASAP.

Freshen up Entrances

Consider how the entrance to your property looks from the street, as well as its appearance to people entering the building. Is it tired looking? Dull and uninspiring? Dark and foreboding?

Draw positive attention to your property by creating a more inviting and appealing entrance. For example:

  • Add color and texture to the landscape by planting perennials with interesting foliage, long-lasting blooms, and/or multi-season interest.
  • Pops of color from seasonal annuals in targeted locations can be achieved with minimal cost.
  • A few strategically-placed containers planted with evergreen shrubs can catch the eye

Improve Hardscapes

Damaged, worn, discolored and otherwise unappealing hardscapes detract from the overall look of your property. But a few well-placed upgrades can have a huge effect, giving your landscape a fresh new look and making it safer. Consider these options that will give you more bang for your buck:

  • Look for areas that would benefit from a facelift, rather than needing a complete overhaul.
  • Replace cracked or broken concrete with concrete pavers or natural stone such as travertine.
  • Protect turf and add convenience by laying a pathway where people normally walk across turf areas.
  • Build retaining walls made of brick, stacked stone, or other masonry to act as a decorative border, provide a natural seating area, and/or retain soil and prevent erosion.
  • Build an arbor, pergola, or trellis to define outdoor spaces, create shade, hide an unsightly view, and/or grow for flowering vines.

Add Amenities

With daily life now involving “social distancing” and gathering in outdoor spaces, you can attract more people to your property by installing small amenities that are appealing to people. For example, consider adding these options that encourage people to enjoy more time outdoors:

  • Seating areas with low maintenance plantings
  • Natural pathways for relaxing and de-stressing
  • Water features that bring soothing sounds when things are crazy
  • Low voltage lighting to enhance safety and increase the time people can spend outside


A cluttered landscape is not only visually unappealing, but it’s also more difficult and costly to maintain. Reduce the amount of work required to keep your property looking its best with these tips:

  • Remove plants from over-crowded planting areas.
  • Reduce the number of containers that need to be hand-watered.
  • Consider replacing worn turf areas with a thick layer of organic mulch.
  • Plant beds with drifts of the same plants, or plants with similar water and light requirements.

Need Some Help?

Closures or vacancies represent some of the greatest risks to your commercial property. This is the time to protect your investment with ongoing maintenance and even increase its value and appeal by making small, smart enhancements.

If you’re trying to decide how best to budget maintenance and enhancements for your property over the coming year, give us a call. You may be surprised to learn what we can do for you!


Contact Us

Give us a call at 410-648-2820 or use our contact form. We'd love to talk with you about any of your landscape needs!