2009 Small Business Guide
small business
6 tips for renting small business space

The global financial crisis and recession haven't exactly been a boon for small businesses. But one area where the turmoil has created opportunities for entrepreneurs is in renting real estate space.

"Overall, this has become a tenant's market," says Stuart Siegel, executive managing director for real estate broker Grubb & Ellis in New York City. "There are probably more small businesses that are nimble and able to act quickly during this crisis. They can capture landlords who are vulnerable and get anxious to make a really terrific deal."

While the standard adage for businesses that want to rent space is that bigger is better, "We are seeing a lot more activity with smaller tenants now than larger ones," Siegel says. "A lot of big companies are downsizing, cutting costs and putting space on the market for sublease."

As a result: "Rental prices are coming down across the board from top triple A office buildings in New York City to strip malls and freestanding office buildings in smaller markets," he says. "Tenants can often make numerous offers to see which landlord is the most vulnerable. It's similar to the residential market, where vulture buyers are seeing who bites."

Sherry Cushman, a senior vice president for CB Richard Ellis in Washington, D.C., who helps law firms finds space all around the country, has a client that wants to open an office in New York City with 10,000 square feet of space.

"When they started looking eight months ago, they couldn't touch anything for below $70 per square foot, and most of what they were looking at was $90 to $100 per square foot," she says. "Now the range is $50 to $70."

The national office vacancy rate jumped to 14.8 percent at the end of last year from 13 percent 12 months earlier, according to Grubb & Ellis researchers. And they see things getting worse.

"Expect leasing market fundamentals to deteriorate more sharply in 2009 in response to very difficult economic conditions," they wrote in a recent report. That, of course, is good news for small businesses looking for space.

6 tips on searching for space
Here are six key points for small businesses to keep in mind when searching for space to rent:
  1. Smaller is better
  2. Get the duration you want
  3. Ask for concessions
  4. Don't expect slack on your security deposit
  5. Learn your market
  6. Investigate your landlord

1. Smaller is better 
"The opportunities are there for small businesses," Siegel says. "Landlords that hadn't contemplated pursuing smaller tenants are now looking to diversify and are willing to take small tenants in previously large spaces that are now divided into smaller ones. The number of small spaces tenants can consider in their searches has increased."
2. Get the duration you want 
Whether you are looking for a one-year lease or a 10-year lease, you have a good chance of getting your wish. "In good times, landlords could say, 'We're only doing five-year leases.' The strong demand could get them that, and they wouldn't have to negotiate," says Jake Harrington, director of business development for On-Site.com, which helps landlords screen tenants.

Now things are different. "My associates are working with small and big businesses," says Rob Cochran, managing principal of Colliers Pinkard's Charlotte, N.C., office. "Maybe they have two to three years left on their lease. They can renegotiate for a longer-term commitment. Now is a good time for that." If you're a startup, you'll want to negotiate as short a lease as possible, since you don't know how long you're going to be around. On the other hand, if your business is thriving, you should consider locking in today's cheap rent for a long-term lease.

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