Commercial offices moving relocation

How long does it take to move into new premises and how much time should be allowed for when renewing an existing lease?

Q1 2017

Moving your business to new offices or renewing an existing lease can take longer than you think. Daniel Miller, Partner in the Occupier Services team, looks at what you need to consider…

Moving offices can be a big upheaval for any business, unfortunately quite often the amount of time the process takes is hugely underestimated which impacts negatively on both business continuity and cost.

How much time do you need?

Many businesses first make contact with us when they have only three to six months left until expiry of their existing lease. This typically means that we are at a disadvantage from the beginning and have to carefully consider the options and risks associated with leaving the current premises (or negotiating the lease renewal terms) alongside finding the right new location for their business, which can easily take up to 12 months to complete.

By leaving it so late, businesses often miss the opportunity to change and don’t have the leverage needed to negotiate the best terms with both their current landlord and possible future landlords. Having a better understanding of the process would help businesses to allow sufficient time and result in securing the best possible terms and environment for staff for what is usually a long-term decision.


The first steps in finding the perfect premises involve doing some homework. You need to establish:

  • A business plan - a five year plan in terms of head count, brand positioning and technology.
  • A Workplace audit - consider whether moving offices could be a catalyst for change in behaviour and culture. We understand the transformation that can be created when new ways of working are embraced. An analysis of roles is essential and just because things are done in a certain way doesn’t mean that it is the best way to do things. Can you retain and attract the best people to the business without considering how they want to work and providing an environment that gets the best out those individuals? More and more businesses are doing this analysis and it has a direct impact on technology (to allow people to work from anywhere effectively) and space requirements. It takes the emphasis away from the traditional rows of desks and more towards activity based working where there are suitable areas for concentrating, making conference calls, formal meetings, informal meetings and collaboration between colleagues. This can add two to three months to the process but the results will inform the space requirements.
  • A Lease analysis – is it a lease expiry or break? What are the break clause conditions and is the lease protected by the security of tenure provisions of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954? What is the repairing liability and the options available to comply with this obligation? These are all relevant questions to consider at the outset and the answers will help to form a strategy and consequently the timescale needed.
  • A Building analysis – from the outset this is relevant to a renewal situation but latterly would be relevant if moving to alternative premises. What is the current performance and anticipated life of the air conditioning system? If works need to be done, who should pay for this, the landlord or the tenant? Are there any existing or anticipated problems with the building or is there a risk of major expenditure (for example refurbishment of common parts) and should you have to pay for this or can it be excluded from your liability? A building surveyor and M&E consultant can investigate these issues on your behalf and it is then important to interpret what this means for you and how to consequently approach negotiations with the landlord.
  • Location – in our research into what London office employees want from their office – Office Futures: Workshift – we found commuting time to be the most important factor for office employees. 80% of those surveyed as part of our research listed it as one of up to three important factors. The next highest score went to ‘food and drink options’, with 45% citing this as important. In contrast the option in third place, ‘shopping options’, scored just 27%. Interestingly when we broke the data down to the Future Leaders sample (those aged between 18 and 34 and earning £35,000+) we found ‘commuting time’ to still be the most important factor at 72%, but ‘food and drink options’ came a close second, scoring 65% of the vote.

Other considerations include:

  • Covenant strength. This covers trading history and rent deposit
  • IT/Telecoms. What are the lead-in times and is a wayleave required?
  • Furniture audit. What you need, what you can take and what stays
  • Fit-out procurement. Options available and how long it takes

The time line

Here’s a step-by-step look at what happens and how long each phase is likely to take. Please note that these timescales are indicative only and each stage can be shorter or longer dependant upon circumstances:

1. Search – 6-8 weeks

A thorough market search and undertaking inspections can be done quite quickly but often takes longer than you anticipate. The ultimate aim is to create a shortlist of 2 to 3 buildings. If a renewal is also being considered, initial discussions with the landlord would also take place at this point.

2. Negotiate – 2-4 weeks

It is essential to leave a decent amount of time to leverage the best terms. Being in a pressurised situation rarely results in securing the best terms and often allowing an additional few weeks can make all the difference. It is usually best to seek terms on several viable options as well as making an assessment of the IT/telecoms to see what is available, what it will cost and when it can be installed. If relevant, negotiations would continue with your existing landlord. A cash flow analysis and assessment of costs can be engineered at the end of this process in order to aid making a balanced decision either to stay or relocate.

3. Legal process – 6-8 weeks

It is wise to appoint a solicitor at an early stage as the actual appointment can be delayed due to anti-money laundering checks that are now compulsory. Many landlords want the legal process to complete within four weeks of receipt of the legal pack, but in reality it usually takes longer. Your solicitor will carry out standard searches on your behalf and negotiate the wording of the lease, ensuring that the heads of terms that have been negotiated are properly reflected. At this point, if it has not already been done, there should be a building and M&E survey. For multi-tenanted buildings, this should consider liabilities that will fall under the service charge in addition to the direct liabilities. A licence to alter for any fit-out works or other changes should also be sought at this stage.

4. Fit-out – 8-14 weeks

For projects that have a spend approximately in excess of £250,000 it usually makes sense to appoint an independent project manager as early as possible to effectively advise and

coordinate this process. An average fit-out will take 12 weeks but larger, traditionally procured fit-outs can easily take six months plus.

5. Move – 1-6 weeks

This is not just the furniture but also the relocation of staff. It can be done over a weekend but larger moves are sometimes phased. Dilapidation works to existing premises also need to be considered and actioned appropriately if relocating rather than renewing.

The relocation or renewal process can involve unexpected hurdles and frustrations along the way but allowing sufficient time really is one of the key components to getting it right.