December 9th, 2014
In our 2014 Midyear Report, we discussed the influx of venture-backed companies into Boston’s CBD (Central Business District), particularly Downtown Crossing, bucking the perception that the Innovation District is the destination of choice for this type of tenant. A closer look into venture capital investment activity across these two submarkets reveals an interesting dynamic. It appears as though more companies start up in the Financial District and then grow across the Fort Point Channel.
Matt’s advisory practice is focused on representing corporate and institutional clients in the Greater Boston area. His experience includes tenant advocacy for space users across a diverse array of industries.
Tags: Blog, CBD, commercial real estate, CRE, Cresa, Cresa Boston, Downtown Boston, Fort Point, Innovation, Investments, Matt Harvey, RE, VC
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August 27th, 2014
Whether you are a mature company or a start up, real estate costs are sure to be one of the largest expenditures when it comes to your balance sheet. Often the focus will fall on the coupon rent that you are paying and some of the concessions you are able to negotiate from the landlord such as free rent and tenant improvement dollars. While these are very important aspects of the lease, one often overlooked component is tenants pay more for real estate than they should, due to leasing more space than they need.
Right sizing of space should be a company’s focus to ensure they are not spending too much on real estate. Perhaps you really like the building’s location and the top floor space that has views that could help attract top talent. While these factors are not to be overlooked, is it worth taking 15% more space in order to get a space you truly desire? When you begin the process of either an expansion, renewal or contraction, it is extremely important to take a look at your company’s business plan and project forward (as best you can) expected head counts for the future. For example, how many employees need offices? Are you projecting growth over the next eight quarters? Are you considering corporate standards for your cubes and offices? These are some of the many questions that can help focus on the amount of space a company really needs.
With accurate projections in place, your real estate advisor should help you find space options that could potentially serve as your next home. As you develop options, request floor plans and CAD drawings that will help you see how you could lay out in the space. What you may find through this process is that you may need less space than you had originally thought, and even sometimes, possibly a bit more space. Running a test fit on the potential options will help clarify you space needs, show you how you can most effectively lay out in a space and help you avoid taking too much space.
Right sizing your space should remain a priority through your due diligence phase of your real estate planning. There are a number of ways your advisor can help build in flexibility to your lease should the future be a little less clear than you would like. Clauses such as expansion rights, termination rights, rights on contiguous space, etc. can allow your firm to move into a space without the worry that a long term commitment can come back to haunt you. A conversation with your advisor will help them navigate and negotiate on your behalf to ensure that your business and capital are preserved.
Below is a sample test fit, click to view at full size.
As part of Cresa Boston’s suburban market team, Andrew provides transaction and account management services to tenants primarily in the Route 128 West marketplace. His responsibilities include developing new business, strategic planning, analyzing real estate markets, and negotiating lease transactions. Prior to joining Cresa Boston, Andrew worked as a Financial Advisor at Merril Lynch, where he customized financial plans and asset allocation strategies to help clients meet goals.
August 19th, 2014
Most people agree that renewing a lease and maintaining “business as usual” is the least disruptive course of action a business can take. What they don’t typically realize is how much leverage they have with their existing landlord.
Tenants often don’t realize that if they were to relocate to a different location, their current landlord’s world would change dramatically. Suddenly, the landlord’s certainty of cash flow is disrupted. Landlords face many questions, including how long will it take to secure a new tenant? How much time and capital will it take to build out the space? Construction alone could take two – six months, and the landlord will not be receiving any income during this period. An additional concern is whether the new tenant will request free rent or a moving allowance to bridge the relocation costs. All of these considerations mean a lower return for a substantial period of time.
Most tenants don’t take advantage of these opportunities in order to get the most favorable economic terms. Tenants compare renewing versus relocating and all the out-of-pocket costs and disruption that comes with it. What they should also analyze is the landlord’s side of the deal. Landlords compare the potential renewal terms against the rent they may generate minus the downtime, tenant improvement dollars, and other concessions the new tenant will demand.
One of the most important factors in securing a favorable economic deal is starting the process early. Often, tenants underestimate the time it actually takes to go through the real estate process correctly. Depending on the size of the company, we recommend starting the process 9-18 months prior to the lease expiration date. This gives the tenant the ability to become educated on the alternatives in the marketplace, as well as letting the landlord know that moving is a viable option. Landlords know that permitting, design and construction is typically a four to eight month process, so the tenant needs to have that much time to even the playing field in the negotiations. Controlling the timeline is critical to maintaining options and leveraging your tenancy for all it is worth.
Office leases are usually negotiated every 3 to 10 years, so it is critical to take full advantage when you have the opportunity. Starting the process early and understanding your landlord’s view of the world will only help you negotiate the most favorable terms possible.
As a Principal of Cresa Boston, Dan is involved in the identification phase, financial analysis, business term structuring and lease negotiations on behalf of tenants primarily in the Cambridge and Suburban marketplace. Since joining Cresa Boston in 1999, Dan has successfully helped numerous companies such as ZipCar, Simon Kucher & Partners, inVentiv Health, vmWare, KAF Financial Group, EMC and Oracle. Mr. Sullivan’s extensive market knowledge and experience serve his client’s best interests to help ensure their real estate portfolio is viewed as an asset, and to allow his clients to remain competitive in their respective markets. Prior to becoming Principal in 2007, Dan was the recipient of the Cresa Boston 2006 Consultant of the Year Award.
July 21st, 2014
A few years ago, we met with a local entrepreneur who founded one of the first co-working concepts in downtown Boston. It was a wide open space with a few small conference rooms and dozens of desks that housed a variety of smaller tenants from tech startups to non-profits. We sat in one of the conference rooms and he looked us right in the eye and told us that co-working was the wave of the future. We remember walking out of that meeting filled with skepticism.
Fast forward to today. The primary focus of our downtown Boston mid-year report is the shifting tenant composition in the Financial District and Downtown Crossing. What was once a market driven by banking, financial services and insurance is now tied closer to innovation. As mentioned in our mid-year report, WeWork and Cambridge Innovation Center leased a combined 195,000 SF in the first half of 2014. While these are two of the larger/more recognizable concepts in the area, more and more co-working concepts continue to pop up throughout the city even extending into the Back Bay. Some of these smaller concepts include: Ideaspace, Coalition, Officio, SnapSuites, Workbar, Black House, etc. Prospective tenants can now utilize online networks such as Pivot Desk and Outerspaces. Both of which are fantastic resources for tenants interested in subleasing space and those seeking flexible work environments.
So what’s driving the demand? Why are these concepts filling up at such high rates? We dug into these questions and, as the chart below indicates, noticed a direct correlation between a significant uptick in the volume of “seed” funding rounds and the increase in total square footage/number of co-working concepts throughout the city. While early-stage companies are just one component of these environments, it further substantiates the evolving economic climate and changing makeup of downtown Boston.
For smaller tenants, sharing space and renting desks on a short-term basis is cost effective, promotes collaboration and most importantly, maximizes flexibility. Still, one has to wonder whether or not the co-working concept is sustainable. Over the past three years, there has been a 145% increase in co-working square footage. That said, as long as innovation continues to drive the local office market, these environments will continue to thrive.
For more information, please contact us at 617-758-6000.
Jon Vacca Vice President
firstname.lastname@example.org Derek Losi Vice President
June 11th, 2014
More than 250 years ago, not too far from where I currently sit, colonists rebelled against a King for taxing them, even though they weren’t receiving any real benefit or representation in return. In commercial real estate, your landlord (the King) builds fees and expenses (taxes) into your rent, which you will pay over the course of the lease. If and when you extend your lease, the appropriate fees are paid out by the landlord….whether you have representation or not.
In spite of this, some tenants still consider negotiating directly with their landlord. They say: “I know the Landlord and they have always been nice to me”; or “the Landlord told me if I do not use a real estate broker I can get a lower rent since they won’t have to pay a commission.”; and my personal favorite “we’re friends”.
On the surface, it appears to make sense. But when you peel back the many layers of a real estate transaction, whether you are relocating or renewing your lease, the complex dynamics and variables (both financial and otherwise) are the same. Without objective representation, you are at risk of leaving up to 25% – 35% of the dollar savings on the table.
The question you have to ask yourself as a tenant is this: if I were a defendant in a trial, would I represent myself in court? So why represent yourself in a real estate transaction when there are potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line? A Landlords primary goal is to maximize the value of its building. And the single best way of doing that is achieving higher rents and limiting their capital outlay. For example, in a 100,000 square foot building, every $1 per square foot in additional rent can increase the value of the building by as much as $1,000,000. A tenant’s goal, on the other hand, is typically to pay the lowest rent possible. Two very contradictory objectives.
The reality is that landlords typically will not present the best deal to an existing tenant until they feel there is a possibility of losing them. By engaging a broker to act on your behalf, the landlord understands that there is a real possibility that you will move and they will sharpen their pencil accordingly.
And for all the attention that is paid to the economic terms of a lease, there are many, potentially more important, non-economic terms that should be negotiated as well. At the very least, base years for tax and operating costs should be reset to minimize the tenant’s exposure on these annual cost increases. As an established tenant in the building, with (likely) minimal requirements for capital outlay, a lease renewal is a great opportunity to reduce security deposit held by the landlord – their risk has drastically decreased since the start of your tenancy. For some tenants, flexibility is critical and some landlords are more willing than others to provide termination options throughout the lease. Finally, while more common in new leases, it is entirely possible to negotiate rent abatement in a lease renewal. All of these “non-economic” terms have value and they all may be missed opportunities by not running a competitive process.
A Tenant broker is paid the same way, whether a new lease or a renewal. While our fiduciary responsibility is to our tenant client, leasing fees are typically paid by the landlord. As noted earlier, these fees are built into a landlord’s pro forma as a capital expenditure and they are built into their tenant’s rent. Therefore, tenants ultimately pay brokerage fees over the course of their lease so they might as well get the value for it by engaging a tenant broker. If a tenant is unrepresented, the landlord often times pays that fee to their own broker or even to themselves. Many landlords tell their tenants that it will cost them more if they hire a broker.
The reality is it will cost you more if you don’t…
April 7th, 2014
After a cold and seemingly never-ending winter, spring is finally here. As a tenant, that means receiving your annual operating expense reconciliation statement from your landlord. A year earlier, your landlord started to bill you for your share of the estimated 2013 projected costs (i.e., cleaning, security, maintenance, etc.), and the reconciliation statement that you will shortly receive is meant to reflect any adjustments (usually an increase) in those projections. Regardless of your lease structure (e.g., net, gross, etc.) it is important to review these statements and, based upon the language in your lease, determine if the expenses being billed to you are accurate.
There are many ways in which landlords attempt to pass additional expenses along to tenants, but one of their more common practices is when they “grow” the building in which your company leases space. Landlords rarely increase the size of the building due to actual construction; rather they simply increase the rentable square feet in the building because this is the easiest way to create value for them. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of the tenants in the building.
For example, in 2008, P. Stevens Associates of Boston performed an analysis of 51 buildings in the Boston/Cambridge marketplace (“Why Owners Grow Office Buildings and How Tenants Pay”). Between 1997 and 2007, the weighted average was 5% growth, with one building growing by over 30% and many others over 20%.
A change in property management can also be a red flag for tenants. While the management fee for a property is typically negotiated as part of the lease, it is not uncommon for landlords to pass along additional fees or a fee at a higher rate than had been agreed to. Without a proper review of reconciliation statements, this increase would go unnoticed.
The Need for Audits
Since so much can change on the ownership side during the life of a lease, an important first step in minimizing your future exposure is to conduct a base-year audit of the expenses incurred by the landlord during the first lease year. This will help establish an official baseline against which subsequent years can be compared. Plus, having a baseline will make it easier to determine if future audits are necessary. If 2013 was the first lease year for your company, the only opportunity that you will have to perform a base year audit is right now!
In short, it is very common for tenants to assume that what the landlord has billed them for operating expenses and taxes is correct. However, more often than not, this proves to be incorrect. The impact of erroneous billings by landlords can easily equal six figures or more over a lease term, so prudence suggests that tenants have a professional review their leases and expense reconciliations to determine if an audit is advisable. Cresa can provide you with this expertise at no cost, so tenants have absolutely nothing to lose.
For more information, please contact us at 617-758-6000.
September 5th, 2013
By Mitch Jacoby
Having completed more than 25,000 seats of contact center projects in North America, Cresa’s Location Planning group has developed a keen understanding of vital factors driving successful contact center location strategy. Contact centers (also known as “Call Centers”) can be a Business Process Outsourcer (BPO) which contracts agents to end-users for specific functions such as customer service, technical support, account billing, reservations, and the like. In-house contact centers or, “captives” operate as internal agents for banks, healthcare companies, or wireless phone providers. Here are several key factors driving contact center location strategy -
1. Labor cost
This is the most significant driver for contact centers. Think of the value of $1.00. If you save $1.00/SF on a 50,000 SF lease, you save $500,000 over 10 years. The impact of $1.00/hour in labor savings for 500 contact center agents is $10M over the same period, or 20 times more!
This critical indicator measures the number of people employed within a particular industry or business sector as a percentage of all employed persons. For basic contact center projects, 2% saturation or greater is indicative of escalating wages and high turnover. Saturation below 2% is representative of cost effective labor, lower turnover and greater employee loyalty.
Tied to saturation, companies experience increased employee turnover at saturation greater than 2%, while improving employee retention below 2%. We have seen contact centers experience 100% annual turnover or more, essentially replacing the entire employee population every year!
It is vital to understand who the direct and indirect competitors are. Your company may be the proverbial “800 pound gorilla”, a well-recognized company with a strong brand, and consequently, you attract the greatest number and best employees. Conversely, you may be the low-end of the competitor scale and become a “feeder” for other area employers.
5. Labor availability
Companies must be sure there is adequate population from which to recruit and hire. This is true for both the initial location decision and beyond, since existing employees will attrition and new ones must be hired to replace them. It is also important to regularly monitor the labor pool as new employers enter/exit the market.
6. Real estate availability
Except in cases of “remote” or “at home” agent programs, a building is necessary. Contact centers frequently opt for shopping center, flex and single-story office space with typical occupancy metrics of 100 SF/person or less. In the example above, a 500-person contact center would typically require 50,000 SF. Moreover, expanded cooling and power capacity is also required in these buildings.
The greater headcount as compared to typical office space requires more intensive parking, typically accommodating 6 to 10 parking spaces per 1,000 SF of leased space. This is also dependent on average daily occupancy and shift staffing.
Incentives are often thought to be the “icing on the cake”. Once optimal labor pools are identified and labor savings are calculated, statutory and discretionary incentives should be negotiated for multiple states/communities to maximize economic benefits. As well, it is crucial to quantify the benefits for which a company actually qualifies, as well as determining whether incentives are cash-based and fungible, or tax credits from which a company my never benefit.
9. Time Zone
Companies often spread their work by time zone to save money and avoid paying overtime. Also, in order to meet customer demand, companies will place contact centers in varied time zones.
To support the numerous languages their customers speak, contact centers prefer to hire native speakers of Spanish, French, German, or Portuguese for example. In North America, a wage premium is frequently paid for multi-lingual workers who speak, read, and write. Further analysis of labor availability and market wages is required for multi-lingual workers.
When undertaking a contact center project, it is most vital to focus on labor cost, saturation, and competition, as this delivers the greatest value to our clients.
July 17th, 2013
July 17, 2013
By John Coakley
The recent real estate boom in Cambridge and Boston is attributable in large part to established tech companies either expanding their existing footprints or establishing a presence for the first time. In either case, the motivation behind this urban focused land grab is the recruitment and retention of top talent. Neither Google nor Microsoft had a presence in Cambridge before 2007. They now occupy nearly 700,000 SF in Kendall Square between them. Other tech giants like Akamai and Amazon also have sizable blocks of space, which total nearly 500,000 SF. These 4 users alone represent more than 10% of the entire Cambridge office market and they are all competing for the same talent coming out the area’s top universities, namely MIT and Harvard. As the tenant mix in Cambridge has changed significantly over the past decade, so has the mix of commuters. With the largest concentration of young people, ages 18-34, in the country (36.46% compared to 23.34% nationally according to 2010 Census data), an increasing percentage of the Bay State’s workforce are depending on alternate forms of transportation for commuting purposes. In addition to the MBTA subway and bus lines, commuters are walking and biking using expanding car and bike sharing services like ZipCar and Hubway. In Boston, as surface parking lots are traded for new office and residential developments and the population grows, there continues to be strong demand for commuter parking. On the high end, parking in Downtown Boston can eclipse $500 per month. Across the river in Kendall Square, however, a number of parking structures are actually undersubscribed. With a typical parking ratio of 1 space per 1,000 square feet leased, many Kendall Square tenants are pushing back on the requirement to lease those spaces. An indication of the importance of proximity to the MBTA Red Line in Kendall Square is the distribution of space availability. For buildings within ¼ mile of the Kendall/MIT Station, availability is 0.1%. For buildings within ¼ and ¾ mile there is 4.3% available. I guess when you are competing for top talent in Kendall Square, just having access to public transportation isn’t enough…it’s a matter of feet.
June 21st, 2013
June 21, 2013
I recently participated in a CoreNet Global workshop about the new Building Owners Management Association (BOMA) 2010 standard. The BOMA Standard has been the generally accepted method for measuring office space for almost 100 years, and was recently updated for the first time in 14 years and released in January 2010. BOMA developed this new standard in conjunction with the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), but BOMA is primarily a landlord’s association, so the end result has more benefits for the landlord than the tenant.
There aren’t many leases that use the new 2010 version of the standard. That is because buildings currently utilizing the 1996 standard must re-measure their entire building, including all the tenant spaces. This is an impossible task in an existing multi-tenant office building. However, the new standard is being used in new construction and in older buildings that have been completely renovated. When the new standard was launched I was skeptical, knowing that it was likely to benefit the landlord and not the tenant. Though this may be partially true, the new standard does have benefits for both parties. Under the 2010 standard, the building’s square footage could increase through the new measuring standards, and thus usable square foot (USF) measurements for tenants may increase. Some of the increase is caused by how full floor tenancy versus multi-tenancy measures work. In the 2010 version, there are two options – legacy Method A and Method B. Method A is very similar to the 1996 version in how buildings and tenant spaces are measured. Under Method A it is unlikely that a tenant will see much of a difference, if any at all. Under Method B, full floor tenants won’t see much of a difference, but smaller users on a multi-tenanted floor are likely to see an increase in the amount of rentable square feet (RSF) versus the 2010 Method A or the prior 1996 version. The new 2010 version allows landlords to adopt a “market standard” load factor, which permits a landlord to show a lower load factor for marketing purposes. The RSF for the building doesn’t change, but a greater amount of square feet are applied to the tenant spaces.
Tenants need to be aware that there are significant changes in the method of the BOMA measurement standards1996 vs. 2010, and A vs. B. As a tenant, you will see little impact if your landlord is using either the 2010 Method A or the 1996 version. If you are a full floor user in a multi-tenanted building your best option is a building using 2010 Method B.
If you’re entering into a lease in a new location, make sure you understand what standard is being used and make sure it is identified in the lease. The lease should state the RSF and USF for the premises along with the total RSF for the building and the USF/RSF factor. The tenant should have the right to confirm the measurement in accordance with the defined BOMA standard. Make sure the landlord does not have any rights to re-measure the original premises at any point in the lease term or at a point of expansion, or renewal. Never agree to a so called “modified” version of the BOMA standard, because if you do, the landlord has full control over what is included or not included in the measurements. Some cities, like New York, have local standards and typically include more RSF and USF than the BOMA methodology. Local standards often measure to the outside of the building, including many spaces not included in the BOMA standard.
Always take the time to have the space measured before you sign the lease, and I don’t mean a simple CAD plan. Pay an architect to go on site, confirm the plans, and perform a true measurement. At $30/SF for a five year lease, each square foot is costing you $150. There have been many cases where the plans and the actual space are not the same, in some cases over a 1,000 square feet different, so this can add up to a substantial amount of money over the term of the lease.
If you have a lease expiring soon, make sure you understand the following: 1) whether or not the standard of measurement in the building has changed since you signed your original lease and how it affects you, 2) review your lease and make sure it is not subject to measurement, and 3) if you plan on renewing your lease, make sure all your terms and conditions are agreed upon before your notice date is due. If your lease has an extension option that clearly states that the extension is under the same terms and conditions except for rent, then you are protected. If you miss your notice date you may find out that the square footage of your new lease for your old space may be larger due to re-measurement under the new standard, and this can be easily avoided. I know of one situation where the new method of measurement will result in a 2,000 SF increase in the size of the space simply due to re-measurement. Make sure you understand your lease, and that your real estate advisor is working closely with you to keep you out of harm’s way.
March 20th, 2013
A few weeks ago Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo!, decreed that all of the company’s remote workers must now come to the office and be “collaborative.” Based on the outcry, it seemed as if the world of the remote working was dying. That is not the case. There are so many examples of success in remote working – just as many as there are for businesses where everyone is expected to work together under one roof. Yahoo! Is going through an adjustment period where they need to be more innovative if they hope to survive against the likes of Google, Facebook, and others. Marissa’s decision may be supported by Quarta’s research that appeared in an article by Ben Waber — February 28, 2013. The research done by MIT and IBM proved that collaborative efforts in software development were more productive in co-located operations than not. It is a bold experiment by Yahoo! As they look to reposition themselves as more collaborative and innovative. I do not think for a second that Marissa will abandon the work-life balance needs of her staff, but getting all her folks together will allow her to test the ability of Yahoo! to rise again. There is a risk that many of those remote workers will leave and seek employment at other companies. Good for them. In the end they were probably not loyal Yahoo! workers anyway and were on the fence regardless of the new policy.
I recently visited a web development firm in San Francisco where the staff works together every day in teams. They have breakfast together every day, play ping pong, shoot baskets, and collaborate on innovative solutions for their clients. They never work from home and always work in teams with a buddy system. It was fascinating to see the activity and the excitement in the air. For this company the culture was for everyone to work together side by side driving solutions for their clients in real time and with great success. For them, remote work would defeat the way they run their business. Folks who work there understand the drill and accept that it’s like a 9-5 job with lots of benefits.
However, let’s face reality – this approach does not translate well for most companies. Now, we are a global workforce collaborating with workers with different cultures and languages, on a 24/7 basis. We also have to consider work-life balance issues and allow parents and caregivers the time to be active in their family’s day to day activities. I have written before how we cannot just come up with a standard workspace and assume it works for everyone. It does not. The same holds true for remote workers vs. on-premises workers. Larger companies have the challenge of managing the work style of many more people. I believe businesses need to experiment with different solutions within their operations to find the style that suits their organization best. Business leaders in those firms should be able to drive team based cultures with different workplace and work style platforms to achieve success. This would lead to smaller independent operations tethered back to the organization for support, but allowing the team to generate its own culture under that of the greater enterprise. As our population ages in North America we are faced with a shortage of good knowledge workers. We need to create work style solutions that attract stay-at-home parents, caregivers, retirees, students in order to keep or bring these individuals back into the workforce.
I applaud what Yahoo! is doing and hope they succeed. This bold new step may allow the company to become more productive and at the same time more lean. In the end every company, large or small, needs to encourage collaboration for all workers. Technology can help, but face-to-face meetings and discussions are not as good on a screen as they are in person. I am energized when I hear about new approaches to working that are being tested by innovative companies. I caution corporate America not to look for instant results as sometimes bold changes in work style and the workplace take years to figure out.