How property managers should prepare for tenant moves

So you’re a tenant on the move.

You began this exciting and exhausting journey what seems like a decade ago. You picked over one space after another with your broker. You pored over dozens of sets of plans with your architect. You endured furniture meetings. Lighting meetings. IT meetings. Construction meetings. Meetings on top of meetings. Everything is packed and the once bustling nerve center that was your office is stripped down to dilapidated carpet and faded paint. It’s Friday afternoon and the only sound left is the whirring of your desktop PC left behind to run the operation. You’re ready. You’re prepared. So what could possibly go wrong?

That’s a rhetorical question, of course, because something always goes wrong. What’s surprising, however, is how often the most costly errors come from the most unexpected places. The principal culprits are unforeseen circumstances and unintended consequences.

An office move becomes almost a living, breathing thing with innumerable moving parts sometimes a year or longer before it is scheduled. Its intricate milestones are even more critical than the design and construction process which technically stops just before occupancy, the ultimate end to the tenant’s long journey.

The office move itself is not a single occasion, but a series of timed and carefully orchestrated events, each pre-calculated months in advance. “It’s all about the planning,” any commercial moving company will endlessly preach, and they are correct. In fact, the moving process–perhaps more than any other in the commercial real estate industry–is rife with cautionary clichés, a clear indication that there is a rich, documented history of things that went very badly, even when intentions were the very best.

One particularly astute and exceedingly prepared local tenant was confident that they had planned for every possible contingency, with the move only a short jaunt from one downtown location to another. What they didn’t plan on was a television commercial in mid-shoot blocking their one usable route of entry. The entire street was covered in several feet of fake snow as a massive pickup truck hauled a Rockefeller-sized Christmas tree down Seventeenth Avenue. This was a sunny day in August.

Unforeseen circumstance? Absolutely. So should the tenant have been a bit more diligent regarding the possibility of summer events in the city? Of course. While traffic conditions on any given day cannot possibly be predicted to the minute, a major street closure scheduled by the city for weeks or months in advance simply cannot be missed. There is no excuse.

Similarly, weather far too often wreaks havoc on office moves. Again, Colorado’s screwy climate frequently defies even the latest of meteorological gadgetry. But it’s funny how often a Bronco fan will check, re-check and check again the downtown weather conditions as kickoff approaches. There are even numerous mobile apps for that.

Snow, hail, wind and rain are common here, sometimes all in a single day. An office relocation doesn’t have to come to a screeching halt to quickly become a disaster. It frequently only has to be delayed. Sure, there are anomalies, like tornadoes. But there is simply no excuse for a convoy of moving trucks filled with all your valuable office tools to be paralyzed on I25 because somebody in your organization failed to explore other options.

Interior architects can be an invaluable resource to a tenant’s relocation. The tenant’s architect should have complete documentation of the new space, including floor plans and furniture layouts. A very simple, inexpensive and effective method used to ease the pain of identifying workstation occupants in the new space is to tack or tape the assigned move numbers on the outside of the space. The furniture movers are made aware of this and simply match up the numbered carts or crates from the old space to the new one. Mistake-proof, right? Hardly.

One architect’s project manager delegated that responsibility to an overworked rookie who rushed through the task and affixed one plan to the wrong location, which subsequently threw off the entire sequence. The furniture installer who could have and should have seen the mistake—and called it in– simply figured that the architect surely must have a reason for this change in plans and proceeded to incorrectly install systems furniture in a half-dozen offices before somebody noticed the gaffe. That is an unintended consequence if there ever was one. But it happens, despite all the checklists and rules and protocols set in place.

Oversized furniture and equipment seem to inexplicably fall through the cracks when planning a relocation.

One tenant had to call in a stone mason on the day of the move to saw in half a 25-foot granite table because somebody forgot to measure the elevator cab. Another was forced to remove a section of the curtain wall of the new building and crane in a custom-built Danish table. Unforeseen? Perhaps, but just because there was no specific written rule for dealing with unusually large custom tables does not give license to the absence of common sense. And yet it happens, over and over again.

The point here is that so many different parties are involved in the office relocation process, it seems impossible for both tenant and landlord to expect a mistake-free experience. The irony is that movers, move managers, third party project managers, building owners and in general, tenants do a masterful job of planning the relocation down to the last paper clip. It is what’s not on those lists that can often make the difference between a smooth relocation and a disastrous one.

Dan Marschman is a Senior Project Manager at KIEDING. He can be reached at dmarschman@kieding.com. This work originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of the Colorado Real Estate Journal’s Property Management Quarterly.