It’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest expense in your business budget. Getting it right can attract more of your ideal clients. Getting it wrong can be a painful and expensive mistake from which it’ll be hard to extract yourself anytime soon. It’s renting the right space for your private practice. In a previous post, I provided a quick and simple way to figure out your ideal space solution. That points you to the right type of space, but here’s the 15-point checklist we used to choose the specific rental space when my wife was still renting from others. I use the same list when coaching therapists today. For your convenience, I'll provide the checklist first, with explanations of each item below that.
- Utilities and other costs
- Term and renewal
- Responsive landlord
- Size of the space
- Common areas
- Convenient access for your clients
- Convenient parking
- Safe for you and your clients
- Other professionals around
- After-hours access
- Air conditioning and heat
Checklist Items Explained
- Rent: this is the most obvious point. The rent has to be reasonable for the size of the space, the “class” of the building, and the location. More importantly, it has to be something you can afford without eating up too much of your revenue.
- Utilities and other costs: when Risa was renting a suite, the landlord charged all the renters for “overages” anytime his expenses for outdoor lighting, snow removal, etc. exceeded a certain amount. This ended up costing her thousands of dollars each year! That was one of the reasons we ended up buying a suite of our own. On the other hand, when renting out a single office in a suite, you may find that electricity, water, wifi, music, pest control, garbage removal, and even cleaning services are included in your rent.
- Term and renewal: many commercial leases are multi-year ones, and landlords often put in rent escalation clauses, which automatically increase your rent each year. Make sure you understand these and that the increase is reasonable (i.e., no higher than inflation).
- Subleasing: especially if you’re looking at a larger space, ask the landlord if you’ll be allowed to sublease to other therapists. My wife Risa did this for several years, reducing her net rental cost to almost nothing. If subleasing is not allowed, see if you can at least share the lease and space with one other therapist. However, in this case you’ll need to know you can carry the cost if your colleague decides to up and leave, because they’re moving away, things aren’t working out between the two of you, they realize they can’t afford it after all, or they’re just done with being a therapist.
- Responsive landlord: it’s hard to know in advance if the landlord is responsive just from talking with her or him. However, if you see lots of small problems that aren’t attended to (burned out lightbulbs, litter, water stains, etc.), walk away. If the same landlord has multiple units there, try to talk with some of the other renters about their experience with the landlord (is she kind, respectful, professional, etc.?). You can also ask the landlord how often he replaces carpeting, paints the space, etc.
- Size of the space: your space has to be the right size for what you need now, what you expect to need during the lease term, and preferably what you expect for a few years after. If it’s too small for your needs, you’ll have to move sooner than you might want. If it’s too large, you’ll be paying for space you don’t use. One coaching client asked me about an offer from her landlord. She was in the middle of her lease, but he offered her to move to a different suite that just opened up with double the space. As an inducement, he offered to keep her rent as is for the remaining six months of her lease, after which she’d pay the new rent, which would have been an extra $18,000/year. After talking with her, it became clear her practice wasn’t limited by space, so all this would accomplish is increase her costs and eat up her profits.
- Common areas: you want to make sure your clients have access to a nice waiting room and a restroom. You yourself also want access to a restroom, obviously, but it’s nice if you can also share a kitchenette, conference room, etc.
- Convenient access for your clients: if you want clients to come to your office from a certain area, your office has to be close to that area and easily accessible from highways or other main roads. If there’s a popular grocery store and/or mall nearby, that could be a plus for clients who want to optimize their schedule and/or have a spouse shop while they’re at an appointment with you.
- Convenient parking: if your clients have to park a mile away and/or pay for parking, that’s just added friction that might be the last straw when they’re struggling emotionally in therapy anyway. If there’s lots of free parking a few feet away from the building, that’s one less thing to worry about.
- Safe for you and your clients: a couple of years ago, a woman we know was walking from a local Target store to her car. A man came up to her and tried to grab her purse. In this case, things turned out really poorly for the would-be mugger. The woman has a black belt in Tae Kwan Do. When he wouldn’t let go despite her verbal warning, she dropped him on the asphalt. Hard. If this could happen in broad daylight, in the middle of a wide open public parking lot, in a a fairly affluent suburban area, just imagine how you’d feel having to leave your office in the evening if you’re in an industrial area with nobody around, and the lot isn’t well lit. Don’t do that to you or your clients. In our current space, we installed a remotely controlled magnetic lock on our suite entry door, and a video/audio doorbell for therapists to see and talk with anyone trying to come into the suite. Especially when a single therapist is there late at night, it’s comforting to know you can prevent or allow entry to people remotely.
- Other professionals around: if other units around house other professionals such as attorneys (especially in family law), doctors, chiropractors, insurance agents, etc., you can get to know them, network together to help them get what they want and potentially they will help you as well.
- Soundproofing: another obvious one, but one you might not think of if you’re just starting out. Ask what soundproofing (if any) has been implemented. This might include the walls extending above the drop ceiling or even all the way up to the hard ceiling, soundproofing mats in the walls, built-in speakers emitting white noise, etc. Unless the space was explicitly designed and built for therapy practices (very few are), you might be limited to putting in a white noise generator outside your office door, which is suboptimal.
- Accessibility: especially if you expect to serve people with disabilities, are there ramps, elevators, ADA-compliant restrooms, etc.?
- After-hours access: is there a building lobby door that gets locked after hours or on weekends and holidays? If you plan on providing evening, weekend, and/or holiday hours (which many clients love), will your clients be able to enter without providing their names to a third-party security service?
- Air conditioning and heat: if you’re renting an office in a suite, you may not have control over the temperature in the suite. Even if you rent an entire suite, you may not have control over the temperature. One client I worked with rented in a building that shuts off the A/C after a certain hour. She wasn't aware of this when she signed the lease, and was stuck without control of the temperature in her suite after that time of day.
To be realistic, you’re unlikely to find a space that fits all of these perfectly. It’s up to you to decide how important each element is for you, and how well any potential space works in that regard. Working through such decisions is an important part of my coaching for therapists. If you’re interested in exploring if my coaching would be a good fit for you, send me an email.