Why I Exclusively Represent Office Tenants, and NOT Landlords

As a commercial real estate advisor who has built an entire career upon advocating on behalf of tenants, exclusively, the million dollar question I’m always asked is, “Why did you stop representing landlords when the money is so good doing both?”.

The easy answer is that I always felt like I was somehow representing the “bad guy” by representing landlords, and that I get much more satisfaction out of helping out the underdog, who is almost always the tenant.  Now, that’s not to say that all landlords are bad, but tenants are often the “Little Guy” at the negotiation table and need a strong ally in the ring with them.  While a commercial office tenant may only address their real estate needs once every 3 to 10 years, a landlord will conduct many, many more transactions in that same time and is tasked with maximizing shareholder/investor value – naturally, this typically runs counter to the economic goals of the tenant.

The second and longer answer, is that try and spin it as you might, there is an enormous amount of conflict when dual-agency exists – whereby the broker simultaneously represents both the landlord AND the tenant.  The only way to truly offer my clients the very best in service is to choose a side, and completely remove that bias altogether.

I think the best way to get my point across here is with a few examples:

Let’s say I’ve been hired by “ABC Tenant” to locate and negotiate terms for their new office relocation, however I also just happen to represent quite a few key landlords downtown.  Now consider this:  there is pressure from the landlord to tour the tenant through the buildings they own and to try and make a deal, even if it’s not the best fit for my client.  If the buildings I list don’t make the tour, I can forget about holding on to that listing for too long.

There’s also pressure from within the broker’s own firm, as the firm (and the broker) will earn a larger commission if the deal stays “in house”.  Again, the needs of the brokerage and broker are being placed above that of the clients’.  If the real estate broker is going to make more money if you lease space in a building that they list, rather than sign a deal at a competitor’s building, do you think that might affect the advice they give you?

Another valid scenario is explained in the following.  Let’s say I tour ABC Tenant through a building I do not currently list, but would like to win that landlord assignment in the future.  Well, I’ll probably do one transaction in the next 3-5 years with the tenant, but if I win the landlord assignment I could easily increase my volume twenty-fold.   How hard do you think I’m going to negotiate against that landlord and am I really going to go to bat for my tenant if I’m trying to create favor with the landlord?

There are plenty of hardworking, honest real estate brokers who offer dual representation and I am sure they outnumber the bad apples, however I firmly believe that the only way to truly offer conflict-free tenant representation is to completely remove any opportunity for bias from the equation; and the only way to do that is to simply NOT represent landlords, and focus solely on fighting hard for tenants.