Eight Tips for Negotiating an Office Lease Renewal

So I’m meeting with our landlord tomorrow to discuss a lease extension, and I’m in the process of pulling together my thoughts on the renewal.

Our office building is owned by a small group of investors, so we have a personal relationship with the owners/landlord. I consulted with several colleagues of mine, and here are our top considerations for effectively negotiating a lease or extension:

1. Be a good tenant

It’s so basic to sound business practices, but it bears repeating, particularly when you’re dealing with individuals and other small business owners. Resolve issues along the way as amicably as possible -it all comes back to you in the end.

2. Start early and understand your options

Particularly in a very tight commercial real estate market, you’ve got to allow at least 9-12 months for the process to play out. It can take several months to research your alternatives, open up negotiations with prospective landlords (especially concerning tenant improvements), and then come back to your current landlord. And you’ll want to allow 2-4 months if you have to plan a move (assuming you’re an SMBE like us).

3. Understand your market, and particularly concessions that new tenants can extract.

While market rental rates are important to understand, there are a number of other considerations new tenants may enjoy, including tenant improvements, rent holidays, and other benefits.

Understanding these will not only give you a sense for what you might expect if you go elsewhere, but it can also help you negotiate your current renewal. Why shouldn’t you enjoy at least part of those benefits on the renewal?

4. Consult with (if not retain) a broker.

I’m a big believer in at least talking to experts in a field, and I generally recommend using them to represent you in a lease negotiation. Depending on the size of your business, this can represent anywhere from a $350k to a multi-million obligation over a 3-5 year period.

Brokers can give you a sense for the market, current conditions, and offer other valuable input. Face it -while you may know your business better than anyone, you’re probably not an expert in commercial real estate.

If you are going to use a commercial real estate broker, I suggest using a tenant only representative, as they are less likely to be conflicted than brokers who may represent either side.

That being said, they are a lot like realtors in that they only get paid when a deal gets done. The good news is they are frequently paid for by the lessor, but that may affect the terms of the deal.

5. Depending on how much leverage you have, work to ‘share the savings’.

Just as you may want to avoid the headaches and costs associated with moving, your landlord may have the same interest. If you’ve been a good tenant and are paying near market rents, the last thing your landlord wants to deal with is several months of vacancy, showing the space, negotiating and paying tenant improvements, and then having to deal with an unknown. So work to value how much benefit each side is getting out of the renewal and see if you can’t find some common ground.

6. Think outside the box and understand your landlord’s situation.

Your landlord is interested in three things – the underlying value of the property, current income/cash flow from the property, and avoiding headaches. Understanding the relative importance of each can be very helpful in your negotiations.

For example, commercial property is essentially valued at a multiple of cash flow (it’s a cap rate if you want to be specific) over a period of time, with an emphasis on future cash flows. If the landlord is thinking about re-financing or selling the property in 2-3 years, she will want to boost the cash flow in that later period. This can provide you with a path to reducing your near term rental outlays in return for increasing the rent at a time when it particularly matters to the landlord.

7. Put together a spreadsheet balancing overall costs for your various rental options

Feel free to let your landlord know you’re doing this, and make sure that you’re getting all the information you need to make a balanced and informed decision.

8. Get your hands on a bunch of actual lease agreements and extensions.

This can help give you ideas for different terms that you might want to incorporate into the lease that you may not have thought of. Of course, if you have representation, you should encourage them to do this -you’d be surprised how often this is overlooked.

There are lots of resources out there for looking at sample and (even more helpful) actual, negotiated lease agreements

Commercial Property – What to Do If the Lease Is Unsigned

In commercial property management and leasing you frequently come across the problem of the tenant delaying the signing of the lease. It can be for a number of reasons such as:

  • The complete terms of the lease are still being negotiated
  • The tenant is still finalizing their fitout design
  • The various partnership members are not all available for signature
  • The documentation is still with the tenants solicitor
  • The business or government department is taking time to process the document
  • The decision makers are away
  • Approvals for permitted use are delayed at local council

So the list goes on and you will see many variations of the problem. Tenants will give you so many different reasons why the lease is still outstanding. Frequently the delay process is not as it seems and there are other alternatives that the tenant is adopting for their own reasons. Tenants will not tell you the whole truth; that is a fact.

The signature on a lease is then a critical element of making the tenancy available for occupancy. In almost all lease situations, you would want the tenant to satisfy the following criteria before the keys to the tenancy are handed over:

  1. The lease is totally and correctly signed
  2. The plans and drawings associated with the tenants fitout have been submitted to the landlord and are approved
  3. The plans and drawings associated with the tenants fitout have been submitted to the building control board or local council and are approved
  4. The first months rental is paid in advance in accordance with the lease documentation
  5. The appropriate personal or bank guarantees are provided to the landlord in accordance with the agreement to lease
  6. All associated documentation and disclosures tied to the lease implementation are correctly served and satisfied
  7. The deposit required under the lease agreement or lease arrangement is paid

The golden rule in the leasing a property to a tenant is that all lease requirements are satisfied in accordance with the property managers instructions and the landlord’s requirements before any keys and tenancy access are given.

It should also be said that any incentive to be made available to the tenant as part of the new lease structure should not be released or made available until all the six points above are satisfied.

In most instances with commercial property, the tenants you work with are very experienced in business and negotiation. They are likely to be more experienced than the property manager or the landlord. The tenants will set up the leasing situation to their own advantage during the lease negotiation.

So the clear message here is that the premises should not be handed over to the tenant until all lease documentation requirements have been satisfied correctly and legally.

Commercial Property Leasing – Pain Points to Lease Negotiation

When leasing commercial or retail premises there are certain points of negotiation that always create pain for the parties concerned. Here are a few of the big and most common ones:

  1. The landlord wants a high starting rent
  2. The tenant wants a big incentive
  3. The tenant wants a huge option term for further potential occupancy
  4. The landlord wants a tenant but is not prepared to provide an incentive to attract them to the property
  5. The last tenant left the premises in a mess and the landlord will not fix it up until a new tenant is found
  6. The landlord will not refurbish the premises before they have a tenant on a signed lease
  7. The tenant does not want to give any form of guarantee as security in the case of any default of lease

These are the most common problems for the average lease negotiation. Most landlords also think that their property is better than anything else around and on that basis will not negotiate down on any rent to get the premises let. So often you hear that the landlord is prepared to wait it out and see what the next tenant will offer.

In this market there are limited numbers of active tenants looking to relocate to new premises. In some cases there can be 5 properties available for every tenant to choose from. Urgency in the lease deal is not high from the tenant’s perspective; landlords need to know this. They may only get one tenant to make an offer for the premises.

When it comes to leasing premises it is not where you start your lease and rent, but it is more important to know where you are headed and where you will finish. Rent reviews during the lease term can take care of rent escalation to improve the lease, providing the real estate agent negotiates the lease well.

So what can you do with this list of common leasing problems? The best way is to use the pain of the vacancy (in the case of the landlord), or the pain of the need for new premises (in the case of a tenant) to move the deal forward. You should work with the offer that you have and not hope that another will come again soon to replace a low offer today.

Take today’s lease offer and turn it into a valuable lease over the term. Show the landlord the real value of the lease by doing an analysis of the deal using a net present value approach on the lease cash flow over the lease term. It is remarkable how the landlord will soften their negotiation position when long term lease value is explained in numbers.