How to Lease an Office in an Executive Suite

Executive suites are pretty sweet. These are office space intended for someone who needs a single room or maybe two. They're usually in a nice office building and feature a shared lobby, kitchen, break area, and copier area.

Tenants in these spaces pay a bit more per foot but don't have to provide their own receptionist or lobby. Most of these spaces come fully furnished, and you can be up an running in a few hours.

Some lawyers worry about negative client perceptions based on being in a shared space. I think most of us worry about this more than is necessary. I don't think clients get wound up about executive suites and aren't going to base their hiring decision on this factor.

When it comes time to lease an executive suite, it's worth doing some serious research. When you commit to a year in one of these spaces, you're making a $10,000-plus decision. Give it the thought it deserves.

Here are some issues to consider:

1. Some suites offer phone service. They'll run your number through their receptionist and give you a professional-sounding phone person. Be careful, however, to review the lease and rules relating to ownership of the phone number. When you leave, you're going to want to take the number with you. Make sure that's something you'll be able to do.

2. Some suites offer additional services like Internet, photocopies, faxes, conference room usage, video conferencing, etc. Take a look at the charges associated with these services. They're not likely to be included, and they may be offered at unusually high rates. Don't be surprised after you've already moved in. Personally, I don't begrudge the high fees charged for these services given that the landlords invest a great deal to make these items available. Just know what you're getting into before you sign the lease.

3. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate the initial lease. Many of these vendors will make considerable concessions to get a new tenant. Explore your options before you sign up. Obviously, you're going to get greater concessions when the landlord has lots of vacancies, and this will vary by market.

4. Don't limit your negotiations to rent. Talk about concessions on the add-ons. Seek the use of the landlord's other facilities for occasional use, free use of the large conference room, extra keys, discounts on video conferencing, etc. They're more willing to concede on these extras than they are on rent.

5. Spend some time in the suite before you commit. Ask for a pass to use an empty office for a day. Spend your time observing the people to see whether you'll be comfortable. Listen to the way noise travels through the walls, watch the receptionist, and listen to the call handling. Check out the snacks and drinks. Get a good feel for the place.

6. Take a look at the included furniture. Is it good enough? Will you have what you need? Will the window coverings work for you? Are you going to need to bring your own art? Get it in writing if the landlord promises to swap some of the furniture for something different.

7. Read the rules. Some companies have you sign a lease that incorporates house rules. The rules will likely cover a great deal of ground. Read them first.

8. Watch out for fees for vacating the space. Some landlords will bill you for months of dealing with mail forwarding, etc. Check the lease and the rules.

9. Sit in the lobby and pretend you're a client. See how it feels to wait out there.

10. If you decide to use a computer softphone (like Skype) as your landline, check the rules on that. Some landlords restrict the use of VOIP phones and video conferencing on their Internet connections. Also, find out how much the Internet costs: it's probably an add-on.

11. Don't expect concessions on your lease renewal unless the market is very slow. Once the landlord has you, he or she knows it's hard for you to leave. Don't assume the landlord is going to give you the same deal you got in the first place.

12. Make sure you get any concessions, lease modifications, or changes to the rules in writing. You'll likely deal with a salesperson when you're negotiating and be handed off to the site manager once you move in. Don't expect the site manager to honor any unwritten commitments.

13. Do some Internet searching of your vendor before you even look at the space. You'll find lots of vendor-specific info to help you with negotiating the deal. Lots of former customers, especially the unhappy customers, will give you tips on how they ended up with a bad deal.

Executive suites are a great environment for lots of lawyers. They're a terrific way to start a practice, and they may meet your needs for the long term. The key is to be an informed consumer and make sure you look out for yourself before you commit to the space.

Have you leased an executive suite? Do you have tips you can add to the list? Please do so in the comments below.

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