Faced with choosing business premises, it is easy to feel overwhelmed – with the range of options, potential business interruption, unpredictable costs and, of course, apprehension in committing to brand new offices.
In fact, there are so many options, and with each option leading to more questions it’s hard to know where to turn. This is where agents can play an invaluable role. With their in-depth knowledge of the market, market trends, hidden costs (and hidden savings), and vast insight into the areas you may want to consider, they will not only be able to provide you with answers to your questions, but a good agent will be able to answer questions you hadn’t even thought of raising…
So, to take a step back from choosing a commercial property, first how do you go about choosing an agent and how can you best manage the process? Here are my tips for anyone on the lookout for commercial offices.
- Word of mouth
Think about people in the same kind of business as you, or at least, of a similar size. Are there any that have moved premises recently? If so, ask them if they used an agent, who they used, and whether they were satisfied. This has the advantage of a recommendation that is given after the office move has taken place. An agent may pay great attention to client care, but they also need to help find the right place for their client. If you don’t know any such acquaintances, ask around at networking events. With such a range of attendees and members, this is an ideal opportunity to find a recommendation for a good agent.
- Don’t limit your options
Some people may be comfortable speaking to just one agent before making a decision – especially if that agent has come via word of mouth, as above. However, I would recommend meeting a couple of different ones first, to chat through your options. As with many professionals, you will get a feel for who you feel comfortable dealing with.
Go to a meeting with an agents as prepared as you would be for any other professional meeting. Write a list of the questions you have, but also try to establish a list of priorities in your search for commercial premises. By providing your agent, or prospective agent, with such a list, you will be helping them ask the right questions and narrow your options. Possible items for your list (especially important to consider if you have not had commercial premises at all before) are:
a. Flexibility: do you want a medium- or long-term fixed lease; or would you rather a space you can add to or reduce if necessary, with a month-by-month rental term
b. Do you want to employ your own staff such as receptionists, cleaners, IT, or would you be happy to share the cost with other tenants under the same roof?
c. Do you want to be based in an established ‘business’ district, or are you happy to take a risk in a fringe/less established area?
d. How important are transport links for you and, of course, your staff?
e. Do you want to be in an area with lots of people in the same kind of business (i.e. are you happy to look for collaboration as well as encounter competition) or would you rather snap up the available clientele by being the only one of ‘you’ on the block?
f. Do you need to be in a city centre district, or could you benefit from being in an out-of-town purpose-built office development? How important is personalising your office space? Are you happy to pay for fitting out the premises, to make them exactly how you want them to be, or would you rather hit the ground running and stick with what’s already there?
The replies you provide to answers such as these will help your agent pick out potential areas and properties for you, and guide you in your final choice. Even by thinking about the options above, you will find that you end up with a better idea of what suits your business.
- Be available
At the moment, in certain areas – and particularly London – there is a shortage of space. This means that there can be much competition for offices, especially prime space and space that is riding the wave of a particular trend, and you need to stay in contact with your agent and be ready to make decisions quickly. However, by following all the points above, and with the guidance of your agent, you should have no problem in being able to do this.
Making decisions, especially in relation to an unfamiliar situation, can be difficult to make alone. While your agent can provide information and advice, they cannot take the final decision for you, nor are they experts in your business. Take the opportunity where possible to involve business partners and even employees in the issues under discussion and the decisions to be made. They will be able to provide valuable perspectives you may not have considered and have insights that you don’t.
- Don’t rush
If this appears in contrast to the point above, it probably is. However, there is no point in making a quick decision that is wrong. If you are not ready to make a decision, pause to consider your options. Again, your agent will be able to provide the advice you need every step of the way, from viewing properties to negotiating with landlords to liaising with solicitors and assisting with contacts for IT, fit-out, planning, and many other factors. A wrong decision in these circumstances can end up becoming an expensive one, not only because the premises may not live up to expectations, but because leaving a lease early will be expensive at best and virtually impossible at worst; in addition, a second move in a short period of time is costly both in practical terms and in terms of business disruption.
- Enjoy it
For anyone considering a move from one premises to another, or into their first commercial premises, these are exciting times. Your business is taking its next step and building on everything that has been achieved so far. Your agent will share this excitement and enthusiasm for the progression of your business – and will walk with you to take these new steps.
By: Eugene O’Sullivan Director of Morgan Pryce a London office rental agent.