Blessed with a relatively temperate climate, many South Africans enjoy an outdoor lifestyle and a growing trend is to extend one’s indoor living space into outdoor spaces. For high-end South African homeowners, this means that no expense is spared when it comes to creating the perfect open-air outdoor entertainment areas to host guests, day or night, winter or summer.

Christelle Colman, Managing Director of Elite Risk Acceptances, explains that landscaping for these lavish homes therefore typically extends far beyond basic garden upkeep. “From extravagant water features and irrigation systems, to designer statue gardens and semi-permanent bedouin tents; the level of financial outlay that some wealthy South Africans invest into their outdoor areas is notoriously high.”

In light of the prolonged drought experienced across many parts of the country last year, Colman notes that there has also been a trend towards creating sustainable or eco-friendly gardens. “These self-sustaining gardens may conserve energy and water over the long-run, but they do come at a significant financial cost as they require infrastructures to be built (often underground) in order to maintain the gardens, which further adds to the landscaping bills.”

From an insurance perspective, Colman says that problems often arise when damage occurs to these outdoor areas and infrastructures, and homeowners are shocked to discover that they are not covered by their current insurance policy. “Many policyholders make the costly mistake of assuming that their homeowner’s insurance cover automatically extends to protect their garden and outdoor areas.

“We know from experience that this assumption often proves erroneous. This places the owners of these lavishly landscaped gardens and outdoor entertainment areas, often boasting beautiful adornments, at an increased risk of financial loss should they suffer any damages such as fire or flood.”

This risk is especially high considering that outdoor areas are more exposed to potential damage than any other, Colman notes. “However, the challenge with many expensive landscaped gardens is that they are not considered a permanent structure, even though any damage to them can result in hefty restoration costs.

“So while damage caused to a property, permanent fixture or home improvement by an electrical fire, will most likely be covered by homeowner insurance, the same is not necessarily true for damage caused to a landscaped garden or outdoor infrastructure,” she explains.

To avoid the risk of being financially liable for any costly restorations, Colman suggests that homeowners always specify their outdoor features to ensure they are covered by their home’s buildings insurance policy “This is particularly important when renovations and modifications have been made to any outdoor area.”.

Colman adds that homeowners with large trees on their properties should also consider the liability risk. “If a tree that is dying as a result of natural causes becomes a risk to insured physical property, the policyholder will be legally obliged to remove the tree on their own account. Tree removal can cost anything between R10 000 and R20 000, and should removal be required as an effort to maintain the property in an insurable state, the costs will generally be for the insured’s own account.”

To ensure that owners of landscaped gardens are covered in all instances, she suggests speaking to a specialist insurance adviser. “Making sure that one’s outdoor property features are covered by your insurance policy is vital as repair costs can run extremely high. This is particularly true for wealthy homeowners as they tend to have more features. This can be quite a specialised area, as such, it’s always best to consult a specialist insurer in this regard, to ensure that your intricately conceptualized outdoor spaces are properly covered,” Colman concludes.