Renewing A Commercial Lease? Here’s What You Should Consider Asking For!

So, your commercial lease is coming due and you are considering staying put and signing a lease renewal with the landlord. Before you have the lease drafted, think about the concessions you’ll want from the landlord in return for signing on for more years. It’s all about negotiating the best deal you can possibly get from the landlord!

Here are a few things you should consider asking for:

Free Rent

Generally, you’ll want to try to get a free month of rent for each year that you plan on staying in the building. If you are signing a five-year lease, you’ll want to try and get five free months of rent. This will be dependent on location, the property and the landlord. In big cities with prime real estate, it will be a lot more difficult to try to get one free month for every lease year. At best, you might get two or three months of free rent on a five-year lease. It’s also likely that the landlord will want to spread out the free months of rent over the life of the lease (ex: three free months of rent to be applied to the first month of each of the first three lease years of a five-year lease) rather than consecutively in the first year of the lease renewal.

In the suburbs or when dealing with older properties, the landlords may be willing to offer more incentives for long-term renewals like a free month of rent for each lease year. Free rent can also be affected by other concessions which may be agreed to by the landlord.

General Improvements

A lease renewal is the perfect time to negotiate with the landlord to have general improvements made to the office space at the landlord’s expense. This may include, but is not limited to: (1) replacing the doors, windows or flooring in the office space, (2) new build out, expanding or reconfiguring of the existing office space, (3) adding, removing or replacing plumbing, lighting, electrical, fixtures and/or major appliances, (4) upgrading the restrooms within the office space (if applicable) and (5) repainting or touching up the office space. If you’re planning on staying in the space for a few more years, get the landlord to spruce up the place!

HVAC

An often missed or forgotten opportunity is the HVAC system. In buildings where the HVAC is tenant-controlled, you’ll want to know the age and condition of the HVAC system prior to the lease renewal. Most commercial HVAC systems run for about fifteen to twenty years when properly maintained and most landlords require tenants to maintain the HVAC system and have a HVAC maintenance agreement in place throughout the lease term. You should have a pretty good idea of how the HVAC has performed during the previous lease term and you should get an assessment from your HVAC contractor prior to the lease renewal to see whether the HVAC should be a topic of negotiation. In other words, you may want to negotiate with the landlord to have the HVAC replaced.

Depending on the size of the office space, there may be more than one HVAC system. The HVAC can be a split-system, packaged system, water-cooled system, etc. Repair and potential replacement costs of the HVAC system can become quite expensive especially if the HVAC has reached its manufacturer recommended lifespan. If you know the HVAC has reached its end-of-life, why not have the landlord replace the HVAC so that you know the system will be in its optimal operating condition during the life of the lease renewal term.

You may also want to negotiate having the landlord take on the responsibility and costs of the ongoing maintenance of the HVAC system including repair and replacement. Depending on the other lease concessions and the term of the lease renewal, the landlord may be willing to take on the cost in exchange for keeping you in the building as a long-term tenant.

These are just some of the items you’ll want to keep in mind when you are looking for concessions from the landlord as part of your lease renewal. While you might not get everything you want, the goal is to get the most bang for your buck!

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Before You Sign That Commercial Lease . . .

Before You Sign That Commercial Lease . . .

Finding commercial office space can be quite a challenge. While there’s certainly real estate available, finding the right office space that satisfies your business needs, fits your business vibe, is conveniently located, offers your business the flexibility to grow and which falls within your budget doesn’t necessarily come easy. And, even if you should find that “perfect” or “close to perfect” office space, you’ll still need to negotiate fair lease terms and work out the language in the final lease agreement before it’s a done deal. You don’t want to blindly sign on the dotted line!

First, negotiate the lease terms with the landlord. If you aren’t a strong negotiator or don’t feel you have the experience to negotiate, seek an experienced and qualified real estate broker who specializes in working for and in the interest of tenants. They should have insight into the real estate market and relationships with buildings and landlords to help you find the right space and negotiate, in good faith, fair terms with the various buildings and landlords.

Keep in mind that there are various factors which may help your negotiating power including, but not limited to: prominence of your business, size and financial position of your business, amount of commercial real estate space you intend on leasing and the length of the lease term (a longer term lease may offer you stronger negotiating power over a shorter term lease).

Once you’ve negotiated the lease terms to a point which are reasonably fair and agreeable, the landlord will have their legal counsel draw up the lease documents. Be sure to read the commercial lease agreement and all the applicable attachments, amendments, riders, guaranties and related documents thoroughly. Be sure that the lease terms and conditions, responsibilities and obligations of both the tenant and landlord are clearly spelled out and align with what has been agreed to during the lease negotiations. These include, but are not limited to: the start/end date of the lease, the lease term (number of years), the lease renewal and termination provisions, the date landlord shall deliver possession of the premises to the tenant, the date in which tenant shall surrender the premises to the landlord, base rent and any applicable rent abatement(s), additional fees and costs outside of the base rent (ex: cleaning, security, water/sprinkler), annual rent escalation (percent increase), proportionate share of property taxes and other applicable costs/expenses beyond the base year, the base year to be used for calculating property taxes and other applicable costs/expenses beyond the base year, electricity costs (ex: if the space is individually metered), HVAC (ex: if HVAC is tenant controlled – annual maintenance agreement requirement, who is responsible for repair/replacement of major components like compressor/condenser or replacement of the unit(s) in the event of a failure during the lease term? the landlord’s certification that the existing HVAC unit is in good operating condition; if HVAC is not tenant controlled, availability and costs for after-hours and weekend use), security deposit requirement, office space build out work and responsibilities, work to be performed by landlord, work to be performed by tenant (if work requires written approval by landlord), landlord responsibilities, tenant responsibilities, cost for building and office keys/key cards, covered and non-covered (a la carte) building services, commercial insurance requirement, “good guy” clause, etc. These are just some of the common items that typically appear in a commercial lease agreement which you should be on the lookout for and review carefully.

Even as an experienced business owner well-versed in negotiating contracts and agreements, it should go without saying that you should tap into and consult with a good real estate attorney who will thoroughly review the lease agreement and all the applicable attachments, amendments, riders, guaranties and related documents to make sure they are in order and contain the appropriate language to protect your interests. Let me be clear, having a good real estate attorney review the lease agreement does not mean that you should “pass the buck” and not exercise due diligence. YOU need to review the lease agreement thoroughly, make notes and consult with the real estate attorney so that you have a thorough understanding of what you are getting into before you sign and commit to the lease agreement. Don’t assume anything! Ask questions, get clarification and be sure you fully understand and are comfortable with the provisions of the agreement. Don’t think for a moment that any questions are stupid or silly. If it’s ambiguous, vague, unclear etc., get clear, definitive answers! Contracts and agreements often contain legalese which are difficult to fully comprehend and understand and may be vague and ambiguous.

Commercial leases are written for and inure to the benefit of the landlord. The objective is to try and get the lease terms to a point where the terms provide adequate protections, to the maximum extent possible, for you – the tenant. There may be several rounds of back-and-forth between you (and your legal counsel) and the landlord (and the landlord’s legal counsel) before you hash out the final language of the lease agreement so be patient, be thorough and exercise continued due diligence. This is one of those things where taking shortcuts will be more harmful than helpful. Don’t take shortcuts! Stick with best practices!

One final note . . . give yourself ample time to work through the process of lease negotiations and towards a final agreeable and acceptable lease agreement and whenever possible, have a backup plan. If you, with the advice of counsel, don’t feel comfortable with the lease terms and the landlord is not acting in good faith, don’t give in and don’t sign the lease agreement! Be prepared and willing to walk away! You don’t want to be stuck in an agreement for which you will ultimately regret!

Customer Service Can Make or Break Your Business

Customer service is a core part of many businesses. When customers reach out to or for customer service, quite often it’s about a problem or an issue that requires a resolution. Customers are typically looking for someone who is going to listen to and understand the issue at hand. They are looking for someone who understands that there is a sense of urgency, the issue needs to be treated with a level of priority and that it will be addressed in a timely manner. Customers are also looking for accountability; someone to take charge, be responsible and follow through from start to finish to ensure the problem or issue reaches final resolution or is escalated appropriately and promptly up the chain until reaching that resolution.

Talk is cheap! Customers want results!

It’s important to note that this is not the time to upsell or downsell to customers. Upselling or downselling is not a solution or resolution to a problem or issue. These are retention tactics, plain and simple! Sure, some customers may be taken in by the tactic while others who understand the retention tactic may manipulate it to their advantage. For real problems or issues, this will likely infuriate customers, especially patrons. Fair warning: If you’re going to play with fire, you’re going to get burned! Put your customers first! Focus on resolving the issue at hand in a timely, effective and efficient manner. Don’t give your customers the runaround and don’t make them jump through hoops. In the end, it can have serious repercussions on your business and its reputation.

Any business that is defined, in whole or in part, by the quality of their customer service, their customer service reputation and customer satisfaction rating MUST step up and provide an exceptional, premier level of customer service to their customers not only to differentiate themselves from their competitors but also to demonstrate and prove to their customers that they have earned and deserve their customers’ business. Anything less is simply unacceptable.

Making Investments in Your Business in the New Year

As we prepare to close out the year, business owners should take the time to evaluate their current business operations to determine what investments they need to make in their business heading into the New Year and begin planning & budgeting for those investments. This includes investing in staff (ex: hiring additional employees, employee training & education, health & wellness programs, incentives & retention programs), investing in technology (ex: computers, servers, software, storage, network equipment) and investing in infrastructure (ex: office/office space, furniture, fixtures) just to name a few.

While planning and budgeting for potential investments does not guarantee that business owners will be able make those investments into their business at any specific time (ex: due to financial constraints, weak business performance, unforeseen circumstances), business owners should still be proactive rather than reactive. Perhaps the investments may not occur in the first or second quarter of the year but may be possible in the third quarter.

In some situations, business owners may need to front-load the investments to achieve future business performance gains. For instance, if your business is a design firm relying heavily on up-to-date technology, but you are running outdated computers and software, you’ll need to make investments in technology to get updated computers and software NOW, so you can get the work done. If you can’t get the work done, your business will be unable to stay afloat. Likewise, business owners may need to hire an additional employee to help in critical areas to get work done and meet timetables. The successful completion of a client project can result in future projects (and additional income) but failure could mean the loss of the client (and loss of significant income). In these situations, business owners MUST make the investments immediately rather than postpone or delay them to a later date.

To help manage the business, business owners should utilize financial projections. Income projections (and if needed, cash flow projections) can be an extremely useful tool in helping to manage the business but keep in mind that projections are exactly that – A PROJECTION. The more reliable financial information that you have available, the better your projections will be; however, projections are NOT SET IN STONE!

Business owners who are unfamiliar with financial projections should work with their lead or senior Accounting/Finance person (ex: CFO, Director of Finance, Accounting Manager, Head of Accounting/Finance) to create/prepare financial projections for the business for the upcoming year. If you don’t have a lead or senior Accounting/Finance person, consult with your Accountant or CPA Firm for guidance. While preparing financial projections is not overly difficult, it does require a level of experience.