I joined a two-person startup real estate investment firm after college just as they were deciding to move into a professional office.
For the first year, we leased with Regus, an executive suite provider. We had our own private office with a Madison Avenue address, and enjoyed shared amenities such as conference rooms, a full kitchen, and personal receptionist.
By the end of the lease, we were ready to expand into our own headquarters. We each lived within 10 minutes walking distance from the office, so we narrowed our focus to a 4 block radius in Midtown South, Manhattan. Midtown South is one of the nation’s tightest office markets thanks to the plethora of tech and media firms which have flocked to the area earning it the nickname ‘Silicon Alley’. Finding 1,500 – 2,000 square feet was going to be a challenge.
We began our search by in a low-tech manner, canvassing the market. We split the neighborhood into thirds and each of us went building by building, calling management companies. After touring about 10 spaces, we finally found the perfect building. The 2,000SF, full floor space was raw, previously used as a showroom, but we saw the potential.
Our goal with the build-out was to create a collaborative workspace that spurred interaction and creative thinking. We aimed to create open workstations with an abundance of natural light as well as private areas where work could be done uninterrupted.
The physical layout offered many constraints. The space was approximately 100’ deep and 20’ wide. Windows on the east side overlooked beautiful Madison Square Park, but the windows on the back-end peered over an under-utilized courtyard. The brick façade was painted white and the dropped ceiling made the space feel cramped. By restoring the natural brick, removing the dropped ceiling, creating a back deck, and re-polishing the wood floors, the space, almost overnight, radiated with limitless potential. Untitled2
As we settled down in our new space, we decided to use the empty desks to host workers. We’ve found that our greatest asset is our ability to learn from each other face to face. Having conversations with someone who’s working for a tech start-up or is creating new product challenges the way we think about things such as pricing, marketing, and customer service.
Despite being in real estate for a living, the build-out was not without pitfalls. While we had an architect oversee the build-out, we purchased all the materials ourselves; from light fixtures and doors, to mirrors and toilets. We used sliding glass doors throughout the space which allows us to create private spaces or open up the entire floor. However, delivery time on the doors took over 12 weeks and we were left with a ½ finished office for the first two months of our lease. Furthermore, much of the other elements of the build-out hinged on the doors being installed. Untitled
Reliability of contractors posed another issue. Given that our office build-out was a relatively small job, getting ahold of contractors was difficult. When we needed to install a dedicated line to hook up our copy machine, our electrician was nowhere to be found. We ended up hiring another electrician to do the job, incurring additional cost and wasting time.
Despite the pitfalls and headaches, we learned a lot from the process and we’re extremely happy with the way the space turned out. We have a headquarters we can be proud of to meet with clients, host parties, and do great work every day
Vice President of Investments with Atlas Real Estate Partners, a real estate investment/management firm based in Manhattan. Author of A Student of the Real Estate Game, a blog that helps young real estate professionals launch and grow their real estate careers.