In leasing, massage therapist tenants don’t get what they deserve–they get what they negotiate. Since 1993, I have been helping massage clinic owners and other commercial tenants learn the “do’s and don’ts” of negotiating commercial leases and renewals. Here are a few tips:
Create competition for your tenancy. Negotiate on multiple locations simultaneously—especially with lease renewals, even if you don’t want to move. Create options and play one landlord against another. Share with each landlord that you are receiving other proposals. Make the landlord earn your tenancy or re-earn your renewal.
Start the planning and site selection process well in advance. For existing massage clinics and lease renewals, begin 12 months in advance. This provides ample time for negotiating, completing paperwork, searching for alternate sites (if necessary) and accounting for Murphy’s Law.
Keep your success quiet. Landlords primarily raise rent due to a massage tenant’s success. With profiting in a particular location, you likely will not want to move even if you can afford the rental increase. Some realtors and landlords may try to take advantage of massage clinic owners knowing how expensive it can be to move and set up a new office.
Talk to other tenants. For lease renewals, talk with other tenants in the building who have recently renewed leases. Ask how these renegotiations went and what the landlord was willing to agree to in terms of rental rates and further tenant incentives.
Negotiate for lease renewal incentives. For some reason, massage therapy tenants neglect or are simply fearful of negotiating for lease renewal incentives. If your lease is expiring, ask yourself what inducements (eg: free rent/tenant allowances) would the landlord give to a new tenant just coming into the property.
Don’t have false optimism. When massage clinic owners tell me their studio isn’t doing well, but they want to renew their lease anyway, this is false optimism. Unless you change location or something else about the way you do business, you should not realistically expect your next five years to be better than your first five years. Moving can be difficult, frightening, time-intensive and expensive; however, sometimes, this is absolutely necessary.
Don’t accept an inappropriate lease length. For massage clinics, an initial five year lease term is typical. When renewing, do not automatically sign for that same or similar time frame without considering your own future. Will you sell your clinic or retire? Don’t get locked into a long-term lease renewal unnecessarily.
Don’t settle for your same rental payment. Achieving a rent reduction on your lease renewal is a very real possibility. If your landlord is leasing space to new tenants at less than what you are currently paying, a rent reduction for you should be achievable. If your current rental rate is artificially high because of your last tenant allowance, a rent reduction on your renewal term could also be in order. Again, talk with other tenants who have recently renewed or moved in to see how much they are paying.
Don’t allow the landlord to retain your deposit. If you have paid the landlord a deposit, ask for this back upon your lease renewal date. You have proven yourself as a responsible tenant over your initial term. Why should your landlord keep this money?
Brokers: friend or foe? Real estate agents and brokers typically work for the landlord who is paying their commission. It is not normally the agent’s role to get the tenant the best deal; it is their job to get the landlord the highest rent, the biggest deposit, etc. The higher the rent you pay, the more commission the agent earns. If you are researching multiple properties, try to deal directly with the listing agent for each property, rather than letting one agent show you around or show you another agent’s listing. Your tenancy is more desirable to the listing agent if he can avoid commission-splitting with other agents.
Don’t disregard your operating costs. Having your lease and/or operating costs audited are effective ways to keep your landlord and property manager accountable. Frequently, massage clinic tenants pay inflated common area maintenance (CAM) because of padded or miscalculated operating costs. Often, it can be advantageous for groups of tenants sharing the same property to unify for an operating cost audit.
Don’t exercise options. Even though you have a renewal option, you may not want to exercise it—especially if the renewal term’s rental rate automatically increases or can’t decrease. If you are certain your landlord wants you to stay and market rates (the “going rate” in your neighborhood) have softened, you may want to negotiate the renewal from scratch.
Dale Willerton is The Lease Coach and a certified lease consultant who works exclusively for tenants. Willerton is a professional speaker and author of Negotiate Your Commercial Lease. If you have a leasing question, call Willerton as (800) 738-9202, e-mail DaleWillerton@TheLeaseCoach.com or visit www.theleasecoach.com.