Finding the right office isn’t easy, and can sometimes take years. Should you buy or lease? Go upmarket or up-and-coming? Look at London or the regions? Trish Lorenz tries to answer some of these questions
If you think moving home is stressful, you clearly haven’t been responsible for an office move recently. Not only do you have to find a space that is affordable, it needs to be creatively inspiring, well located in terms of transport for both clients and staff, and sometimes has to appeal to hundreds of other people. In short, finding the right office space is a huge challenge, especially in the creative industries.
And while most of Britain is awash with corporate offices – think carpet tiles, dodgy partitions and hideous decor – finding a more unusual studio space is more difficult. ‘It’s difficult to find something that has character and the potential to incorporate your own style, too. There’s plenty of corporate space, but we didn’t want anything like that,’ says Household insights director Michelle Du-Prât, who oversaw the group’s eight-month search for a London property.
The good news is that developers are starting to realise that corporate-style offices are no longer desirable. ‘More and more companies want unusual office space, and office providers are starting to deliver,’ says Officebrokers.com sales manager Dan Murphy.
Most design groups sign up to a lease – you’ll need to commit for at least three to five years, says Murphy. Some consultancies decide to buy (see box), but if you’re still at the start-up stage then shared spaces – perhaps renting desk and studio space from another creative business – might be an option to consider.
‘Shared spaces are becoming more popular,’ says Murphy. ‘People like the networking aspect and it gives more flexibility. You are not tied in to long leases and it probably means you can afford to be in a better area.’
If it all sounds a bit daunting and stressful, you could always take a leaf out of Auro Foxcroft’s book. Unable to find the type of studio space he was looking for, he took matters into his own hands and winched Tube carriages on to a disused plot in London’s Shoreditch. The space, branded Village Underground, is now home to a raft of creative businesses.
Officebrokers.com sales manager Dan Murphy says the capital is home to the greatest diversity of buildings, ranging from ‘prestigious architectural developments like the [Swiss Re] Gherkin to warehouses and funky spaces’, but designers say finding a good space is difficult. ‘We had a nightmare,’ says Household’s Michelle Du-Prât. ‘Things were too big or too small, or needed too much investment.’
As prices in Soho have risen to prohibitive levels, the areas around Clerkenwell, Old Street and Shoreditch have become the focus of the city’s creative community. Rents vary enormously. ‘It’s difficult to quote because costs vary depending on how long you want to lease for and on occupancy levels,’ says Murphy. ‘You can often find deals in new buildings where developers are looking for tenants.’
• Expect to pay anything from £215 to £1935 per m2 a year
The Northern Quarter and Salford Quays are the hot spots for creative industries in the city, says Dan Murphy of Officebrokers.com. He says there’s ‘lots of space’ in period buildings, listed buildings and newly built developments (the city is home to Urban Splash, one of the most creative developers working in the UK at the moment).
But designers working in the city say the challenge lies in finding bigger spaces. Love spent two years searching for the right space. ‘Finding an old-fashioned building with a big floorplate was very hard,’ says managing director Alistair Sim. ‘Offices tend to be small studio spaces that are good for start-ups. A lot of the bigger places have been turned into residential developments.’
• Prices in Manchester vary from £110 to £710 per m2 a year says Murphy, and designers working in the city concur; most pay about £120 per m2
Despite its industrial origins, Glasgow has yet to make use of its warehouse-style properties for creative industries’ studio space. According to Dan Murphy of Officebrokers.com, the city centre remains the creative hub, with most design groups based within the Merchant City to West End boundaries.
Offices tend to be converted Victorian and mews houses, and finding space can be difficult as many properties are being reconverted to homes. Third Eye marketing manager Stewart Drummond says the group took six months to find a property that had the right mix of space and character, and has had to make renovations to ensure the office meets its needs.
• Prices are representative of those in regional England – expect to pay between £110 and £750 per m2 a year
Rapidly gaining recognition as one of England’s creative hubs, Bristol has a large population of design groups of all sizes. Many groups are based in Clifton village, which Taxi Studio creative director Spencer Buck describes as a ‘mini Soho, very eclectic’. The Old Tobacco Factory is another popular location.
Office spaces tend to be in Georgian houses, but property developers have recently begun to realise the potential of warehouse developments, such as The Paintworks.
‘Bristol has suffered from not having a creative centre,’ says E3 Media joint managing director Mike Bennett. ‘The Paintworks could finally provide that and it’s long overdue.’
• Dan Murphy of Officebrokers.com says designers should expect to pay between £110 and £645 per m2 a year to lease space, but most designers in the city say they are paying no more than £110 per m2
To lease or buy?
Much like buying your own home, owning your own office has its advantages. Capital appreciation is likely (if not inevitable) and any improvements you make to the space add value to your bottom line, not a developer’s.
E3 Media made the choice to buy rather than lease. The group has purchased a 744m2 warehouse space and moves in at the end of this month in Bristol. ‘We got fed up with improving other people’s property,’ says joint managing director Mike Bennett.
Buying in Bristol is still affordable, he says, with prices around the £110-£160 per m2 mark. In other cities, the booming property market has made ownership unattainable. ‘Buying has become prohibitive in Manchester,’ says Alistair Sim, managing director of Love. ‘A few years ago we could see the potential and it was just about affordable, but now it’s just not within reach.’
Creative industries often lead the regeneration of an area – moving in when rents are low and gradually gentrifying the area. If you want to buy, the secret lies in identifying the next hot spot.
‘We bought at The Paintworks 18 months ago,’ says Bennett. ‘It was run-down and derelict at the time. Now that the second phase is opening, people can really see its potential.’