Are you a law firm owner who is overworked and needs more support? In this episode of the Maximum Lawyer Podcast, Tyson Mutrux discusses the crucial role of delegation in law firm management.
In today’s podcast episode Jim and Tyson dive into understanding and negotiating commercial leases with Adam Collins.
Adam is the Managing Director at MGA, a full-service real estate advisory firm focused on caring for the needs of all types of users of commercial real estate. They provide expert consultation in analyzing and executing solutions aimed to reduce their client’s overall facility expenses while maximizing workplace efficiency and productivity.
3:20 networking for clients
5:50 mistakes when obtaining a new lease
7:48 requesting special terms
9:20 buy a building vs send everyone home
12:40 finding smaller office spaces
19:45 pros and cons to nnn
Watch the video here.
Jim’s Hack: Book: The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz - Management debt is when we make fast and easy decisions that have a price in the future.
Adam’s Tip: Book: Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss
Tyson’s Tip: App: Healthy Together - contact tracing for COVID-19.
September is the last month to join the Guild at our lowest member price! Memberships increase October 1st, 2020
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Run your law firm the right way.
This is The Maximum Lawyer Podcast.
Your hosts, Jim Hacking and Tyson Mutrux.
Let's partner up and maximize your firm.
Welcome to the show.
Jim: Welcome back to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast. I'm Jim Hacking.
Tyson: And I'm Tyson Mutrux. What's up, Jimmy?
Jim: Oh, Tyson. Things are good. Things are good. I just got back from a week up in Michigan and hung out on the lake. We had beautiful weather, had a great, great time. But, it's good to be with you.
Tyson: Yeah, you’re nice and refreshed. We talked in The Guild a little bit. Otherwise, you've been sort of, I wouldn't say completely radio silent, we texted a little bit. You've been sort of off the grid. I've seen you posted on social media a little bit.
Jim: Yeah, I've tried to tone down my angry posts and make them sort of more funny than anything.
Tyson: Well you're not doing a very good job of it.
Jim: Yes, I am.
All right. Well, do you want to introduce our guest today?
Tyson: Yeah. This is a guest I'm actually, I'm really, really excited about having on. He's going to talk about some topics that are covered a lot in the group and that are asked in The Guild. His name is Adam Collins. He is with MGA. He is the managing director of MGA, which is a full-service real estate advisory firm focused on caring for the needs of all types of users of commercial real estate.
We'll get into the rest of Adam’s story in a little bit.
Adam, welcome to the show.
Adam: Thank you, guys. I appreciate you having me on. I'm excited.
Jim: Adam, you know, I know we're going to talk a lot about commercial real estate, but whenever we have an entrepreneur on the show, we like to talk about business growth and marketing, things like that. Tell us a little bit about your journey from startup to where you are today.
Adam: Yeah, so real estate is definitely super entrepreneurial, obviously. I've always kind of viewed it or-- I started to get more traction and more success once I started to view, even though I work for MGA, worked for another firm in the past, you're still like the CEO of Me Inc is what one of my mentors said. And so, operating my business - my real estate business kind of as my own individual CEO, with my own finance department, marketing department, sales department - everything like that.
So, I got into real estate about seven years ago. I wanted to really-- I liked the idea of creating something tangible, right, being able to place office users or people who are purchasing real estate and really be able to see it and actually driving down the street and saying, “Hey, there's a client of mine. I helped that business grow. I helped. You know, because of the deal was structured, they were able to hire an additional 5 to 10 employees.” So, that's why I got into real estate and I have a long history of my family living here in the DC area. So, there's a lot of pressure and they're quite well known. So, there's a lot of pressure internally to leave my mark on this area.
Tyson: So, Adam, we'll get into some of the stuff that I want to ask you about in a little bit but, I guess, how do you get your clients? I mean, I, honestly, don't see a lot of people advertising as commercial real estate agents. You see a lot of residential real estate agents advertising. How does someone like you get clients?
Adam: Yeah, I think that's a good question. Something that I'm pretty serious about is the fact that you've got to be active in every area that you can think of, right? So, I gotten a lot of clients from just going to general networking events, chambers of commerce and other networking events that put CFOs or COOs in the room. So, doing that. Then, having my more personal referral-based networking group. I'm in a BNI group and been a part of other groups like that, where I get referrals. And then, cultivating that network and other people that I meet even further. It's more than just meeting them once at a networking event but it's also taking them out for coffee, or lunch, or phone calls and having a systematic process to where you do that on a regular basis.
And then, of course, there's the digital piece of it, the digital marketing. On LinkedIn, you know, being active on there, staying top of mind. I do at least three digital pieces per week which means probably two posts on LinkedIn. And then, also, a newsletter or something that goes out to everybody's email address.
That newsletter is something that I started just this year. I wasn't sure how it was going to go. And then, I think, in my second newsletter, I had somebody forward it to a family office. They were working with a really wealthy investor and they were looking to buy a property for like $30 to $50 million, all right. So, I was like, “Well, I think I'm going to stick with the newsletters and continue to do those.”
And then, of course, there's just the prospect dialing - reaching out to those people that you want to be in touch with and that's been very successful. If you can call somebody, present your value proposition, a reason for calling, that they're going to be interested in, which there's no shortage of reasons to call somebody today when we're talking about office space, when nobody's in their office. That's effective, because then you get to go straight to the source, straight to who you want to talk to and tell them exactly why you want to talk to them and what you want to share with them.
So, to have all three of those and continuously and repeatedly doing those, on a daily and weekly basis, is incredibly important nowadays because what I found is, as in-person networking events drop off, I need to figure out another way to attract and retain new clients.
Jim: All right, Adam, so let's switch gears. Let's get over to real estate. I know that's the topic that we want to talk about the most with you today. I'm not sure exactly where I want to go with this because I have my own personal real estate questions but I don't know if that would be helpful or not for our audience. Maybe we'll get to that in a little bit.
What mistakes do you find professional services making and working with the realtor or working with trying to obtain a new lease for office space?
Adam: Well, I think, first and foremost, especially when you're in the small business area, the first mistake that somebody could make when talking about commercial real estate is to not use a broker. I think there's this like misconception that you might get some sort of a better deal because you're not using a real estate broker but, frankly, that's a misnomer and I've never seen that to be the case.
The next is for those people who want to acquire real estate, whether it's purchasing or leasing, I think it's important to realize that there's just got to be mutual respect between you and the broker and realize that the broker is working for free until a deal closes. And so, there's a certain amount of trust that's got to be built and you've got to show that, if you're just starting out, for instance.
I've had startups approached me. It's important that before you just go out and look for space, which is that's kind of the easier part of it, is we need to make sure that your business is in line, we understand what kind of real estate you need. We understand what your goals are. We understand what the space looks like, you know, how it's going to function. That's important to do a lot of that kind of leg work and pencil sharpening up front. And also, of course, make sure that your business plan and your business goals are in line with the type of real estate that you want.
And also, if you can show. If you’re going to a landlord and say, “Hey, look, we're going to be partners for the next 3, 5, 7, 10 years. Here's my business plan. This is how we're going to be able to pay you for the foreseeable future. Now, I want you to give me some free rent, or a build out allowance, or whatever it might be. So, make sure that you have all that kind of stuff in order before you go out and just jump and look at space is going to save you some heartache in the end.
Tyson: So, Adam, you mentioned the free rent, the build out allowance. I think a lot of people that have negotiated a lease, they're at least a little bit familiar with those. But, are there some other terms that you might be able to ask for that most people don't think about?
Adam: Yeah, there's a lot of terms. I mean, think about, I guess, if you're a small business like a dentist, right, you want to be the only dentist in the office building or you want to be the only dentist on your floor. You could ask for exclusivity. Same with, if you're a coffee shop or what have you. I deal mostly with office users. But you could ask for exclusivity.
You could ask for-- we can get into a little bit more in the weeds and seeds of things, but there's what's called operating expense real estate tax pass through’s. There's different provisions. You probably want to cap on those depending what size of a tenant you are, how much leverage you have with landlord. You can cap those expenses.
We talk about the escalation. Where's that at? Is that going be 2%, 3%, 4%? I mean, it kind of depends on what your needs are. I don't encourage people to simply ask for everything just because they can get it, necessarily. I like to focus on a couple of different provisions which are going to help their business in the long run and which are going to be really important for them.
But there's -- you know, a lease is about anywhere between 50 and 100 pages, so there's a lot of different provisions and that's why every lease is a lot different. So, I could go through all of those, but I think that might get a little exhaustive.
Jim: So, right now, with the coronavirus upon us, a lot of people, and myself included, are thinking, “Boy, do I really need office space?” What is the overall value of office space? My lease is up in about two years and my thought is, “Well, at the end of those two years, I'm either going to buy a building or I'm going to have everybody work from home.” And so, I know those are two very different mindsets but I'm wondering what you're seeing out in the marketplace and what kind of conversations you're having around those types of issues.
Adam: Yeah, I think a lot of people are still trying to figure out how remote work plays into their company. My clients, for the most part, and most of my prospects definitely still see the need for the office. And it's for two specific reasons. And that's to emulate their company culture and to develop that company culture through mentorship and just seeing how, if you're an associate, you know, how does the managing level people, how do they do their job or what is the senior associate doing? How do they operate? And so, the culture’s is important but then also the collaboration is also important.
The social aspect of the office space shouldn't be forgotten. You know, impromptu collaborations from teams. I know that we've been back at the office for about over a month now and we've had a lot of impromptu meetings. We've developed a whole new training course for our juniors, for our associate brokers over the last month. And I don't know, would it have been possible if we didn't get to have impromptu last-minute meetings and just kind of like bounced ideas off of each other. And, now, it's going to be just a great benefit of our company in training those younger people to become leaders for the next generation. So, that's kind of where I'm seeing most people.
Although there have been, initially in March and April, we saw a lot of tech companies and a lot of companies, in general, say, “Oh, this is going to change the way that we're going to work forever” which I think that it might, but I don't know that it reduces the office space needed. Facebook signed, in Manhattan, 2.2 million square feet of office space in the last two months. Microsoft just did a 400,000 square foot deal down here in the district or just outside of DC, actually. You know, Twitter, although they are saying that they're going to be working from home forever. Jack Dorsey mentions that they have no plans to reduce the real estate at all.
So, I don't know that it's actually going to do significantly a lot of people that have office space. I think most organizations are going to realize we still need office space, maybe a little bit smaller than before, because we are going to have people working from home for two to three days a week. And so, there's ways to kind of contract our office space a little bit, which is what I'm helping a couple of clients do. We're just putting a plan in place for one client to reduce their space by 50%, which was not necessarily COVID-driven. And then, another client, where we're putting into place a plan where they're going to reduce their space by about 30%, which amounts to significant savings, if you can find a way to consolidate some of your office space. This particular client will save about $3 million by doing that.
Tyson: So, Adam, a lot of the people that listen to this show are solo and small firms. And so, finding a smaller office can be really difficult. Do you have any tips for firms that are looking for smaller office spaces like, for example, maybe a couple of offices and a conference room or something like that?
Adam: Yeah, I think if you're looking for a couple of offices and a conference room, I think, you’ll have a lot of success or I would hope that you could have some success by first looking at your network. I know that, especially if you're a law firm, there are a lot of bigger law firms that do have extra space. And, nowadays, even more so.
If we're seeing more people work from home in big law, historically, it has taken on way too much office space. And so, we've seen them - every new law firm office leases probably 75% of their last space. Big law here kind of controls part of the real-- it's federal government and big law firms, the two largest occupiers of office space here in the DC area. And so, look in your network and see if you can find somebody that has a larger office space and to sublet a couple of offices, if you don't mind sharing.
Secondly-- yeah, I mean, you can reach out to a broker. Again, if you're using a tenant broker like myself, there is no fee involved. Our fee is paid for by the landlords. So, if you want to find a young, hungry broker who wants to help you find a space that is going to be suitable for you, I would certainly say that's a good place to start as well.
I think that you'd be surprised at what you could find in your network. I know a lot of small business owners, not necessarily all our clients, but I always tell them, “Hey, why don't you look in your network to find either a place to sublease or to find a sub tenant?” if they have a bigger office.
Jim: All right. Adam, we're going to take a break for a word from our sponsors.
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Jim: All right, Adam, so, I'm opening up an office, it’s a satellite office, in San Diego and one of the neat listings that they had there is just like people who want to sublet a little space, like you were just discussing before we went to the break. What kind of things should someone in a sublet situation be thinking about, or what conversation should I be having with the potential, I guess, landlord or the intermediate tenant?
Adam: So, I think, what's emerged now and it's becoming more prevalent than maybe it was a year ago and probably wouldn't have been on top of my mind is I think you do have to understand your sub-landlord’s credit or, at least, know that, if you're going to be paying them rent, that's going to be enough to offset them, right. So, you don't want to enter an agreement with a sub landlord who might default on the lease because, if that happens, then you also lose your space, in most cases. Review the lease documents, both the sublease and that the prime lease, to see if that's the case. But, in my experience, if the sub landlord were to default, the sub tenant would also be kind of out of luck.
So, now that we're going through an economic downturn and we luckily haven't seen many office tenants defaulting on leases, not above-- I think it's about-- in general, just about 3% or so but it's one of those fears and there are certainly some organizations out there that are going to be harder hit by an economic downturn than others. So, it's something to look into and worth noting.
Other than that, if you're looking at just a smaller sublease, a lot of the terms and the rights that you have, as a sub-tenant, are going to be dictated by the prime lease. So, certainly, understand what the prime lease says. And in your sub-lease documents, you're probably going to, for the most part, refer back to the prime lease on most of the bigger clauses. So, I would, obviously, take a solid look at the prime lease before entering into a sublease arrangement. And then, also, understand that the prime landlord is going to have the right to review your financials and they're going to need to consent to the sublease. So, they may also ask to see your financial history, your tax returns, your profit and loss statements.
Tyson: All right. So, I've got a couple of questions that are somewhat related. So, we've got two separate office spaces. We've got one in St. Louis and then one in Columbia. We're looking for space in Columbia now. There's a big difference between Columbia and St. Louis, at negotiating those two.
One of the big differences is that triple net leases are far more common in Columbia than St. Louis, way more common. I guess, one question is the positive and negatives of triple net leases. And then, the other one is, is there like a centralized MLS, like there is with residential real estate, that you can look for office space because they're not easy to find? Honestly, it's kind of difficult.
Adam: Yeah. So, let's take that one first. There's CoStar which is what we use. It's quite expensive to get it. It's not like the MLS where we pay like 50 or 100 bucks a month. It's a few thousand dollars. They also own LoopNet which is kind of a spin off and more for the general public and I think that allows you to see some office space. I think they might it might be like 50% of what you can find on CoStar. So, if you want to see everything, at least here in the DC area, the only option basically is to use a broker to find everything. Other than that, LoopNet, it's a good place to start because they do have a good amount of space on there. And in each market, across the country, there's different emerging competing platforms to CoStar, but they've so far not taken up any sort of real steam to get broader than just smaller regional markets.
As far as a triple net lease and a full-service lease - it's interesting you say that. So, in DC, the majority of leases are full service, probably about 90 to 95% of office leases are full service. Obviously, retail is triple net. And then some trophy buildings or triple net.
There's not necessarily a benefit one way or the other. You know, full service makes things a little bit easier from an accounting perspective just to know exactly what you're paying. It's a little bit easier. You don't have to then go in and consistently audit the landlord's pass through’s to you -the triple net pass through’s, but there's validity to both.
The more important number is to understand, if you're going through a triple-net lease, I would suggest that you do a very thorough investigation of the previous few years’ worth of operating expenses in real estate taxes because, if they're telling you that it's $8 a square foot this year, but the last three years it was $12, you don't want to then get that pass thorugh to you and you're paying, all of a sudden, an additional four bucks a square foot. So, just to understand the property's operating history is probably a little bit more important in a triple net deal.
At my firm, we audit both triple net and full-service leases and we find discrepancies. We’ve found about-- even in full-service leases, when we're talking about pass through cost, we found about 43% of the time or a little bit more than that that there's an error where the landlord is overcharging the tenant. Normally, not maliciously. It's usually just an accounting error, but we've had errors as large as a $1.5 million. So, it's certainly something to worth noting that you should be cognizant of the fact that you want to do your own research as well-- or actually not your own, I would suggest you hire a real estate firm. If you use a tenant-only firm, a lot of times they'll do it at no cost. The bigger brokerage firms like CBRE, JLL, I'm not sure that that's the case. I think they have to outsource that to a third party, which will take a contingency fee. You want to have somebody with some experienced eyes looking at that.
Jim: My wife likes to make fun of me a lot. She says you'll sue the Federal Government but you don't like taking a return to target. And one of the things that I don't like is haggling back and forth with a landlord over a lease.
Tell us some stories or give me some examples of people who sort of take a firm line. And where is the market right now? I would assume that things are in the tenant’s favor just because so many people are starting to think about permanently working from home.
Adam: Yeah, we are certainly in a tenants’ market. Across the country, if you would ask me six or seven months ago, most cities were actually a landlord market. What I mean by that is, they can see it was on the decline in most cities and the demand was up. DC was the opposite. DC has already been in the tenants’ market, really, for the most of the last decade, actually and that's because we're building a lot of new buildings. There's a lot of new areas, a lot of new developments. So, our vacancy rate has stayed much higher than the nation's average.
But a tenants’ market, it’s not necessarily what you think of when it comes to, “I'm going to get 50% off of my rent.” A lot of landlords like to keep the rental rate about the same. They don't want to deviate too far from what their asking rate is. There's, obviously some negotiation that can be had, but you'll get other concessions such as the rent abatement, the tenant improvement allowance, some of the intangible things like the exclusivity clause. So, that's where you can get a little bit more creative. I'm asking landlords to pay for my client’s furniture, their moving expenses, their wiring costs. So, putting more pressure on the landlords to make it a more enticing move is what we start to see before we see a drop in asking rate.
But it's not as though we're in a place where landlords are going to start to make bad deals for them. I would urge anybody-- you know, I've got clients that think everything's going to be on a fire sale. And so, I kind of coach them and say, “You know, you can get a good deal but we can't offer 50% of what they're asking.” We'd still need to make sense for every party. And so, I think, when you're negotiating, it's wise to understand that the other side is a business or a person. They're going to only make a decision based on whether or not it's actually financially viable. And if it's not, they just would rather have the space sit. For some people that's hard to understand is that a landlord would rather have an office space sit vacant than to sign a deal that does not work for them.
Tyson: I mean, that's something that that's fascinated me as well because whenever we were negotiating a couple of the leases, we were-- I mean, I was doing the math and thinking like they're going to lose money, if they were to accept my offer. Instead of letting it sit for another year, they would come out as a net positive. I guess, I don't quite understand the math as to why it makes sense for them to let it sit vacant. I mean, that just doesn't make sense to me.
Adam: Yeah. So, the thing about real estate is a lot of people don't understand, when you're talking about signing on a new tenant - a lot of the deals that I'm working on, a landlord doesn't start to break even until you're three to five, right? That's it another reason why lease terms are so long is because, if I'm asking a landlord to spend $80 a square foot to build out my client’s space, or let's say $100 a square foot to build up my client’s space, if the rent is $50 a square foot a year and I'm also asking them for a year's worth of free rent, right, so that's already year three minus their debt payments, that takes them into year six or so, before they actually start to recoup any of the money.
So, from your six to 10, they're making less of a profit than your-- especially when you're talking full service. So, if we're talking $50 full service, that means that they've got $25 in triplet net charges. They've got a net income of $25, less their mortgage payments or their financing payments. So, maybe $10 a square foot is what they get to come back into their pocket. And so, if we're asking for $100 to $150 in concessions, that takes quite a while, right, to kind of start to build up enough return to make the deal make sense. So, you might be offering what you think is a good deal because, “Oh, they'll make money in year three.” But then, once you start to dig into how these property owners operate and really understand them which I think my firm does a good job of doing kind of top-up negotiations and building up to what rent rates we're going to offer based on how the property's operating and what costs the landlord has to have to achieve that minimum acceptable rent payment.
Tyson: All right, Adam, we do need to wrap things up. Before I do, I want to give you an opportunity to let people know how to get in touch with you, if they want to hire you, or get some advice from you. How do they get in touch with you?
Adam: Two ways. You can email me at [email protected]. That's M as in Michael, G as in Goldman, A as in Associates, C-O.com. Or, LinkedIn, Adam Collins on LinkedIn. I'm fairly active on there. So, if you want to connect with me, just drop me a note and I'm happy to connect with anybody.
Tyson: Very nice.
All right, I also want to remind everyone to go to the Facebook group, get involved there. We have a lot of great activity going on every single day. Check us out at maximumlawyer.com for the Guild because we are going to increase rates very soon. And so, check us out there and get those rates locked in forever.
Jimmy, what is your hack of the week?
Jim: For my hack of the week, I'm still making my way through that book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. I’ve put it down for a while, but I picked it back up on audio, going to finish that up. When I started listening to it, he talked about a concept from the coding world where computer programmers can write what they call sort of a lazy bit of code. It works for a time but, at the end of the day, they're going to have to go back and they know they're going to have to go back to fix it and make a more elegant code. And so, they call that coding debt.
In the book, he transfers that concept of coding debt to management debt that sometimes we make fast and easy, quick decisions that are going to have a price in the future. That could be letting someone stay on too long or not dealing with a problem client or not fixing a process in your in your firm. And so, I just really like that concept of management debt to sort of sit down and look - Where are the vulnerabilities? Where are the things that we're going to have to fix later? Let's just build it right correctly the first time so that we don't have that come bite us at an inopportune time.
Tyson: I like it. Very good stuff.
All right, Adam. So, we always ask our guests to give us a podcast, a book, recommendation, any sort of tip or hack that might help our listeners. Do you have a tip or a hack for us?
Adam: Sure. I would say the book I'm reading now is Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss. I'm sure you guys are familiar. It's a fantastic book on negotiation, not only in business, in hostage situations, but also just in life and dealing with everybody that you come in contact with. So, that's been-- and especially the acrid style of negotiation which he talks about in the book. I recommend, if you haven't read it, pick it up either on Audible or pick it up in a physical copy.
Tyson: I love that book. I almost read back the last three words to you, to see if you'd catch on, but I decided not to. It's such a good book. I love that book.
All right. So, my tip, it's way different-- it's not even a business-related tip but it's way different from what Adam and Jim recommended. So, I found an app Healthy Together. And it is to help with contact tracing. I know that some people don't want to be tracked and they don't want their phone to be tracked and all that. I get that. So, this may not be for you.
I personally want to know if I've been around someone that has COVID. And so, it will allow you, if they have similar technologies. It basically passes from phone to phone information about whether or not the person has had COVID or not, or if they've reported to have COVID. And so, I want to know that. Not everybody does but I do, so I recommend it.
Adam, thanks so much.
Selfishly, this has been a great episode for me because I'm right in the middle of doing all this stuff, so it's been great. But I know a lot of a lot of members are going to get a lot out of this, so thanks so much for coming on.
Adam: Of course. I appreciate you guys having me.
Jim: Thanks, Adam.
Adam: Take care, everybody.
Tyson: You, too. Thanks, Adam. We'll see ya.
Thanks for listening to The Maximum Lawyer Podcast.
To stay in contact with your hosts and to access more content, go to maximumlawyer.com.
Have a great week and catch you next time.
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