For owners of office buildings, constructing “spec suites” as ready-to-occupy office spaces can be a no-fail way to attract tenants — if these spaces are designed well. In fact, spec suites or “marketing suites,” as they are known — spaces built out by a building owner for the purpose of marketing a vacant suite or floor – “are growing in popularity and in size,” says the Colorado Real Estate Journal, “with new projects devoting entire floors and buildings to spec space.”
Making spec suites successful, however, requires market savvy, cutting-edge design, and expert knowledge on building codes, says Karen Bala, AIA, LEED AP, senior architect at Dyer Brown Architects. Bala has designed dozens of spec suites, and her firm offers an integrated suite of professional services including high-level building owner and corporate advisory as well as 3D concept visualization.
Among the most important rules to follow when designing spec suites in your building?
Know the codes. If you want to divide a 20,000-square-foot floor into four spec suites, says Bala, make sure those spaces are code-compliant for egress, life safety, and other rules, whether they are leased to one, two, or four tenants.
Achieve a balanced look. While it has been trendy, not every company wants a colorful, bold “tech-inspired” space, Bala says. “The best spec suites find a careful balance between the building owner’s own identity and the likely profile of incoming tenants,” says Bala. Often the right design mix tells a story about the owner and reflects the local market, too.
Accentuate the positives. Many spec suites are built in slow-to-lease floors, remnant spaces, or odd-shaped corners of the office building, so they may be inherently less attractive to renters. “It’s critical to emphasize the positives for these spaces,” Bala adds, “and add better finishes and lighting to make less appealing spaces more marketable.”
Create a memorable image. Some spec suites use high-impact wall graphics and displays to tell a story about their building or neighborhood. Hospitality inspired designs with warmer colors, wood finishes, and dimmable lights can attract many companies looking for a workplace that fits a more casual lifestyle or company culture.
Run the numbers. The spec suite approach does not always work in every building. In a very popular building or location where the spaces are likely to rent quickly, the cost and time of building a spec suite can be avoided. As a first step, consider working with the architect to estimate the construction cost for the fitout. In some cases, it might be better to take the raw space to market instead, says Bala.
“By preparing the space as ready-to-go, you instantly go to the top of the list for prospective tenants who’ve fallen behind in their planning,” says Bala. “Plus the build-outs always create a more sensory experience, which can be much more impressive and convincing than a 3-D walk-through animation or detailed renderings.”