Office leasing: Plan before you act

David Morris

David Morris

Guest post by Dave Morris
Senior Vice President, Colliers International|St. Louis

Before your commercial real estate broker and you jump in the car to start touring office space, be sure to do your homework. An office relocation can bring unnecessary stress to your business so it’s extremely important to allow time for strategic preparation prior to looking for space.

Spatial trends

How much space do you currently occupy? Is it enough or can it be more efficient? The “corporate footprint” has shrunk considerably over the past several years. Today, the average is about 170 square feet per person. This includes employee work areas, conferencing space, reception and/or lobby, break rooms, equipment areas, etc. Do you know the trend of space usage in your industry?

One scary thought about the shrinking corporate footprint is that buildings older than about 10 years were engineered to accommodate a density of 300 to 400 square feet per person. That has an important impact on restroom capacities, parking density, lighting and HVAC needs. Many buildings have not been renovated to accommodate today’s space needs. And it may not be possible to renovate these older buildings.

Determine the number of private offices you will need and their size. How many workstations are needed and what is comfortable? Do you require a sit-in break room or will you go with the trend of creating more collaborative areas? Can you consolidate your storage needs with technology?

Organizations should try to team with a commercial real estate broker and/or an architect at the beginning of their search to help them assess short- and long-term needs. These professionals should be able to help you understand what companies are doing today in space design and efficiencies.

What are some building characteristics that will be important? Things that usually weigh heavily in a decision include the image of the building (class A/B/C), parking ratio, occupancy cost, signage, floor location and proximity to clients and labor force, as well as building services like vending, elevator lobby exposure, access to fiber optics and the financial strength of the owner.

Bottom line impact

What is your current monthly rent (not rent per square foot)? If your company is growing, you will most likely need to plan an increase for the monthly rent budget in anticipation of taking on additional space. Your commercial real estate broker should provide you with some recent sale or lease comparables from the submarkets you’re considering. This will give you a good sense of what to expect during the negotiation process.

Anticipate moving costs for the month you will relocate. Also, it’s likely you will need to upgrade your internet and other technology to keep pace with today and the future.

Where to look?

Has your industry, customers or competition made strategic moves recently? Have your commercial real estate broker chart your competitors on a map. Plot your clients and prospective clients. Another good idea is to plot the zip codes of your employees to see how they may be impacted by moving to a new area. Commuting time is a key consideration for existing employees and recruiting new ones.

Consider what developments may be planned or on-going that might impact a certain location’s access, congestion or create disruption due to construction. What area amenities will be important to have access to?

Culture

A great deal of consideration needs to be given to the corporate culture you’re trying to create. Corporate culture typically has direct impact on your customer’s experience and employee productivity, retention and recruiting. Can an office relocation give you the opportunity to improve (or totally change) your current culture? Your commercial real estate broker should help you brainstorm. Finally, it is important to solicit input from key employees and let them help you shape the future.

Timing your move

For a typical tenant, begin laying the groundwork a year in advance of a potential relocation. The critical steps to an office relocation take more time than most people anticipate. Steps include hiring a commercial real estate broker (1-2 weeks), defining your space needs (1-2 weeks), reviewing property surveys (1-2 weeks), property tours (1-2 days), short listing properties (1 week), preparing preliminary space plans (2-3 weeks), obtaining preliminary construction estimates (2-3 weeks), proposal process (commonly referred to as RFPs, 3-4 weeks), negotiate/finalize lease terms (3-4 weeks), draft/negotiate lease document (4-6 weeks), prepare construction documents (3-4 weeks), obtain construction permits (2-4 weeks), construction (3-9 weeks) and finally move-in (2-3 days).

Most tenants time an office relocation with the expiration of their existing lease. Ideally, you should prepare to move when your business cycle is slow. Accounting firms, for example, usually avoid moving between January and April. Others avoid the holiday season to avoid additional stress on their employees. Timing an office relocation during the holidays can also create delays with contractors trying to complete projects because their employees take vacation during the holidays.

Weighing key elements

Ideally, write down the answers to the question above. Share them with key employees to solicit their feedback. When you tour spaces, ask your commercial real estate broker to create a matrix listing the key elements of a particular building then let your team rate how well the building matches key elements. Summarize the results to see if one property stands out as a preferred location. This truly helps drive objectivity to an office relocation decision.

Hiring a commercial real estate broker

As you can see, there are many steps to an office relocation and if you are unfamiliar with leasing or purchasing commercial real estate, you should solicit the help of a professional. A commercial real estate broker will have the experience to help you navigate the process, think of things you might not think of, and negotiate on your behalf to get the best rental terms. An experience broker will have worked with multiple businesses and know the office market giving you expert insight to facilitate your commercial real estate decisions. Additionally, their fees are typically paid by the landlord and are factored into the rental terms. A commission is not “saved” if you try to represent yourself, in fact, it could end up costing your business.

Morris is a 25-year industry veteran, currently serving as a senior vice president with Colliers International|St. Louis. He earned his CCIM designation in 1996 and his SIOR designation in 2000.

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