A Guide to Commercial Real Estate Insurance for Your Business

In most major markets, commercial real estate leases in heavily-trafficked neighborhoods can explode a company’s monthly overhead. Besides the cost of the space itself, you may be on the hook for utilities, shared common area costs, security, supplies, and staff. But one cost that’s easily overlooked may be the most important: commercial property insurance.

For those in manufacturing, retail, and non-profits, this is a critical aspect in protecting your business from unforeseen accidents and incidents. While each industry (and the accompanying assets associated with each business) demand different costs for commercial property insurance, it’s important not to overlook this facet of commercial real estate leases. And as with auto or home insurance, it doesn’t hurt to shop around before securing a policy. 

Before you start your search for a suitable commercial property insurance policy, you should inform yourself with the ins and outs to ensure you know what to expect from your specific business requirements and to protect your company from undue burden.

Explaining the Basics of Commercial Property Insurance 

As with residential insurance, commercial property insurance covers a wide variety of danger and accidents, but it’s not a blanket protection. Most commercial property insurance policies cover common accidents, like theft, water damage, natural disasters, vandalism, and fires, but most importantly, these policies insure your property and resources within the building itself. In addition, they protect property your customers and employees bring into the store, signage, and branding items located within. However, it doesn’t protect you against lawsuits, so business owners should invest in general liability insurance to protect yourself against expensive legal fees related to your business. 

Who Should Secure Commercial Property Insurance?

Any business with a physical location should invest in commercial property insurance to protect the building itself, but even those who own their business and work from a home office should purchase commercial property insurance as well. 

Whether you have a commercial real estate lease or own the building outright (or are paying a mortgage), you’ll need commercial property insurance to cover the building. If you’re renting the property, the owner will transfer liability to you based on the square footage included in the lease. Before you can even sign a commercial real estate lease, you need to provide proof of commercial property insurance showing coverage amounts and the scope of the policy. 

Breaking Down Costs and Benefits

Depending on the value of your assets, including specialized equipment, computer systems, furniture, etc., your annual rate for commercial property insurance will differ. However, small businesses, such as coffee shops, boutique clothing stores, and bookstores, can expect to pay between $500-1000 per year. These rates are based on the construction materials of the building, distance to a local fire department station, and the nature of the business. Also, like residential property insurance, the rates will differ based on the value of the property and its contents- the larger your business, square footage, and the more valuable your assets, the higher your deductible will be.

To protect against accidental fires, water damage, flooding, and other natural disasters as well as man-made damages like vandalism and theft, commercial property insurance is an essential – and sometimes mandatory, as stated above – aspect of owning and operating a business of any size or scope. 

What’s Lessors Risk Insurance – and Why Does it Matter?

Lessors risk insurance is only applicable for building owners who maintain a minority of the property’s square footage and sublease the remaining area to other occupants. While building owners require commercial property insurance from tenants, lessors risk policies are an essential component of owning and operating a commercial building. These policies are less expensive than commercial property insurance, but still insure the property and its assets. 

What to Keep in Mind When Shopping for Commercial Property Insurance

As previously mentioned, commercial property insurance only covers certain aspects in the insurance world and shouldn’t be used as a blanket protection. If you’re about to start a business or open your first physical location, keep the following additional policies in mind to maximize your protection going forward:

Property Insurance

Whether you own the building you occupy or are leasing a space, you likely own several thousand dollars worth of business property, including computer systems, tools, equipment, and inventory to ensure continuity of business. Property insurance protects these assets against fires, theft, and other forms of damage. Optional features of these types of policies may also cover the loss of earnings as a result of incidents – which should be strongly considered by those seeking commercial property insurance policies. 

General Liability Insurance

This is the most basic and essential insurance policy in the commercial world, offering protections against damages and legal fees related to bodily harm or property damage to a third party on or off your company’s physical territory. General liability insurance is a crucial addition to commercial property insurance and should not be overlooked when considering a new facility for your company. 

Commercial Auto Insurance

For any company with vehicles under its name for employee use, commercial auto insurance is essential. Any vehicle that transports employees, assets, or proprietary information should be insured under these policies to protect against theft, accidents, and acts of God. Even if your company compensates employees for mileage and gasoline for their personal vehicles during business hours, you should invest in non-owned auto liability insurance in the event that an employee doesn’t have adequate insurance in the event of an incident. 

Business Owner’s Policies

These policies, otherwise known as BOPs, offer a bundle of business-related insurance policies, including business interruption, commercial auto, liability, crime/theft, and property insurance. Your rate will depend on your needs, but these are packaged to ensure business owners receive the best rate without having to invest in multiple policies from different providers. 

Professional Liability Insurance 

A professional liability insurance policy protects the company against any failure to render professional services – and isn’t included in a general liability insurance policy. Lawyers, accountants, consultants, and any other professional services provider should invest in this type of policy in addition to commercial property insurance. 

Data and Computer Systems Insurance

When a company collects privileged data, it has a legal responsibility to protect it. Should a data breach occur, this type of insurance would protect the company against damages and legal costs associated with any data loss, breach, or accidental disclosure of such information. 

Directors and Officers Insurance

This policy type protects employees at the highest levels of the company – C-level employees – against actions that could affect the profits of the company itself. Should their performance or actions while employed by the company demonstrate a legal risk or expose the company to a lawsuit, this policy would protect the company against damages and cover legal costs. 

No matter where you decide to set up shop, it’s important to factor in the costs of insuring your commercial real estate lease and property in order to protect your company from accidents, theft, and lawsuits – no matter your industry or area of focus.

How to Gain More Flexibility in Long-Term Commercial Real Estate Leases

For most businesses, agreeing to a long-term financial commitment is only positive if it means additional and sustained income. But a commercial real estate agreement is the opposite – a monthly expense that needs to be paid in order to keep the lights on. 

Spanning anywhere between 3-20 years, a commercial real estate lease agreement is a significant investment. While most leases include clauses for early termination (for a fee), it’s important that companies pursue the greatest amount of flexibility in a long-term real estate commitment to protect themselves from changing market and economic factors. 

Why Landlords Refuse Short-Term Lease Agreements

Despite the fact that most companies can’t accurately predict business cycles further than 2-5 years, property owners always seek a longer lease term in order to maximize the value of their real estate asset and secure a predictable cash flow. 

There’s also the financial burden of taking on a new tenant. Taking into account cleanup costs, architectural fees for new buildouts, and landlord improvements to make the space suitable for a new tenant, it doesn’t make financial sense to commit an upfront investment for a short-term tenant. 

Exploring the Different Options in the Lease Negotiation Phase

Established businesses with long-term projected growth and prosperity can benefit from longer lease terms, which tend to offer more agreeable monthly terms, additional perks, and more generous tenant improvement allowances. But there’s always a chance that things will change, which is why you’ll want to protect your company’s interests with the following conditions during the lease negotiation phase:

Right to Assignment and Sublets

In the event of a rapid expansion, merger, acquisition, or if the absolute perfect property comes onto the market midway through your lease agreement, having a right to assignment (in which the original tenant would assume responsibility for a sub tenant) or sublet (where the landlord assumes responsibility for a sub tenant) clause in your contract will allow you to sublet the property to another company without breaking the terms of your lease agreement. 

Renewals and Extensions

Renewals and rights to extensions built into your lease agreement allow you flexibility in retaining a space after the term of your lease expires. Due to the hefty costs of relocating, not to mention the logistical nightmares of moving offices and maintaining continuity of business, it makes more sense to provide yourself the ability to keep the same space. Even if the market demonstrates more favorable properties, your landlord is always seeking more attractive tenants with deeper pocketbooks. After all, if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. 

Early Terminations and Contractions

Early termination options give tenants the ability to end their lease agreement after a certain point, but requires them to give the landlord written notice in advance of the termination date – usually between 6-12 months. But these termination clauses won’t come without a cost. Landlords will demand, at a minimum, a certain percentage of the remainder of the lease and for leasing commissions and tenant improvement allowances. 

Contraction clauses allow companies to downsize their square footage in advance of the conclusion of their lease agreement. This allows companies to pare down their occupancy in the event of layoffs, changing market conditions, or in preparation of moving a company to another more suitable location. 

Flexibility in Expansions

Every business hopes to grow and expand their operations. In the hopes that it happens, it’s important to anticipate a growing staff over the course of a long-term commercial lease agreement and avoid stacking desks atop one another. Building owners usually grant a certain version of an expansion option to tenants, which are commonly chosen from the following:

Right of First Offer

Including a “right of first offer” clause in your commercial lease agreement mandates that the landlord must present a newly available space or expansion to the tenant before putting it on the market to third-parties, allowing tenants the ability to expand their square footage under the same roof. 

First Right of Refusal

This clause requires landlords and building owners to provide the same deal made with a potential third-party tenant to the current tenant for equal space. Triggering this clause would preempt any third-party deal and allow the current tenant to expand into the space advertised for the same terms agreed upon by the landlord and the third-party. 

Fixed Expansion Options

Also known as hold options, these stipulate that a tenant has a predefined amount of time to exercise an option on an adjacent or neighboring space once it becomes available before the landlord places it on the market for third-party availability. 

Other Alternatives to Space-Related Issues

Thanks to the democratization of the workplace and the reach of connected business communication systems, companies have begun holding off on an expansion of office space in return for flexible working conditions, shifting employees to remote or work-from-home situations to avoid overcrowding and in order to save money on expansions. 

Temporary or shared office solutions have also been a major advantage for companies with space shortages. Monthly plans through shared office providers give companies the ability to remain in contact with their employees, give them adequate desk space, and even schedule meetings in these shared conference rooms. For companies with space requirements or looking ahead to a major expansion, these short-term alternatives can prove invaluable to businesses on the move. 

Negotiating for more flexibility in your lease agreement can be a major hurdle in the process, but protecting your company’s interests in the long-term makes the effort well worthwhile. When you sit down with the landlord’s representatives, try and incorporate some of the above options in order to limit your risks and protect your company against uncertain market conditions and unforeseeable economic circumstances. 

 

John is the VP of Sales at OfficeSpace.com where he leads broker relations and sales. Prior to being VP of Sales, he was the Regional  Director for the company. John has over 25 years of experience working in the commercial real estate industry. Before OfficeSpace.com, John was a commercial real estate broker for the Norman Company in Seattle, WA.

Examining the True Costs of Opening a New Restaurant

Opening a restaurant is a costly endeavor to say the least. With so much volatility in the market and no guarantees that your establishment will take off with your intended audience, it can feel like an uphill battle before you even start the initial planning process for a new restaurant. Are you simply revitalizing a previous restaurant that’s already built out with a full kitchen, gas, and electrical capabilities? Or are you transforming a new space to suit your needs, requiring architects, designers, general contractors, electricians, and plumbers? What’s the restaurant market like in your city, and how expensive are the professionals you’ll need to bring onboard to get started?

Despite these variables, with enough planning and strategic analysis of your intended market, you and your business partners will be set up for a (hopefully) long and lucrative adventure into the restaurant and nightlife business. Here’s how to examine the true costs of opening a new restaurant:

Finding the Right Location

There’s no true cost to point toward during this initial phase, unless you and your business partners have already hired a general manager on salary to get the ball rolling and be the point person during the search. But due to the importance of this step and factoring in major property hurdles like adequate parking, size of the restaurant, and the reality of the market in your desired neighborhood, there shouldn’t be a rush to get the doors open if there simply isn’t a property that’s suitable for your needs.

Budgeting for a New Restaurant

According to a recent survey of new restaurant owners, the average cost to open a new establishment, without factoring in the purchase of commercial real estate outright, is about $500,000 – and that’s factoring in a 33% cost overrun compared to their expected budget. However, Building Journal suggests the national average cost for a 5,000 square foot restaurant with basic to mid-level finishes at about $160 per square foot, equating to $480,000 -more expensive markets like New York average about $216 per square foot.

Of course, front of house and back of house will have different costs per square foot, but restaurant owners should expect to spend between 30-40% more per square foot on front of house improvements than back of house upgrades.

Permitting

As you’re likely well aware, starting any business that’s open to the public is going to involve a lot of government departments. From the fire department, utility providers, building inspectors, public health department, and more, you’ll want to involve all of the necessary stakeholders at an early stage to avoid unforeseen, and mandatory, upgrades before receiving your approved permit.

Before you even sign a lease agreement, you should check the building’s Certificate of Occupancy to ensure the space is suitable for your intentions. For instance, if your property isn’t permitted for food and beverage, or especially a liquor license, you should avoid the property. Changing these rules is incredibly time consuming and expensive – sometimes impossible – depending on your general location and city of operation.

Design and General Construction

Depending on your intended audience, how you market to them, and competitive analysis in your neighborhood, you may prefer to work very closely with the general contractor, architect, and restaurant designer to ensure your establishment turns heads and keeps a memorable ambiance. However, some restaurants – particularly those with existing build outs – won’t require a significant investment in design and build out.

The average cost of kitchen and bar equipment, minus cost of food and drinks, sits around $115,000, while the cost of construction per dining room seat is about $2,100.

Equipment

If you’re lucky, your ideal property will already have some of the essential equipment hooked up and ready to go. Big budget items like burners, fryers, hoods, coolers, freezers, and dishwashing machines can rack up a serious bill – about $75,000 for a back of house space averaging 1,000 square feet.

Of course, picking up used equipment from any source can be dicey, so prospective restaurant owners are encouraged to bring on a technician to inspect each item to ensure it’s up to par for what you need. After all, skimping on a grill and having it break down midway through your first week of operation won’t do you any favors.

Rent and Labor

This is arguably the largest and most crucial monthly cost in a restaurant owner’s budget. The number of variables that come into securing a commercial real estate space for a restaurant can be mind boggling, but there are plenty of resources to help guide you through the restaurant lease agreement process. Just as you wouldn’t over-extend yourself with an apartment or house you can’t afford, you shouldn’t go well beyond your budget for the “perfect” or otherwise ideal facility.

Bringing in a commercial real estate tenant broker can be a big benefit during this process. Since they’re paid as a percentage of the final lease agreement, they won’t require an upfront or continuing cost while they work on your behalf. Capable of research, setting appointments, and negotiating on your behalf, a commercial real estate broker should be an essential part of your property search and lease agreement process.

As far the costs of labor, they appear to be a fixed cost on paper, but can vary  in nature. Because a restaurant needs a bare minimum number of employees in order to function, that number should be fairly consistent. On the other hand, the more customers you bring in, the more staff you’ll need to keep them satisfied and serviced. Your management team should be prepared to send home idle workers when volume is low.

At the outset, however, restaurant owners should strongly consider labor contingency clauses pre-opening to ensure your qualified staff is retained if the restaurant experiences an unforeseen delay. Otherwise, the longer you keep the doors closed, the greater chance they’ll seek opportunities elsewhere.

Sales and Marketing

Without specialized experience in sales and marketing, small businesses and startups can easily overspend on marketing and promotion. Hiring expensive firms could potentially move the needle and word of mouth on your new eatery, but this isn’t a wise spend – especially considering the possibility of an unforeseen repair cost.

With tight budgets, reliance on word of mouth, and dependance on return customers to drive initial foot traffic, consider lower-cost marketing efforts at the outset. Try relying on high-quality visuals, industry-only or limited pre-opening nights, or event-driven marketing via social media to get customers in the door early and often.

Whether you choose to open a small boutique, a large, sprawling eatery, or a franchise expansion, you’ll realize a large upfront investment. Without the proper research, market analysis, and preparation for cost overruns, you and your business partners may be on the hook for more than you signed up for, but well-equipped prospective restaurant owners will always have the edge when to comes to making their business a success.

John is the VP of Sales at OfficeSpace.com where he leads broker relations and sales. Prior to being VP of Sales, he was the Regional  Director for the company. John has over 25 years of experience working in the commercial real estate industry. Before OfficeSpace.com, John was a commercial real estate broker for the Norman Company in Seattle, WA.