Unless some miracle occurs, finding a new office can be a time-consuming and stressful task. And that’s before you’ve even had time to think about the physical move itself. Whether your business is large or small, there are some key rules you can follow to make the process easier.
Here is my essential ten-point property search checklist:
- Make sure you check your current lease to confirm your lease expiry/break date
Do your research and be 100% clear on where you stand legally before you start seriously entertaining the idea of an office move. If you don’t, you could find yourself a number of steps down the line before you realise that you’re contractually tied up for longer than you realised.
- Be aware of clauses within your lease relating to how you must return your current office to the landlord
Before you signed your current lease, your landlord should have been clear about your contribution towards capital improvements and any long-term repairs/replacements, just as you should have been confident that there was no threat of costly/major repairs. When your lease ends – whether that’s by expiry or because you’ve exercised the break clause – you will most likely be liable to pay to return the office to the original condition the space was delivered to you in.
- Appoint a specialist Tenant’s Agent to advise you through the whole process
Tenant’s Agents/Brokers have your best interests at heart. They assist with property searches, coordinate viewings, give professional advice on rental rates and negotiate deals on your behalf. As with commercial lawyers and accountants, bringing in a specialist Tenant’s agent means you’ll be advised and well-informed throughout the entire process.
- Confirm your brief with your agent before you start searching – budget, location, size and timings are the essentials
If you want to avoid continuously repeating your requirements, and if you want to keep search results on point, then a brief is essential. Make a list of the property features you know you can’t compromise on and also write a best-case wish list. That first list is for your agent. The wish list is for you. Doing this will keep you and your agent focused on the minimal requirements and the upper and lower boundaries within them.
- Ensure you pick the right type of lease for your business needs, whether that’s long lease, short lease or a more flexible arrangement
Generally speaking, short term leases are more beneficial to the tenant than the landlord – think about the landlord’s costs of advertising coupled with legal and agency fees and it’s easy to see why. If you’re a new business – a start-up, say – then chances are you’re not looking to agree on a long-term lease, particularly if you are looking to grow. A key factor in this decision will be the scalability of your business which, for example, could mean that you plan to move to a larger office after X period of time. Your upcoming lease must be flexible enough to let you terminate the contract and ensure you have the ability to exit the property and not be restricted by a commitment to a long-term lease.
- Be careful when registering on multiple property search websites
Property search websites are a great tool, but do bear in mind that it’s not actually necessary for you to sign up to them all. If you did register with every one, it would leave you open to an inbox full of property adverts, most of which are duplicates or not what you’re looking for, as well as an annoying surge in cold calls. Spend some time on each website to get a feel for the service they provide. Read the small print and be sure to tick – or un-tick – those boxes to avoid unwanted spam.
- Be aware that leasing an office is unlike leasing a residential property
The legal process is extremely complex when leasing an office. Your responsibilities to the upkeep and maintenance of the property are very onerous when compared to those contained within a residential lease. A commercial lease is much more open to interpretation from a legal perspective and when approaching the negotiations (commercial leases are highly negotiable, whereas residential lease negotiations are normally limited to rent, security deposit and length of term). In addition, any tenant improvements to the office are often extensive. In residential properties this may boil down to whether you can hang a few photo frames, but a whole host of modifications may be needed in a commercial space.
- Ensure you instruct a commercial property lawyer to advise on the legalities
As with any contractual issue, it is well worth bringing in a specialist for advice. This can, of course, be expensive if they charge by the hour so try your best to agree a fixed fee with them.
- Plan ahead
On average, an office move can take between 6 to 12 months, dependent on the size of your business. We advise companies to plan as far ahead as possible to ensure you take absolutely everything into consideration as well as minimising stress and the likelihood of things going terribly wrong.
- Remember that in their majority, commercial office lettings are subject to three separate taxes
That’s business rates, VAT and stamp duty. If you understand business property tax then you can take advantage of any available tax reliefs and also protect yourself from getting caught out by unexpected charges. Have a conversation with your accountant and ask for advice on how to reduce your taxes wherever it’s possible.
By Tobi Crosbie, Founder & Managing Director, Making Moves