An office with carpeting pre-fitted by the landlord will cost you much more – Why?

In this article we explain why you should avoid signing a lease on an office suite or building that has already been fitted with carpeting or other types of floor coverings.

A standard carpet tile layout design in a London Office

The carpet tiles provided with your  new office might well be good quality and well fitted, but are they exactly what you want?

Carpet tiles are the most common type of floor covering in offices, but you’ll also see sheet vinyl, luxury vinyl tiles (LVT), engineered plank laminates & natural wood veneers and occasionally even broadloom carpet.

But which type and style meets your businesses needs best? 

When taking a new lease on a vacant office you’ll want to personalise the space with layouts, furnishings and floor coverings that express your company’s unique identity.  Very often though, the landlord hands over your new office space with an existing floor covering which might be any of the aforementioned types and of varying qualities and states of repair ranging from brand new to heavily worn.  Seldom is it what you would elect to have, given the choice.

So, is this an issue that requires your careful consideration before signing a lease? 

Yes! – absolutely it is.  The fact is that if there is an existing floor covering, then at some point it’s going to cost you,  potentially heavily, either up front,  further down the line or more likely, both.

So why is that?

Firstly, lets look at the reason why there might be an existing floor covering rather than a bare floor waiting for you to apply your ideal choice and design. 

In brand new office building developments or those that have been refurbished to a high standard (prime office space), it is most common to find a new or excellent condition exposed raised access floor ready for you to cover it in any way you want.  This is the ideal scenario and we will explain why later.

Raised access paneled floor in London office with no covering

A new raised access floor ready to take a new floor covering, such as carpet tiles or loose lay LVT

But more often than not, SMEs have to aim their sights on slightly less expensive office space that hasn’t had high spec fitouts, and which usually comes complete with carpet tiles – or vinyl, laminates or a mixture.  This is because the office will have previously been occupied by another company and will, at best, have only received a basic makeover after they exited in order to make it a little more appealing to a prospective tenant. The previous floor covering will remain, or be replaced (usually with something as cheap as possible), but rarely removed and left bare, simply because the sub floor is likely to look a bit of a mess – and costly to clean up or repair – once old tiles are taken up.  At best, removing old carpet tiles and not replacing with new ones would usually leave a sticky residue behind (this is as a result of the adhesive that is used to hold the tiles to the floor) and it would be difficult to walk on whilst prospective tenants are viewing the property!

Clumps of bitumen backing and paper left stuck to the floor when incorrectly fitted carpet tiles are removed for replacement.

Incorrectly fitted carpet tiles are often immensely hard to remove and can leave behind a real mess – as seen here

So why should this matter to you?  Surely you can just take the office on as it is, complete with the new or used carpet tiles the landlord has provided, and get a flooring contractor along to replace it all before you move in. 

Well, yes, you can certainly do that, but here’s the thing.  First and foremost, you will have a dilapidations clause in your lease agreement.  It will normally say that you have to leave the office in the same state, layout and specification as you found it – which means that if the carpet tiles were blue and new, you will have replace them yet again with new blue ones when you move out.  That’s right – during your tenancy, you’ve had to foot the cost of replacing your carpet tiles twice!   

And what if they were really good quality ones, but simply not the colour or style you want?  The simple answer is that when you move out you’ll end up with an even bigger bill because you’d be expected to replace them with the same style and quality.

Can we not take the landlords carpet up and store them, then put them back again when we move out you ask?  No,  unfortunately not as it’s just completely uneconomical to do it this way.    Storage is costly, and in any case a great many of the tiles will have been cut down to fit into the sides of the room, or around floor boxes and pillars, and there’s simply no way they’re going to go back down again the same way in 5 years time!

Another issue is that carpet tiles (and other types of flooring) are often quite difficult to remove. If the previous flooring contractor didn’t use the right adhesives, or, as is often the case,  in a hurry and didn’t apply it in the right way, the tiles can become permanently stuck to the floor and removing them involves immense physical effort and often damage to the subfloor which in turn needs to be repaired before the new covering can be fitted.  This is all going to cost you, perhaps dearly.

The solution? –  It’s simple.  Wherever possible, take an office with no carpet, no laminate or vinyl flooring – in fact nothing but a nice clean sub surface in good condition (typically raised access floor panels, concrete screeded or plywood if over old floorboards).  This then gives you the freedom to quickly and easily lay the floor covering of your choice, and then remove it and dispose of it when your tenancy agreement ends, leaving the floor in exactly the same condition as you found it.   Do this and you pay once, not twice, and you get exactly what you want.  And remember, having to do it twice doesn’t necessarily mean twice the cost. It could cost you many times more if you’re having to replace expensive flooring, or if it involves extensive repairs to the subfloor surface.  

By Crispin Maby, Octopus Interiors

Office Relocation – How Much Time Should We Allow?

Empty office suite in Central London with Cat A type fitout ready for occupier's full Cat B fitout

The office lease is coming towards the end of contract and you need to make that agonizing decision – ‘do we stay or should we move?’

Either way, it’s a huge distraction from your day to day task of running your business and is, unfortunately, often parked to one side and taken seriously only when it’s too late – too late that is to negotiate the best deal, or to find the ideal location, or, worse still, ending up in limbo without an office at all.

Moving office is always costly (and I will go into that later), but missing the deadline can be far more so, and potentially detrimental to your business. So, my advice is to start looking, or at least planning what you want to do and where you want to go as early as you possibly can – a year in advance if necessary – because in my role as an office fitout coordinator I’ve seen it time and time again; property searches, landlord negotiations and the usual legal due diligence & contracts that take many months rather than a few weeks as many had hoped and ending up either falling through or running beyond the deadline (and sometimes going ahead but with serious compromises). You become stressed because the sodding office issue has taken over your life and you can’t focus on running your business, we get stressed because you’re asking us to make a commitment to scheduling an office fitout that you don’t yet have (and incidentally we will invariably not be able to make that commitment which will anger you even more!) and you develop an overwhelming hatred of landlords and their lawyers.

The landlords and their lawyers seem very adept at drawing everything out to the last possible moment. Whether this is by design or simply that it genuinely takes that long I don’t know, but it will more often than not put you, the lessee, in a compromised position whereby you have no option but to sign up to less than ideal terms.

I’d like to explore the main issues you might encounter, and explain why it’s necessary to put certain processes in place.

Firstly, 3 months is simply not enough time (usually) to find a new office, check that it is the right size and shape to allow the layout you need (that’s where people like me can help with measured surveys and space planning), getting quotes for fitting it out and being sure you can afford it, agreeing the Heads of Terms and finalising the contract and then fitting out the office before you can move in!

Here are the staged processes:

  1. Weighing up whether you stay put and negotiate a new or extended lease with the existing landlord, or move office.
  2. Assuming you decide to move, you need to determine how large an office you need, where it should be (location), and how much you can afford. At this point, it is important to factor in not only the cost of ownership of the new office (fitout plus ongoing rent, rates, service charge etc and dilapidations) but the cost of dilapidations on your existing office and the cost of moving. Dilapidations are often overlooked but the cost can come as a massive shock to SME’s. More about this later
  3. Appoint an acquisition agent (a property agent who specialises in finding, rather than selling or disposing of, commercial property) to search for the office and negotiate the best Heads of Terms for you.  You can do it on your own by trawling the internet and speaking to dozens commercial property agencies, but you probably won’t find everything that’s out there and you probably won’t have the experience to know where to pitch your offer in order to get the best price. A good acquisition agent will have instant access to database of every property available matching your brief, and will have the knowledge of the market in order to know exactly how hard the negotiations can be. Of course, you’ll pay them a fee and it could be argued that it is in their interest to find the highest priced property possible so that their percentage fee is of more value to them, but you will find most to have integrity and work in your interest.
  4. Once you’ve identified an office you think might tick the boxes, discuss with the landlord (via your agent if you have one or directly if not) to get a feel for what terms they might offer. At this point its best not to get the lawyers involved until you’ve got an indication of what the agreement might be, and that you’ve addressed items 5 and 6 below.
  5. Get someone in immediately to do some space planning – by all means give me a call and see if I’m free as I’d be delighted to help you if I am –  before you get into any form of lengthy and costly negotiations with the landlord. At this stage, it’s important to make sure that the office is going to accommodate all of your staff with the space, functionality and layout you need. If you think you need, for example, 3000 sq ft, don’t assume every 3000 sq ft office is the same – because it isn’t. Some will have dead space that you’d be paying for but which you can use whereas others will have far more usable space. Furthermore, the floor area stated in the letting agent’s blurb might be the NIA (net internal area) calculated using the UK specific and older Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) code of measuring practice, or the later international standard IPMS3. Both measurements are likely to return different results – possibly considerably so – and more often than not it is the NIA that would be more representative of the actual usable space you will have available to you.     
  6. If the space planning works ok, get a reasonably accurate estimate of how much it’s going to cost to fitout the space the way you want to make sure you can afford it. Bear in mind again the cost of dilapidations at the end.
  7. The agent should now be in a position to progress further with the landlord or their agents in tightening up the heads of terms and, if satisfactory, getting the lawyers involved to progress to a conclusion.

Of course, timing depends on a host of different factors, size and type of office one of them, and its reasonable to assume that the larger and more expensive the office the longer it will all take (not least that the fit out of a large office would usually take longer than that of a smaller one). That said, for the purpose of this article, my experience is in the SME business sector with offices of 1000 to roughly 10000 square feet in size and this is what I’ll focus on.

So, how long does the whole process take?  

Property Search and Legal Contracts:-  Well, as they say, how long is a piece of string?  It might take ages to find the right property and you might then be involved in equally lengthy negotiations with the lawyers to get the lawyers to get the heads of terms and contract agreed.  It never ceases to amaze me how long the landlords’ solicitors take over this matter, and how relaxed some landlords are whilst they have office space sitting empty, costing them rates and generating no rental income, but that’s how it seems to be and prospective tenants should anticipate this process may drag out into months rather than weeks.   And besides that, the prospect of gazumping shouldn’t be ignored either.  Our advice is that, as mentioned earlier, is not to try to do everything yourselves and save money but to get yourselves a good acquisition agent to find you a property to match your brief and to negotiate the heads of terms. Yes, you will pay a fee, but its more than likely that you’ll get the office you want – at a price that you probably wouldn’t have been able to negotiate yourselves. 

Scheduling:-  A slight deviation from the main topic here, but you must appoint a single main/principal contractor to take control of the entire project. This is a legal requirement and you can not commission different companies to engage in different aspects of the fitout works – at least you can if you wish, but you will then automatically take on all the responsibilities of ‘principal contractor’ which is, please believe me, not something you will a) want to do and b) likely to be capable of doing unless you have specific and extensive experience in the construction industry.  The moment in time that you have signed the contract with your main contractor is the time when you can expect them to start making preparations. This will involve CDM as mentioned above (don’t expect them to begin this sooner without a contract) and scheduling (again, don’t expect them to schedule labour resources and order equipment and materials until they have a firm contract in place).  Dependent on the scale of the works and the specification of materials and furnishings, scheduling labour and leadtimes for materials can range from a few days to many weeks.   But as a starting point, on a relatively straight forward smallish project using standard off-the-shelf materials, you should perhaps allow at least a couple of weeks. 

Building Control & CDM:- Before work can even begin, the building control department of your local authority needs to be notified as to what work you intend carrying out. Your contractor absolutely must not start work on site until such time as they have acknowledged your application and formally notified you that it is ok to begin work. This typically takes around 1 week from the time of submitting the application.  Your project manager (usually appointed by the main contactor) will need to produce CDM (Construction Design Management) documentation which would include risk assessments and method statements and, if there is likely to be more than a certain number of workers working on-site at the same time, or if the project is likely to take more than a certain amount of time, a form & documentation needs to be made to the HSE.  On a large scale project this could involve a number of weeks work and planning, but for the purpose of a small project it is possible that this could be done within a few days – possibly whilst awaiting the go-ahead from building control. 

Office Fitout:- By enlarge, the larger the project and the more facets it has to it – i.e. strip out, partition building, floor laying, electrical and data cabling installation, teapoint, lighting etc – then the longer its going to take. Yes, we can put more people onto the job to make it happen more quickly, but this only works to a point. Legislation, health and safety and straight forward practicality means that there is a finite limit to how much can be done at the same time. Processes need to be carried out in sequence and most often one element can not be done until the previous one has been completed otherwise we end up getting into a complete mess, producing a substandard finish and more likely, simply slowing everything down because one trade is getting in the way of another and everything grinds to a halt. So, it doesn’t matter how many people we throw at it because there is a point at which the work can not possibly progress any faster. Other factors that come into play are the availability of materials. If off-the-shelf immediately available products are used, then everything can progress a lot faster than if they have a leadtime of days, weeks or months.  That said, the absolute minimum you should allow for an office fitout should be 4 weeks, and that’s a small and very straight forward job with immediately available materials – and taken from the time the work starts on site rather than when you give the go-ahead to the contractors to engage in the project.  Realistically, you should allow 6 or more weeks for even a relatively small project.  

Moving Office:- Allow plenty of time for the actual office move, particularly if you’re also taking with you all or most of the existing office furniture.  You can not have your staff, your IT people or removals personnel trying to move things in or setting things up whilst the fitout is still in progress. It is likely to be a safety issue and it is likely to delay the completion of the works. 

Carrying out Dilapidations Works:- If you’re moving out of an existing office you will have to honour the dilapidations clause written into the original lease agreement and normally the landlord will expect you to return the space to its original state – i.e. the exact same layout & finishes and in the same condition as it was when you took out the lease. Hereby lies a few problems for most office occupiers, because firstly it can be VERY EXPENSIVE, secondly this is work that can not generally be done until after you’ve moved to your new office – i.e. you need the existing office to be completely empty before this work can start and thirdly, the landlord is probably not going to let you back in to carry out the work once the lease has expired. That means you’ll need to time the move such that you’re fully installed and operational in your new office a few weeks before the lease terminates on the old one, in order to give yourselves time to do the dilapidations work. That means paying rent, rates and service charges on 2 offices for a period of time,  which might not be insignificant, and thus adding to your costs and considerations. 

Very often, given the complications stated above, the tenant agrees a settlement price with the landlord so that they can walk away without having to worry about the dilapidations, but invariably it will be weighted very much in favour of the landlord. 

Anyway, if there are works to do and you choose to do these yourselves, then it can take as long as, and cost as much as, the original fitout you commissioned – particularly now it will invariably involve stripping out and disposal as well as repair and re-instatement work.  

Conclusion

There is no definitive answer here.  There are too many variables that will determine how long the whole process will take, including size of project and how quickly you are able to identify and secure a suitable  office space.  It’s probably fair to say that the property search and contract negotiation is the biggest unknown because much depends on luck in finding and agreeing terms quickly and first time around rather than having to repeat the process multiple times (having found that after space planning perhaps it doesn’t work quite how you envisiged, or that you get gazumped, or that you reach a stalemate in lease negotiations).  

That aside then, let’s look at typical minimum timescales based on a 3ooo sq ft office that has already had a basic landlord’s Cat A fitout (all the essentials such as raised access flooring, air conditioning and lighting and all plant and all finishes are new or in very good condition. In this example, you need minimal design work (interior design work for a large office space can otherwise take weeks or months) some partition walls, carpeting or LVT or both, under floor power distribution system (Electrak or similar) plus floor boxes, power outlets and data cabling, kitchen/teapoint(s) and finally new office furniture. 

Minimum typical timescales based on the above 

Office search:                                  6 weeks
Contract/legal process:                8 weeks
Fit-out from point of contract:   10 weeks

Total:                                               24 weeks / 6 months

Plus, if you choose to commission the dilapidations on your existing office yourselves, then allow at least a further 4 weeks after you have moved out.  

To many readers, this may sound pessimistic – surely everything can be done far more quickly? Well the reality is that sometimes it can, but so often it can take far longer than this (bear in mind we are talking about typical minimum timescales for a specific size and specification of office and fit-out so different briefs will change the predictions). 

The earlier you begin looking and planning, the better! 

  

 

 

 

 

Are Filing Cabinets & Office Cupboards finally things of the past?

traditional 3 drawer document filing cabinet in 2-tone coffee and cream colourBack in the mid 1980s I worked as a sales representative for a company that manufactured motorised rotating carousel shelving machines for storing files and documentation. They saved on floor space by maximising the vertical space high up above normal reach height. The higher the ceiling, the greater the potential for space saving. These same machines are still used extensively today in manufacturing and distribution for storing small parts in factories or depots but I suspect are seldom used any more in offices for documentation. Back when I was selling them they cost upwards of £6,000 which was a lot of money considering it was the 80’s, but businesses around the country still relied heavily on quickly accessible paper documentation for day to day work, and finding a way of storing it locally whilst having it easily accessible was a real challenge.  In Central London where I worked, the big Banks, Accountancy Firms, Insurance Companies and Law Firms in particular were all extensive users of these things, not least I remember that even then the cost of the most expensive office space was approaching £40 per sq foot!  Hospitals and medical clinics were also big users.

The job of us sales representatives included calculating how many machines would be required to store all of the customer’s existing filing, how much space they would take up and whether they would fit. One of my colleagues, Mike, sold a machine to a doctors surgery based on a space saving justification but he completely miscalculated the filing capacity.  This didn’t come to light until after the customer had cleared their filing room, disposed of all their existing filing cabinets and the new machine had been installed. It turned out that not only was a second machine was needed, but also a small extension had to be built onto the side of the surgery to accommodate it!  I’m not entirely sure of the outcome because it was a great embarrassment and our bosses kept fairly quiet about it,  but my understanding was that under the threat of legal action and bad publicity the company had to supply a second machine free-of-charge and pay for (or at least contribute towards considerably) the building of the extension.  We all found this hilarious – but not our bosses.    Mike left the company shortly afterwards but still made attempts to claim his commission on the sale –  unsuccessfully of course!

This was back in 1985 when we still had a typing pool and we would have to wait our turn for up to 2 weeks to have our quotations and contracts typed up on the Wang word processor, and then printed off on a printer that was about the size of Heathrow Airport and encased within a sound-proofed cabinet because it was so noisy.  But how things changed.  Within about 7 years we all started to get our own PCs and we didn’t need the typing pool or secretaries any more.

But still the paper kept on mounting up in greater and greater quantities, mainly because it was becoming increasingly easier to produce and then print off multiple pages at the click of a button. So rather than computers creating the paperless office as we had all been lead to believe a few years earlier, it simply made the situation far worse.  Apart from being incredibly wasteful and bad for the environment, we needed more and more storage cabinets to keep everything from printed documents to the boxes upon boxes of fresh packs of paper and stationery needed to print off the next batch.   

This trend seemed to continue into the early noughties and the office furniture industry did very well out of the sale of filing cabinets and cupboards of all shapes and sizes, most of which were still being used primarily for paper document storage. As a general rule of thumb, we used to reckon that for every two office staff members, one full height (2m high by 1m wide) storage cabinet would be required. We weren’t dictating this – this is what the customers were asking for.  The amount of office space occupied by these things was immense and although they sometimes had added benefits such as a means of space division and sound reduction in an open plan area, the additional foot print required, particularly at London rates, was considerable. 

But finally the change came about, slowly at first but then very rapidly.  Customers started ordering far fewer storage cupboards and began discussing with us their move towards a paperless office.  I observed that this trend began not long after the introduction of smart phones and iPads and the availability of reliable and cheap broadband and mobile data. I was amazed that business professionals far younger than I would attend meetings with just their smart phones in hand, and seemed adept at looking up and carrying out all of their work on just the one device without the need even for pen and paper!  At the time, being an oldie, that was just too much for me –  I found it too fiddly to view or look up information on my smart phone so I would attend meetings with a printed paper version of my sales proposal  because and it would be hit or miss as to whether my laptop would boot within a reasonable amount of time or go into a 15 minute update just at the point I’m trying to have a professional conversation with my customer.  All that changed when I got my first laptop with a solid state drive and I could go in with confidence knowing it would boot instantly and I could view everything I needed with ease.   

Previously it had became acceptable to send only a PDF version of documentation and gone, finally, were the days when a paper copy had to be handed over or sent in the post.  Likewise, it is now increasingly acceptable to sign documents with an e-signature, banks no longer send paper statements, insurance companies file your policy on-line and invoices are e-mailed. So yes, we have finally reached that point where we are, to the greater extent, paperless,  and it in my industry it is shows by the dramatically reduced sales of paper storage cabinets.

But wait, is office storage making a comeback?  Yes, it seems, to a certain extent, that it is. Here we are in 2023 and the office furniture manufacturers are coming up with all manner of different types of storage units for the office and customers are buying into it.  Whether the manufacturers are inventing new needs that we don’t really need for, or whether they are reacting to genuine needs that have not until now had a physical solution for is up for debate, but I can confidently say that office storage is thriving, albeit with very little to do with paper or document storage.   

Today’s office users might not have paper files and documents to store, but they do need somewhere to keep their personal belongings and work items.  With a growing trend towards office and homeworking combination, some workers need a place to store – and perhaps lock away – items they need whilst working in the office but which they don’t want to have to keep bringing into the office and then taking them home again after work.   For many, getting to the office means cycling or running, and whilst there perhaps a visit to the gym at lunchtime, so a place to keep cycle helmets and clothing, running shoes and a change of clothing is needed.  One example of the ways the furniture manufacturers have addressed this need is the introduction of a wide variety of locker-style cabinets for personable storage.

Personal storage lockers in different sizes designed for use within main office space, seen here lining walls and acting as space dividers.

Another area where storage is becoming more relevant is in it’s use for space division.  The pandemic and the shift towards greater  homeworking has changed companies perception about the office, with many uncertain about how everything is going to unfold in the future with questions such as ‘do we need an office at all?.. should the office be smaller?.. how should we use the office?.. how should it be laid out?’  As a result, flexible space  is even more pertinent and keeping the office as open-plan as possible (with minimal fixed/permanent floor to ceiling partition walls) seems to be the way things are going.  But the resulting open-plan space still needs to be zoned, and workers still need privacy and quiet so that they can focus on the task at hand without distractions. This has given rise to the return of storage cabinets, some with acoustic sound reduction properties, to act as space dividers. Furthermore, multi-configurable workstations with fully integrated medium-height and tall storage has proven very effective at addressing such needs. 

'Storage Workstations' used to separate space in open plan offices and provide visual and audible privacy  

Flexible multi-configurable workstations combining desking and soft seating with integrated storage

     



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