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The fine art of repositioning commercial properties

Kick up the creativity

Everyone’s spouting the same advice: with commercial property sales and leasing, you have to get creative, or you won’t succeed.

No kidding. Like that’s big news (not).

The headlines make sense, but then the whining begins: “But what does that even mean?”

I’ve got commercial listings. I have vacant and unsold commercial properties. What am I not doing right?

Well, quite simply, perhaps you’re not creative ENOUGH.

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Don’t market an auto dealership…

Take that auto showroom that’s vacant and listed for sale. (I know, take it, puhleeze!)

You’ve had it listed for months, but nobody’s buying old auto dealerships right now. You tell the owner you have it listed on 3 MLS systems, Craigslist, maybe Costar, Loopnet and more, and nobody’s in the market for an automobile showroom right now. Hasn’t the owner heard we’re closing dealerships, not opening them? Geez.

There, that’s the crux of your problem! You may be marketing the property but you’re NOT getting creative.

…. instead start from square one!

I have read articles just this past month of an auto showroom being purchased or leased by … a church. No kidding. The big wide open space is perfect for an auditorium/church audience. What else? How about classrooms? I just leased an old auto showroom to a group who will use it for an office/educational setting.

The medical sector is hot right now, snatching up low rent space in large buildings. One is leasing a former catalog call center to install mammogram and other radiology machines. Another is opening in a former grocery store.

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Don’t market for former use, market vanilla shells

So if you have a 20,000 square-foot building that used to house a grocery store, don’t make your headline “Former Grocery Store for Rent/Sale”. Instead, market the square footage and potential users.

Who is buying/leasing space in your area right now? Medical centers or doctors’ groups? Education or retraining centers? Nonprofits looking for warehousing?

Do your homework

If you’re going to run with the big boys and say you can handle commercial, you need to know who is looking to expand/move right now. If you don’t know this, ask someone who is in the position to know. Go to Chamber of Commerce events, ask people in high level positions for your area’s economic development group, and start to educate yourself. What sectors are hot and need space?

Then don’t market a building just for the OLD use or one single use. Put it out there where a buyer/tenant can visualize the SPACE and location, and see if it can be renovated to suit his or her use.

It works. Really.

I leased an 18,000 square foot building this month, with a first floor auto showroom and auto repair garage, and vacant second floor (that was a former mail order operation). I leased the top to a group of lawyers, and the bottom to a human resources program that retrains workers.

If I had simply positioned it for another auto dealer and another mail order operation, I’d still be looking. Now I will have a fully occupied building in a month, with two brand new users.

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Help them see the possibilities

The tricky part is not all tenant can see beyond what is there right now, so you have to help them see what CAN BE there, and how it can work out. I called in contractors to meet with us, the building’s owner met with his future tenants, and we drew up custom sketches on a drawing program to show them what it would look like.

It took a lot of vision, and bringing in contractors, going over the building’s plans with the tenants, and drawing sketches on paper to show them how we would convert the building for their use, but it was well worth the work.

So the next time someone tells you to “get creative” to see that commercial property, think outside the box and go out and seek users without preconceived notions of what was once in the space.

Photos courtesy Hugo90 via Flickr and House of Sims via Flickr

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Written By

Erica Ramus is the Broker/Owner of Ramus Realty Group in Pottsville, PA. She also teaches real estate licensing courses at Penn State Schuylkill and is extremely active in her community, especially the Rotary Club of Pottsville and the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce. Her background is writing, marketing and publishing, and she is the founder of Schuylkill Living Magazine, the area's regional publication. She lives near Pottsville with her husband and two teenage sons, and an occasional exchange student passing thru who needs a place to stay.



  1. BawldGuy

    May 5, 2010 at 11:39 am

    Lady, you are the real deal. 🙂

  2. Erica Ramus

    May 5, 2010 at 12:59 pm

    Thanks BawldGuy!

  3. Candice A Donofrio

    May 5, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Brilliant, Erica. We’re doing the same – finding businesses who are established but in small spaces to market our larger ones to – and showing that restaurant can become medical or a construction office, a school.
    Just a jump to the left or a step to the right . . . 🙂

    • Erica Ramus

      May 5, 2010 at 9:40 pm

      Good for you! You are so right Candice… just think outside the box

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