Suite Dreams: NO nightmare office shares

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Aug 2, 2019

SUITE DREAMS:

FINDING THE PERFECT OFFICE NEED NOT BE A NIGHTMARE

by

Gary Schaffel, President Schaffel Psychotherapy Suites

 

The cost of renting and maintaining your office is second only to the educational costs of becoming a therapist.  It is not a decision to be taken lightly, since it is very important that your office environment make a positive statement about you to your clients.  The purpose of this article is to discuss, the features that are important to your success and well-being, the various methods of office leasing, and the main deal points of a typical lease.

 

FEATURES IMPORTANT TO YOUR SUCCESS AND WELL-BEING

 

1.    Location, location, location.  Fortunately, the concept that you must have a Wilshire Boulevard, Bedford Drive, or Ventura Boulevard address to be considered successful has disappeared.  However, location is still very important. Ask yourself where your current and future clients will be coming from, and at what time of day.  Will you be able to attract San Fernando Valley clients if you are located in Santa Monica, or should you be closer to the San Diego Freeway.

2.    Building access.  Is it 24/7?  If so, how do you and your clients access the building after hours?  Beware of entry systems where your clients have to call your office phone, since they will likely get your message service.

3.    Operating hours of the building heating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Most buildings have limited HVAC on weekends.  If you see clients on weekends or see groups when the HVAC is turned off in the evening, this could be a problem, particularly if your window exposure is westerly in the summertime.

4.    Parking.  Are you guaranteed a parking space in the building?  If so, what is the monthly rate?  Is there ample client parking?  Can you validate your client's parking, and at what rates?  Are there retail stores in the building (banks, coffee or juice bars, etc.) that will validate parking?  Is there decent on-street parking? If so, is it metered or restricted at certain hours?

5.    Building signage program.  Are you guaranteed a name on the building directory?  If you use your name as well as a OBA, can both names be on the directory?  Does the building allow names to be shown at the suite entry door? NOTE:  This is a two-edged sword, as you may prefer a building where there is asimple suite number on the door, as opposed to the opposite extreme, where your name could be lost among twenty other names, and your clients feel they are going to a clinic.

6.    Mail delivery.  Are there individual mailboxes or one for your entire suite?  Where are they located?  Will you have a key to the mailbox so you can retrieve that

 

important check you are expecting?  If there is a mail-box for the entire suite, who sorts the mail and where is it placed?  Is there mail delivery on Saturdays?

7.    Waiting room decor and maintenance.  The waiting room is the first impression your client has of you.  Is the waiting room tastefully furnished?  Are there rules and regulations for the waiting room and are they consistently enforced?  Is there ample seating for the number of individual offices the waiting room serves?  Are there individual chairs or couches?  A mix of both is preferable, to accommodate the varied needs of individuals, couples, and families.  Are magazines organized and kept to a minimum?  Fellow therapists who see children often have a tendency to create a juvenile feel to a waiting room, which may not work for you if you see mainly adults.

8.    Separate exit.  Does your suite have a separate rear exit?  This is important for both your clients when they leave the suite, as well as enabling you to enter and exit the suite without having to pass through the waiting room.

9.    Restrooms.  Are there restrooms in the suite for therapist use only?  If not are they conveniently located near your suite?  Are they locked?  If so, how do your clients access them?  Are there restroom keys in the waiting room?  If not, you lose valuable time loaning your key to your client after you have greeted them.

10. Kitchen/storage area. Does the suite have a kitchen or coffee station? Is it located in the suite? What features does it have - sink, garbage disposal, microwave, refrigerator, eating area? Who pays for supplies?

11. Janitorial service.  How often is your office cleaned?  At what time of the day?

Will they be interrupting your therapy sessions?  Will they vacuum and clean your carpeting?

12. Sound-proofing.  No other feature can ruin your office experience like the lack of sound-proofing.  This applies to both walls and doors.  The preferred common wall system should have a minimum of two layers of drywall on each side of the wall with sound batt insulation inside the walls.  The drywall should run from the floor to underside of the floor above.  Ask about your common wall assembly. Avoid wall systems that only go the top of the T-bar ceiling of your office.  Check and see if your office is adjacent to an elevator, restroom, kitchen, or waiting room, which can result in excessive sound transmission.                                           Office doors should be solid core and have sound seals on the top and both sides of the door.  The door bottom should have a "drop seal" - a mechanical device that seals the gap between the bottom of the door and the floor when the door is closed.  There should be a metal threshold, not carpeting, at the entry to your office to meet the drop seal and provide a solid seal.  Carpeting will not provide a solid seal.   TEST THE SOUNDPROOFING!!!.   Have a colleague stand in the office where you and your client would sit and talk at a level louder than normal, while you stand in the hallway outside the office door.  Then reverse the procedure and see if you can be heard talking in the hallway in a louder than normal voice.  If you plainly hear what is being said in either case you need to BEWARE.

 

13. Individual office temperature control.  This is another important consideration that is often overlooked.  The preferred system is an individual thermostat in each office.  Anything less may be inviting trouble, when you and your fellow therapists fight for temperature control.  Unfortunately, few psychotherapy offices have this feature.  If not, you must then check to see how the offices that have a common thermostat are grouped.  If the offices served by a common thermostat are grouped by size and solar exposure, and the thermostat is properly set and locked so it cannot be tampered with, the system may suffice.  Offices that have great variation in size and exposure and have a common thermostat will be a problem.

14. Call light signaling system.  Is there a call light system and is it professional looking and functioning properly?  Are the buttons uniform and lighting properly? A poorly designed and maintained system may be a sign of other hidden problems.

15. In session light signal system.  This is a good feature to have in an office suite.  It enables you to indicate that you are in session, and not to be disturbed.  This feature also reminds other therapists passing your office with their clients to be courteous.  It also enables therapists to see who is still in the office suite at the end of the day, so the last person to leave can lock the waiting room door and turn out the lights.

16.Individual office lighting.  The ideal system is incandescent recessed ceiling fixtures with at least two dimmable switches.  A third switch should activate a lamp in the office.  This will give you the most flexibility in setting the proper atmosphere for your client.  Unfortunately, the new energy codes have made this type of system very hard to find anymore.  Avoid offices with 4 or 8 foot long fluorescent tubes in a recessed or surface mounted ceiling fixture.

17. Phone jacks and internet. Are they placed where you would locate your desk? Does the building have WI-Fl? Most buildings don't, but a desk-top computer, modem, and wireless lap-top can skirt that problem.

If all of the features listed above meet your expectations, you have likely found the right office for yourself.  The next step is to sign a lease.

 

 

VARIOUS METHODS OF OFFICE LEASING

 

 

There are three different leasing scenarios:

1.      Leasing existing improved space or unimproved space directly from the building owner (Owner).

2.      Leasing an office in an existing office suite directly from an entity (Sublessor) that has master leased that space from the Owner. In this arrangement you would be known as the Sublessee.

3.       Leasing an office on a part-time basis from a Sublessee.

 

 

Because of the difficulty and financial risks involved in negotiating scenario 1, I will focus on scenarios 2 and 3.

 

LEASING AN OFFICE FROM A SUBLESSOR

 

Sublessors come in many shapes and sizes.  They can be a therapist who has leased a suite of offices, using one or more for his personal use and leasing out the rest to subsidize his expenses.  They can be a professional management company that specializes in managing psychotherapy suites.  They can be a public company that leases large blocks of office space and constructs general office space for lease to individuals.  This last group should be avoided since having an office located between an accountant and an escrow company is not the image you want to create.

 

There are many therapists who successfully maintain their practices and manage their own office suite.  I have also assumed the leases of therapists who have found it uncomfortable to wear the dual hats of fellow therapist and landlord, particularly when they have to issues of late rent payments, inter-suite friction, or suite maintenance.

 

A professional management company had the experience and staff to deal with suite leasing and maintenance.  Their primary goal is to establish and maintain a professional environment so you can conduct your practice in a professional manner.

 

LEASING AN OFFICE FROM A SUBLESSEE

 

Most of the issues discussed above still apply, but now you are an additional step removed from the Owner, who has the power to take actions deleterious to you in the event of a default by the Sublessor, who has no direct agreement with you.  The main risk that you run is that you may make your required payments as scheduled but the Sublessee does not make their payment to the Sublessor, or the Sublessor does not make their payment to the Owner.  In this case the Owner can declare a default and take possession of the office suite.  It is therefore important to thoroughly check out who you are dealing with.

 

In either of the above situations, the following questions should always be asked:

1.    How long a lease is required?  You may prefer the security of a longer lease, or the flexibility of a month to month lease?

2.    Can you have an option or options to extend your lease for longer periods of time?

3.    Are the monthly rates fixed or do they increase every year?

4.     How long is their lease with the Owner or Sublessor, as applicable?

5.    Are there any additional operating costs that are passed through to you, and how are they determined?  If so, is there a maximum amount that can be charged,

and what is the base year for these charges?

 

6.    Are there additional signage charges?

7.    Are you allowed to sublease or share your space with others?

8.    What happens if the building suffers a mechanical or electrical breakdown or water damage that temporarily prevents you from using your office?  Will your rent be abated?

9.    What happens if the building suffers major long term damage?  Can you cancel your lease or have your rent abated?

10.What kind of insurance does the building carry and require you to carry?

 

As you can see, there are many things to consider.  The above article covers the most important ones.  But taking the time to ask the right questions up front will ensure that you will be able to devote full time to your practice after you have moved in.

 

 

Gary Schaffel, President of Schaffel Psychotherapy Suites, has been developing and managing office suites exclusively for psychotherapists in Santa Monica, Brentwood, and Sherman Oaks since 1989.  He can be reached at (818) 787-2771 or at garv@schaffelpsvchsuites.com.