Leased at First Site

In my experience the key to a successful commercial tenancy is as much focused on people as property. In fact, I tend to bore everyone to death by always insisting that the relationship between a Landlord and Tenant could be viewed as a (sort-of, not quite, but kind of) marriage… because, let’s face it, a 10yr x 10yr Lease is certainly no first date #NoLeasedAtFirstSight.

And, let’s be honest here as individuals, if you weren’t willing to sign up to be a contestant on Married At First Sight #MAFS, you shouldn’t be so quick to go signing up your company to do the same.

Continuing the analogy, you can see that the leasing commercial arrangement plays out just like a courtship.  Perhaps you’re trying to enchant the Landlord into the possibilities your business has to offer them, or they may be trying to seduce you into a space with promises of elaborate fit-outs and inflated incentives.  Like dating, this is the most magical, beautiful time in your on-going relationship… because everyone is on their best behaviour and full of generosity.

But therein lies the rub, and the single pressing reason why people don’t usually marry (successfully) someone they have met just once.  Let’s face it, you only really know someone intimately when you’ve seen them trying to urgently send that work e-mail with slow internet (to Becky in accounts who needs an immediate attitude check #TheresAlwaysABecky), or when they are stuck on Punt Road in Friday night traffic. You only really, truly know someone when you’ve seen them tested, and failing hard, at their worst.

Think of your Landlord/Tenant relationship as the same. Sure, it’s great now whilst you are in this honeymoon stage, but there will be a moment in the future when you sit across the table from them and wonder how you could have ever ended up with someone so stupid, greedy and quite frankly insufferable.

So, my advice to you from my own battle weary experience is to ask yourself a single question, “How well will I disagree with this person?”  Will it be constructively? Do we share common morals, values and goals? Do they seem quick tempered? Spiteful? Or do they tend to hide behind a wall of lawyers?

In the long run there will be many disputes for things sometimes outside of your control, sometimes even outside of theirs. Maybe noisy, but necessary, roof repairs that impacts on your Tuesday client meeting. Maybe you both have very different ideas around what a market rent increase should look like. The question isn’t whether you will disagree – that is a given! ALL couples argue! The question is how effectively you can argue (and consequently resolve conflict) together. And, like in all relationships the longer you know each other – the higher the stakes will become. Trust me – when it comes to property, memories are long. #RealLong #RealEstateLyfe

Keep in mind that just because you go into uncomfortable conversations constructively that doesn’t also mean that the Landlord will let you have your own way every time – nope, not even if you are right. This is a commercial relationship after all and not a fairy tale. Sometimes you are going to think the Landlord is behaving like a jerk (which is subtly different to thinking they are a jerk). But here is the kicker – sometimes they are thinking the same thing about you. AND sometimes you are going to be wrong, and sometimes they will be wrong. Occasionally, you’ll both be wrong. From my experience, It’s actually harder when you are both right.

So then I hear you ask, what is the key to a good commercial marriage?

Wine. And lots of it.

No, my serious advice to you comes in two parts;

1 . Go into this partnership with breadth of vision. You’re both here for the long term, and so sometimes you will need to let them have their way, get what they want or outright win. For the sake of the relationship, and for the greater good. When that day comes, remember that for whatever reason, at that moment in time, they need it more than you do. Maybe their teenager is on drugs, or their marriage is failing or they are standing on the brink of financial and emotional ruin. You don’t know. And there will come times when you behave unreasonably, and you need it more than they do because you just had to make your best employee of eight years redundant, and your mother just went into high level care. We will never know everything happening in each other’s lives (and you don’t need to) but our personal lives always impact us professionally somehow.

So in the beginning, whilst things are good, take the time to get in front of them. Understand how they operate and decide if they are someone you can disagree well with. And even if you know you won’t do it well, and that you still choose to go ahead, great! Just go into it with your eyes wide open with realistic expectations.  Because my friend if you chose to marry the devil, don’t be surprised if you find yourself in hell three years later!

2.  Every relationship thrives with trust and communication. But just like the saying, Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither is trust won automatically. It takes time, and years to build (and rebuild) trust to withstand the many storms of life.

I’ve thrown in this picture of Jarrod from Kinfolk Café because you may not know, but a decade ago he was my first commercial lease signed here at donkey wheel house (three leases and a lifetime ago now). Gosh, how much has changed! I’ve changed companies since but continued to stay tethered to donkey wheel house, Jarrod’s business has gone on to grow and expand in ways (and locations) he would never have imagined. And yet we often (like yesterday) find ourselves sitting across the table from each other, nutting out logistics and pathways forward.

I can honestly say, I am more proud of this professional relationship than of any other, and often refer to Jarrod as ‘the brother I never asked for’.  I am not proud of our relationship because it has always been easy, or because it is the longest.  It is the depth of our trust and mutual respect that I hang my hat on. Over the years I have gone to Jarrod for all kinds of peer-to-peer professional advice, as well as plenty of personal advice. We have both cheered for one another from the side lines, and celebrated the small wins together. In fact, I can say that a small group of us one night (Jarrod and I included) danced to footloose, on the stroke of midnight, in a dark and abandoned ballroom at donkey wheel house. Hand in hand to these highs, we’ve had some impressive lows, and our fair share of difficult conversations over the years.

In fact, I think I could honestly say that one of the most poorly handled conversations of my career was with Jarrod (BIG CALL, I know).  But it is how we’ve come through those moments, to find constructive and resilient ways of defining ‘fair’ that has made us what we are. After that conversation, because of the strength of our relationship I felt comfortable calling Jarrod – and saying, “You know what, I’m not sleeping, I don’t think I did that well at all, I don’t want to leave things here. Can we go for a walk and try again?”. Turns out, I hadn’t been doing as good a job listening to the problem as I thought, and when I did start listening better, I was able to turn things around in the right direction pretty quickly.

Like in all good relationships, we keep working at becoming better versions of ourselves, and you need a solid base of trust, good communication and common shared values to be able to do that.

So don’t be Married At First Sights next victim, or swipe right on your next Landlord #SwipeResponsibly, take the time to find the right person to partner with for your space. 10 years with the right person can be a joyful adventure, full of shared development and just the right level of discomfort to grow… 10 years with the wrong person, well, it can feel like a life sentence.

Goodluck, and don’t ever hesitate to hit me up if you’d like advice on how to tackle your next ‘uncomfortable’ conversation. I’m not perfect, but I’ve been around the block and am always happy to share what I’ve learned. #EthicalProperty #Property #People #Expertise

Have a great day,


Vetty Duncan