By Roger Marquis, Client Relations and Business Development Director, Spacesmith
The world of commercial real estate sales is extremely competitive, and to succeed in both up markets and down markets savvy commercial brokers win by knowing how best to position and present office spaces in a wide range of locations and buildings.
New Class A office spaces — with expansive skyline views, the latest and greatest amenities and big, open floorplates — tend to be easier for brokers to present to prospective lessees. The characteristics and components of these spaces are exactly what today’s corporate clients want. For older, non-Class A office space, just the opposite holds true: low ceilings, poor natural light, intrusive shear walls and columns, and few amenities to speak of. These spaces challenge brokers to be really thoughtful and creative in their marketing and sales processes. With older spaces, it’s less about the sheer numbers — square footage, unit costs, and the like — and more about the soft benefits of aesthetics and functionality.
One method or strategy a broker can use to increase their odds of successfully marketing and leasing older, non-Class A spaces is to partner with an architecture and workplace design firm early in the process. Architecture and workplace design firms blend end-user consulting, business savvy and design innovation and bring depth and breadth of knowledge, experience and, most importantly, creative insight and vision that most commercial brokers can use to their strategic advantage. The A&D workplace specialist can reinvent or reimagine a space for a client, and help them see beyond the immediate downside of columns, low ceilings, and limited views and daylight. The toolset includes renderings, sketches, models, case studies, and walk-throughs as well as expertise in workplace strategies, end-user needs and performance expectations.
To paraphrase an old adage, A&D firms can help clients see the forest through the trees.
An architect and workplace designer’s perspective can complement real estate professional services in a number of ways, says Spacesmith architect Elisabeth Post-Marner, AIA, LEED AP. Based on her deep expertise in workplace projects for Fortune 500s and startups alike — with many focused on evaluating alternative workplace strategies to enhance the organizations’ productivity and effectiveness — Post-Marner identifies the following:
- Floorplate review. Assessments of a commercial building’s floorplate will highlight more obvious challenges such as multiple columns, unusual layout shapes and other factors that contribute to a building’s inefficiency.
- In-depth analysis. A deeper dive may reveal subtle and equally valuable insights, since architectural interventions to compensate for the idiosyncrasies of a building’s floorplate and fenestration may not be readily evident. For example, planning depth — the dimension from the outside core wall to the window wall — should be studied. It is the key to understanding a building’s efficiency: Planning depths under 35 feet tend to limit the ability to accommodate needed offices and workstations. On the other hand, ample planning depths of more than 35 feet can more than compensate for other perceived inefficiencies such as multiple columns and odd floorplate shapes.
- Client program studies. Architects and workplace designers can also shed light on how much space is needed for a prospective tenant company’s program. Brokers can help the client see how additional rentable square feet may not equate to truly usable, additional space in every situation.
Shedding light on these approaches, Post-Marner worked with one corporate organization renting multiple floors for their headquarters in an older building. On paper, the transaction’s rentable square footage was significantly greater than at their prior location. In fact, they’d hoped that the increase would allow for workplace growth projected in their strategic long-term business plan, with an interim plan to sublease one of the floors to a subtenant until needed for the expansion.
In this case, the architects were hired after the real estate transaction was complete. “To our horror we saw that the actual usable square footage of their newly rented space was actually less than at their current headquarters, due in part to the fact that the core of the building was 50% of the gross square footage,” Post-Marner recalls. “Luckily for us and for our client, this company wished to explore alternate workplace strategies.”
By revaluating an office-intensive work environment — one with a high proportion of enclosed offices — and by allocating less floor area to certain workstation types, the architects reached the company’s desired HQ headcount, accommodating the growth needed, and even adding a critical program element their business truly needed: a high-end conference center.
“This case study shows how valuable it would be to have the architect and design team on board as early in the relocation process as possible,” Post-Marner says. “We may have arrived at the same square footage recommendation, but the panic and drama could have been avoided and they would have known before their deal that subletting a floor would not work.”
When it comes down to specifics, every case is unique. But each case starts with key tools and related experience, and each culminates with particular solutions to all the non-Class A challenges brokers encounter daily. Identifying key issues is critical, such as tight column spacing, large column enclosures, low beams or floor-to-floor heights, and lack of windows or small windows. Each of these limitations becomes an opportunity to address the client’s specific needs and concerns.
Creative workplace solutions are essential to broker success for older commercial buildings. While a broker may not be conversant in how to apply open-space planning, minimizing private offices and partitions, use of interior glass, or eliminating dropped ceilings, the architect/designer ally can fill in the blanks. The architect and designer can also offer furniture solutions that work best in these spaces, such as using alternatives to traditional, high-paneled cubicles. We can help determine if the client should opt for bench desking solutions or provide more breakout areas, based on their business lines and strategic plans.
All of these ideas should be in the broker’s arsenal for achieving success. These examples also help show how creative visions — and a few basic skills and capabilities — make seasoned architecture and workplace interiors firms like Spacesmith essential to the broker’s marketing and sales processes. Our past projects prove the point, but it’s in the close relationships with top U.S. brokers that our value comes shining through.