Finding the right office space can be an exciting challenge for a business. Once you've made the decision to seek your first or your next office, your instinct may be to ask Siri, Alexa, or Google search to "find office space".
Your results will be dominated by listings in free databases of office space (Loopnet, 42Floors, Officspace.com...), paid advertising listings from coworking firms and flexible office providers (WeWork, Regus, Knotel, Servcorp...), and likely some listings from commercial office brokers that represent landlords.
One of the biggest mistakes to avoid when looking for office space is not finding multiple, competitive alternatives. On the surface it may seem like your search has produced plenty of potential alternatives but in fact, the free databases, coworking and brokerage listings are populated and paid for by landlords and brokers representing landlords. Therefore, you are presented with the listings and information that benefit landlords and their brokers, not you the tenant.
Not every available office space is included in the free databases because of the cost to brokers and landlords. And, listings that are included often only quote a range of asking rents or in tighter markets, asking rents may even be WITHHELD.
Paid advertising listings from coworking firms and flexible office providers direct you to their websites to begin your deep dive into their plans, pricing, locations and FAQs.
There is nothing wrong with asking Siri, Alexa, or Google to find office space for an overview of the market through the eyes of a landlord and their brokers. But, the results are not comprehensive, lack key information and don't represent the true market condition for office space.
Consider hiring a broker that works exclusively as your tenant representative who will save you time normally spent researching space and provide the peace of mind that every opportunity in the market will be presented to you. Firms that specialize in tenant representation are only focused on finding value and multiple alternatives, many of which aren't found by asking Siri, Alexa, or Google search.
In commercial office lease transactions fees for the tenant representative are paid by landlords, not tenants. Even though tenant representatives are paid by the landlord, they work exclusively for you and unlike Siri, Alexa, or Google, have a fiduciary duty to represent your needs in everything they do.
Blockchain is best known as the technology powering cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. The "block" is digital information stored in the "chain" which is a public database. The blocks on the blockchain are made up of digital pieces of information:
In contrast, the commercial real estate (CRE) industry has historically isolated information that is essential for searching, selecting and negotiating office leases behind private brokerage in-house databases and an imperfect subscription-based industry database. Much like the travel industry prior to the Internet, the commercial real estate industry is extremely inefficient and lacks transparency.
Standard operating procedure for commercial real estate brokers is to keep transaction information secret and centrally controlled for the purpose of creating competitive advantage. There is an intentional lack of transparency on the part of brokers representing landlords that increases the potential for inaccurate market information. But what if the data related to every office lease transaction and every property was held in an open and shared public blockchain database for all involved parties in a transaction?
Technology-driven information transparency is one of the major disruptive forces on the horizon for commercial real estate and office leasing. Globally, venture-backed real estate tech companies raised $14 billion USD in 2019 Q1-Q2, a 309% increase from 2018 Q1-Q2. (Source: CREtech, Mid-Year Report, 2019)
It is not a matter of if, but when. And when that day comes, you can count on an erosion of the lucrative fee structure in office leasing. The market will eventually demand transparency and the removal of information silos built and maintained by commercial real estate brokers and real estate database companies. Today, the huge commissions that brokers earn are largely justified by the existence of these silos.
Eventually, all markets demand transparency and so too will tenants of commercial real estate. As market information becomes more freely accessible the leverage in an office leasing transaction will shift from listing brokers and landlords to tenants and tenant representatives. This new market landscape will empower tenants to demand more value from their broker than just sharing proprietary market data.
That said, an office leasing transaction is much more complex than booking travel online. No two deal terms are the same just as no two spaces with the same square footage are the same just as no two landlords or buildings are the same.
So, there will be a role for a middleman in office leasing, but it won’t be about sharing lease comps or asking rents. It will be about adding quality, value and services to the transaction. Brokers clinging to legacy business models and fee structures are likely to feel like travel agents in the '90s standing on the wrong set of tracks when the Internet train passed by.