Whether you are moving into your first office or relocating your international headquarters you need a plan! This guide is intended to help you consider the issues and hopefully make the process that bit easier.

As solicitors, we deal with the legal process, (see heading “Legal Process” later in this note). So, apart from the legal aspects, what are the other things that you will need to consider and organise yourself?

FIRST THINGS FIRST – WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?

Cost – rent, rent deposit, service charge, buildings insurance, business rates, cost of relocation (including professional fees and Stamp Duty Land Tax).
Location – where do your staff live, where do they want to work, where are your customers and where are you competitors?
Type – brand new, refurbished, secondary, is image important, will serviced offices suffice, office share?
Timing – lead times – 12 months or more is required for a significant HQ move; considerably less for a first office. Insufficient time can lead to limited options and a lack of leverage.

THE ROLE OF A SURVEYOR

In most cases, a surveyor is key to securing the right location and the best value. A surveyor with the requisite knowledge of their market place will know about every property that is available to let whether now or in the near future. They will be able to advise on the pros and cons of each property and the likely terms available.

Once a property is selected the surveyor will negotiate the best terms available including in particular the rent, incentives (rent frees, capital contributions, landlord’s works, etc and break options).

It may also be necessary in some cases to involve a building surveyor to carry out a pre-acquisition survey to ascertain whether there are any problems with the fabric of the property that you should be aware of so that solutions can be found before lease signing.

OFFICE DESIGN AND FITTING OUT

Some properties need little more than some desks and chairs to ready them for occupation but at the other end of the scale office fit-outs can cost seven figure sums and take several months to complete. There are numerous companies that specialise in office fit-outs and with more costly programmes it is not uncommon to tender the fit-out contract to several parties. Legal advice may be required in relation to the fit-out contract.

Space design is important and you may want to commission a space planner to help with the layout of the property. The fit-out and office design links very much into both business ethos and commercial identity and can have a huge bearing on perception externally by customers and internally by staff.

Flexibility in design may be very important when looking at where your business might be in five or even two years’ time.

IT AND TELECOMS

Never underestimate the importance of ensuring data and telephone connections are ready for your office move. Lead times can be longer than you think.

Specialist IT relocation consultants can assist and may be required if you have a considerable amount of physical equipment to move.

You should consider whether the IT connections available are sufficient for your business and whether you can take telephone numbers with you.

OTHER SYSTEMS AND PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS

Don’t forget to think about security alarms, air conditioning requirements, heating systems, fire protection systems, signage, stationery and health and safety. There is also your business plan – does this need updating?

STAFF

Existing staff contracts may need to be considered if an office move is any distance away from an existing place of work. Staffing resources may need to be geared up or scaled down as part of the property move and a call to an employment lawyer for some initial advice is often required. You of course need to make sure you let your staff know in good time. Clark Holt can assist with giving employment advice and advice on commercial contracts in general.

LEGAL PROCESS

Office occupiers are more likely to rent than purchase and therefore we only deal with the leasing process in this section. From instructing solicitors to signing the lease, normally takes between four and eight weeks. The key elements of the process are:

  • Considering what needs to be done about coming out of existing property in terms of breaking the lease, repairing liability, removal of fit-out, etc.
  • Reviewing and commenting on the draft Heads of Terms for the new property before they are signed.
  • Carrying out searches with the local authority, utilities companies, the Environment Agency and other statutory bodies, (as to this, please see the section of this note on “Searches”).
  • Investigating the landlord’s title to check for defects and issues which might impact upon the enjoyment of the property.
  • Negotiating the form of lease together with all ancillary documents (licences to authorise fit-outs, rent deposit deeds, etc).
  • Raising enquiries of the landlord’s solicitor about, amongst other things, the planning status of the property, service charge issues and any disputes affecting the property.
    Reporting on the property and ensuring that the occupier is happy to proceed.
  • Completing the lease and paying over any funds due to the landlord.
  • Paying any Stamp Duty Land Tax due and registering the lease (where it is for more than 7 years in length) at the Land Registry, (subject to you putting us in funds to do so).

THE MOVE ITSELF

Removals quotes need to be obtained; there are a number of specialist business moves contractors.

Plan to avoid difficult dates for your business.

Let customers and suppliers know.

Contact utility companies with meter readings.

Think about the little things like stationery and office cleaning.

TOP TIPS

Give yourself far more time than you think you need.

Nominate a project manager and assemble an “office move” team.

Use professional advisors to assist with the process – they will save time and costs.

Draw up a checklist.

Do note under-estimate how important property is to the success of most businesses.

DO I NEED TO CARRY OUT SEARCHES?

Property searches are an important part of any conveyancing or lease transaction. Property searches help you to find out more about a property than merely raising questions with the seller/landlord. In particular, they can reveal problems that could adversely affect your use and enjoyment of the property or that could adversely affect the market value.

For this reason, a combination of searches is normally recommended.

For more information on searches, please see our separate note entitled “What Did Property Searches Ever Do For Me?!”

FURTHER ADVICE

Our property team handles hundreds of business moves every year for clients across the country. Every property move is unique and we offer a range of service options allowing clients to decide how much they would like us to be involved in the process. To discuss a business move please call or email one of the partners in our property team, Karron Whitter, or Rachel Booth