Find Commercial Property Like a Pro!

Find Retail, Office, and Industrial Property Like a Pro

office space for lease

At first glance, it may seem like finding commercial space is simple.  You hop in your car and start driving around.  You look for signs, you start calling, and you see what you can find out.  It may seem simple enough, but eventually you will realize that without a good plan it is much more difficult than you could have imagined.

One of the first things to be aware of this simple fact: when you just call off signs, everyone you talk to is working for the property owner and not for you.  Let that sink in for a second.

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Whether you speak with the owner or their listing agent, the information and feedback you get will be focused on the property owner’s success and not yours.  Now you may be a seasoned sight selector or you may have opened other locations for your business.  Regardless of your experience, this paradigm doesn’t change.  Everyone you speak with is working for the property owner and not for you.

This is one of the most important reasons to consider hiring a Tenant Representative or Buyer Agent to work on your behalf in commercial real estate.

There are many differences between residential and commercial real estate, but perhaps the most important difference is the tremendous amount of experience and expertise that commercial property owners have in the marketplace.

With home selling, the experience and knowledge is a little more balanced.  For both sellers and buyers, the process of selling and buying a home is not typically an everyday experience.  It may be something you do every few years on average.

In commercial real estate, the vast majority of commercial property landlords conduct lease negotiations and commercial property sales negotiations every single day.  They work in the industry all day, every day.  In many cases, they have decades of experience in maximizing their lease income and sales prices.

So when you decide to start calling off signs, not only will the people you speak with not be on your side, but they are oftentimes some of the best negotiators in business.

For this reason, you should consider hiring your own representative.  Whether you hire someone to work for you or not, the following is an outline to use by yourself or with your Tenant Rep/Buyer Agent when looking for space or a commercial building to purchase.

We have also put together a handy Lease Timeline Checklist so that you can easily see the full scope of what your search will entail, along with the important milestones to hit along the way.

You get exactly what you are looking for in commercial real estate

Make sure you have all of your essential requirements set in place.  If you plan to work with a broker, the following plan is something you will want to be on the same page with.

  1. Start broadly and start online: Loopnet, CoStar, eXceligent, Property Drive, etc.
    • When looking for space, use a minimum SF and consider not placing a max on the SF search or setting one that is much higher than you need.
    • The reason for this is that many spaces can be divided and while a space may show up as being too large for your needs, the owner may be able to divide that large space into two, creating one space that is just right for you.
    • In addition to online searches, your tenant rep can find properties that are not currently listed as available (perhaps a tenant out their isn’t paying rent and can be bumped?) They can also bring to your attention new developments that look like vacant land right now, but may be available when you plan to open.
    • One other side note, a tenant rep may be aware of your competition’s plans and be able to steer you clear of locations that may have immediate competition after you sign your lease.
  2. Build the biggest list you can without taking anything off right away
    • The reason for this relates to number 1 above. Many spaces can be created out of spaces that do not appear to match.
    • In addition, by having a larger list, you can pick out attributes that you like with a certain property and things you definitely do not want with a property. This will help in your discussions with your broker so that she or he can get a clearer picture of what you are envisioning.
  3. Drive the markets you want to be in
    • Make note of buildings you like and write down why
    • Make note of buildings you do not like and why
    • Does it matter who is next to you? If so write that down too. Who is adjacent to spaces you like?
  4. Take pictures, video, voice notes and/or written notes
  5. Fire up Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets and build a table filled with the data you want to track
    • Column one: address
    • Column two: square footage available
    • Column three: price per square foot (NNN, gross, etc.)
    • Availability date:
    • Contact name:
    • Contact number:
    • Add columns for the things that matter most to you for easy comparison among spaces.
  6. Set up property tours
    • Print off multiple questionnaires with the same questions so you can compare the apples to apples of each space after your tour. Depending on your type of space needs, you may want to track number of private offices and conference rooms for an office search, the amount of parking, ease of access and egress, and co-tenants for retail, and number of dock doors, drive-in doors, eve height and power supply for industrial searches, as examples.
    • Take pictures of each location as you tour, inside and out. Your agent will provide a professional tour book for you to help with this.
    • Typically shoot for 4-5 spaces or buildings to tour for each tour. Too many and you will have scheduling conflicts and your mind will also wear out after too many.
    • You may want to schedule two rounds of initial tours. One round for initial discovery and getting a feel for the market, especially if you are in a new city or part of a city. A second round to really get a feel for the locations and the amenities offered.

If you haven’t downloaded it yet, you can get our Lease Timeline Checklist.  This is the type of framework we use for all of our clients at Lighthouse CRE and we will provide a customized version for you based on your specific needs in retail, office, or industrial.  We help our clients find the best spaces to lease and also the best properties to purchase.

Whether you work with Lighthouse CRE or another broker, you should consider hiring a broker that will hold your best interests in mind, because you really are going up against some of the best negotiators out there.  Your business success is too important to just hop in a car and start calling off signs.

Finding Space to Lease

About the Author

David Haug is a Madison, WI based real estate entrepreneur. He is passionate about helping clients, customers, and friends succeed in both commercial and residential real estate. He is also a raging Badger fan. Connect with David on LinkedIn: