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Open Space as a Powerful Marketing Tool

Real Estate

Written by Derek Wenzell

In determining the value of a home, what’s outside counts. Active and passive open space—parks, walking trails or natural areas—can increase the sales price of a home by as much as 20%, according to a 2015 study by the National Association of Realtors. In both urban and suburban settings, an open space amenity in new communities provides marketers with a valuable tool—a point of differentiation that can have a positive impact on branding and marketing efforts.

Open space and recreational amenities are perfectly in sync with the trend toward healthy lifestyles. Outdoor opportunities for fitness and social interaction are popular with all ages, and all backgrounds. Children want space to play sports, ride bikes and connect with friends. Busy parents look to parks and walking trails to decompress and connect with family after their long day. Boomers and flex workers enjoy convenient, inviting places to pump up their cardio and socialize with neighbors. As a result, developers and planners are serving up a broad range of active and passive outdoor spaces in both rental and for-sale communities.

According to Jacinta McCann, of AECOM, the international land planning and engineering firm, speaking at a 2014 ULI panel, “People are placing a higher value on fitness and social interaction these days. The idea that most family recreation and social activity occurs in the backyard is no longer true. People are searching for the sense of connection and community that is found in well-programmed open spaces as well as for opportunities to improve fitness on bike and pedestrian trails.”

The same panel gives us some creative ideas for space use beyond the typical parks or golf course paradigm:

  • Dog Parks or Dog Washing Stations – These are natural gathering places for people with dogs—or people who just like dogs. We know many parks where regulars bring food and wine and turn a visit into a party.
  • Community Gardens – The local food movement is a great anchor for a community. Participants spend time together planting and maintaining the garden, and often celebrate with a community meal at harvest time. In urban development, community gardens can be located on the roof, both as passive sitting areas and urban farms.
  • Food Truck Courts – Food has always been a great community builder, and the food truck phenomenon brings with it a festive, fun atmosphere.
  • Outdoor Movie Screens – in both urban spaces and suburban parks. These are great community-building events that can be easily scaled to the space. A white wall of a courtyard or building will work just fine as a screen.
  • Access to Regional Amenities – If there’s a regional trail system or bike path or park close to a new development, providing easy access via a connector trail or sidewalk route will prove an asset.
  • Community Farms and Vineyards – there are some exciting developments in Fremont (The Cannery, New Home Company) and Brentwood (Trilogy at The Vineyards, Shea), where homeowners can share in the cultivation and the harvest.
  • Lakes – Man-made lakes provide a double benefit—water views and, in some cases, opportunities for water recreation.

Like everything in land planning and home building, one size does not fit all. Just like product development, the amenities program of a project should be driven by buyer profile. Once the target buyers of a project have been defined, it’s time to brainstorm. Get your team together for a few hours and toss around ideas appropriate for your project and feasible within the context of your plans.

In terms of marketing, these amenities should be front and center in creating a positive brand for the new community. In competitive market areas, they can serve as a crucial point of differentiation and should play a major role in both strategy and tactics. They should be considered as focal points in a cohesive marketing campaign:

Project name/theme and logo. For all buyer ages, authenticity is essential in the project identity. If the open space amenity is authentic to the place—either its history or its future—it should be a major consideration in the project identity. Remember, if you have River or Grove in your name, you need to deliver a river or grove in reality. Good examples: Great Park (Irvine), River Islands (Lathrop), Pier 70 (San Francisco).

Signage. Oft-times the launch of home sales precedes the building of parks, trails and other open space amenities. If that’s the case, be sure to include a FUTURE SITE OF . . . sign program in with your marketing signs. This will alert potential buyers that the amenities are in the works and part of their future community.

Web Site. An invaluable tool in conveying the vision for a new community prior to construction, the web site should prominently feature outdoor amenities. As the amenities are built, renderings should be replaced with photos to convey the message that they’re here, now, ready to enjoy.

Social Media and e-Communications. These vehicles are perfect for a slow drip of information during the design and development process. Design concepts, land plans, construction progress, interview with architects – all make excellent content for social posts and e-blasts to interest list registrants.

Public Engagement. Consider public events to introduce the new community with a positive experience. Examples: farmer’s markets, concerts, art workshops, movie nights, wine tastings—events that feature the outdoor aspects of living in that community. You don’t really need a finished amenity, just a clean space (outdoor or in). Early public engagement contributes to positive brand recognition that’s likely to mean strong sales from the start. Even an informational walking tour to people on your interest list would help potential buyers envision the community and amenities, and built anticipation for the sales launch.

Sales Office/Welcome Center. The storytelling in the sales office should always include outdoor amenities. Be sure to budget for revisions to the displays when the amenities are photographable.

Advertising (digital and other). Make the primary message the big lifestyle picture; the secondary message would be the details of the new homes available. This reminds buyers that their new home is part of a larger lifestyle purchase, which can justify premium pricing.

Think of well-planned outdoor amenities as a way to multiply value: they boost home prices and also provide a strong focus for cohesive branding and marketing efforts. In a hot market with a dwindling pool of qualified buyers, outdoor assets can also serve as a memorable and appealing point of differentiation to help increase demand—which translates directly into higher sales prices.