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October 26, 2016

Stick To What You Know…Or Else Pay The Price

By Jonathan Zimmerman

As the saying goes, “stick to what you know best”. Especially now with Google at our fingertips, it can be incredibly empowering to do a quick search and instantly discover an abundance of new information. However, watching a YouTube video on how to replace a head gasket in your car does not make you a mechanic and entering your symptoms into WebMD does not automatically make you qualified to diagnose a medical condition or perform surgery. The same is true with finding office space.

While anyone can go online and pull up listings, there is so much more to the process in which only an experienced and knowledgeable real estate professional can provide guidance. Tenants who endeavor to conduct the search on their own often run into difficulties caused by mistaken assumptions.

Here are seven of the most common speculations I have witnessed firsthand, along with a few complimentary suggestions:

1) The quoted rental rate is all inclusive. Most people outside of the real estate industry do not know the difference between gross rents and net rents. I recently showed space to a prospect at a Class C building in my portfolio who boasted that he could get a cheaper deal at the Willis Tower as compared to this “dump of a building.” Little did he know, the rents at the Willis Tower (and most Class A and B buildings) are quoted on a net basis and do not include real estate taxes and operating expenses. Gross leases already factor these items into the rate. It is important to find out what other extra charges are included above and beyond the rent, such as heating, air conditioning, electricity and janitorial.

2) Heat and Air Conditioning is available 24/7. Most Loop buildings control the temperature and turn the systems on and off at a certain time each day. Often, Sundays have no service at all. After hours service is available, but at an additional charge which can sometimes be rather pricey. Conversely, many smaller sized buildings do offer tenants 24/7 use and control of heat and air conditioning, but at the tenant’s sole cost and expense. It is imperative to find this out during the site selection process and not after a lease is executed.

3) I can access my space anytime without restriction. While most buildings provide 24/7 access, it is not always as simple as walking right through the door and into your suite. Some properties lock off their lobbies to the outside public at night and on weekends/ holidays and limit access unless you have a key fob or make prior arrangements with the designated security company. If you are a business who sees clients during non-business hours, it is vital that you learn the building’s access policies in advance.

4) Phone and internet wires are already in the space, so it is plug and play. This might be the most common assumption made in error. More often than not, the low voltage wiring will need to be updated or at least modified, in order to get tenants exactly what they need. Before signing a lease, always have a qualified wiring contractor inspect the premises and determine what can be reused and what needs to be replaced. Next, find out exactly what the upgrade will cost. Having to spend thousands of dollars on rewiring could be the difference in choosing one space over another. As a related point, be certain to learn all of the phone and internet providers in the building beforehand, especially if you have an existing service contract that cannot be broken.

5) Alterations can be made to my space without restriction. Most leases spell out in very specific terms the exact procedure that tenants have to follow in order to make changes to their space. Nominal cosmetic alterations are typically fine, but if construction plans are more detailed and involve mechanical systems, the building will be heavily involved. Both your desired contractor and the plans that are drawn by an architect will have to be approved by the landlord; permits may also be required. There are often review and supervision fees involved, so make sure you have a good handle on these before moving forward if future changes are a possibility.

6) When vacating, anything can be left behind without recourse. If you are planning on leaving furniture or other items behind when you move out, do not expect to receive your entire security deposit back. Some, or all, could be used towards properly disposing of the items so the landlord can begin to prepare the premises for the next tenant.

7) The space can be sublet to anyone of my choosing. While the vast majority of leases do permit subleasing or assigning to another user, there are rules that must be followed. Landlords will usually have specific criteria in which they can approve or reject a proposed subtenant. Additionally, fees often need to be paid for a landlord’s attorney to review sublease documents. Know these fees in advance so you can plan accordingly.

It is impossible to plan for everything, but having a qualified and experienced team of real estate advisors on your side while searching for space will limit the chances of falling into the pitfalls listed above. If you determine and clearly communicate your needs and expectations in advance, life will be so much easier moving forward. Be an expert in your own field. Leave the rest to those in the know.