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How Ottawa’s commercial real estate brokers find the best space for their tenants

For many industry veterans, it comes down to the quality of the landlord

Merkburn’s property at 62 Steacie Dr.
Merkburn’s property at 62 Steacie Dr.

Like many of the city’s veteran commercial real estate brokers, Michael Church has lost track of the number of Ottawa office spaces he’s toured with tenants over the years.

In a city home to thousands of commercial properties, it’s inevitable that many will share similar features and amenities.

But one variable can have a major impact on which spaces brokers such as Church recommend to their tenants: the landlord, and the quality of their service.

“When you lease from a landlord, you’re basically getting married for 60 to 120 months,” says Church, a 30-year veteran of Ottawa’s commercial real estate industry and a broker, principal and managing director of Avison Young. “If both sides of the equation don’t feel like they’ve won something, that’s a terrible way to start.”

Transparency & trust

When brokers set out to find the perfect space, the first step is getting to know the tenant, their business and how they can best leverage their commercial space.

Once they have a full understanding of a tenant’s needs, brokers must draft a shortlist of spaces for them to consider. Among the many things they take into consideration is the landlord. After all, should the relationship between a tenant and their landlord go south, it reflects poorly on the broker who connected them.

“The quality of the landlord, or the openness of the landlord to making a mutually beneficial transaction, is something that factors very high when developing a shortlist to pursue,” says Alan Doak, a partner and co-founder at Proveras Commercial Realty, an Ottawa-based commercial real estate brokerage.

Maintaining open lines of communication, as well as providing detailed and up-to-date information about various spaces, is key.

“We contact members of the brokerage community on a regular basis, so that they know who we are and that they’re comfortable calling us,” says Kevin Rougeau, managing partner at Merkburn Holdings, a local commercial real estate firm with a portfolio of dozens of office and industrial spaces across Ottawa.

Merkburn prides itself on providing complete, transparent information to brokers and potential tenants. This includes details of a given space such as its size and amenities, but also a full breakdown of the costs associated with moving in.

“Tenants don’t like surprises,” says Rougeau.

“Tenants don’t like surprises.”

While there’s the cost of rent and – in some cases – utilities, moving into a new commercial space often also requires a fit up, where the space is re-outfitted to suit a new tenant’s needs. As Rougeau explains, Merkburn is transparent with all costs up front so as to make the signing and move-in process smoother for tenants.

The firm also provides other key information, such as the number of parking spaces available to a tenant based on the size of their space.

Transparency and efficiency are among the reasons many of Ottawa’s real estate brokers enjoy working with Merkburn when searching for the best space for their tenants.

“They take a lot of pride in the work that they do,” says Church.

A people business

Once a tenant has decided on a space, it’s time to negotiate the lease, complete their fit up and move in. In many instances, this process has to happen quickly, as a tenant’s current lease may be ending or they’ve outgrown their current space.

The speed at which this can happen is often influenced by how quickly a landlord can approve various parts of the project.

“One of the top reasons that we like dealing with Merkburn is that the decision-makers are local,” says Doak, whose business is also based in the city.

This means approvals happen promptly and questions are quickly answered. This translates to better service for tenants and in turn brokers, both during negotiations, fit up and after move in. In contrast, many large commercial real estate companies are based out of Toronto, but own and manage properties in Ottawa and other cities. This can slow down the process, and even lead to challenges should an issue arise in a building outside of business hours.

“It’s a people business and Merkburn are very much aware of that,” says Church. “It’s all about people.”

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