If you have been looking for new offices to rent, you may have heard terms like “Premier Office Suite”, “Trophy building” or “Class A premises” being bandied about. This is because many commercial real estate companies classify the properties they manage according to various pre-defined criteria. The classifications help to position a property relative to others in its immediate market and are used as a method to indicate a property’s competitive ability to attract similar tenants. This helps tenants, landlords, investors and brokers to identify sets of buildings that compete against each other in any given area.
Before we delve further into the grading of office space, it must be noted that these classifications are not to be confused with the ‘Use Class’ designations for classifying buildings for planning permissions in the UK; They are used by property management companies to subjectively classify a building relative to others in its immediate area. As these classifications are subjective and relative, a Class A building in Birmingham may be quite different to a Class A building in Manchester or London.
Although the particulars of each class vary slightly from area to area, the general consensus stays pretty much the same. Buildings are graded on relative parameters such as age, location, infrastructure, technology, architecture and amenities. Amenities, which are usually provided in-house, can include features such as food courts, on-site parking or gymnasiums.
Class A buildings are the most coveted, highly sought after spaces and are generally located in the most desirable areas. Besides their location, what makes them especially enticing is their modern, high end infrastructure, features and amenities. These buildings will typically have the very latest in infrastructure technology allowing them to achieve the highest standards in efficiency. Their interior finishes will be of extremely high quality; often including items like imported marble, polished solid wood surfaces or grand water features. Class A buildings will just exude professional elegance and their aesthetics will help to set them apart from the rest. Not all Class A buildings have to be new, however. It is possible for highly maintained renowned structures in prime locations to be considered as Class A.
Class A buildings come with a state-of-the-art infrastructure and will typically include aspects such as:
modern IT equipment
the latest in elevator and HVAC systems
exceptional disability access
What further sets this class of building apart from the rest are their top-class amenities, such as:
Food courts / Café’s / restaurants / Coffee Shops
Day Care Centres
Dry Cleaning Services
As a result of their location and their breadth and wealth of infrastructure, features and amenities, Class A buildings can command much higher rents and so tend to attract premier office tenants. They typically have high occupancy rates and will often house many well-known companies.
Class B buildings are generally slightly older, less modern versions of Class A premises. Indeed, many Class B premises are former Class A properties aged by 10 to 20 years. Their technology capacity is no longer considered top class but is never-the-less still quite decent. The buildings are well maintained and kept to a fairly high standard and their elevator and HVAC systems are functional but no longer industry leading. Their interior finishes are of good to decent quality but will show signs of ageing or of being outdated.
As some Class B premises were former Class A buildings, they can still be found in prime locations and have many cross-over features you may consider as Class A. It is possible that some Class B buildings could be renovated and then reclassified as Class A.
Some Class B premises will offer on-site parking options, but these are often crammed into tight spaces, limited in number or uncovered. Security of the premises is generally minimal and manned security, if offered, is normally only provided out of hours. Many high end amenities such as concierge services, food courts and gymnasiums might also be missing.
This type of building often competes for a wide range of tenants and rents are around the average mark for the market.
Class C premises are considered much older than Class A or B buildings. They typically have a long history of tenant occupancy and the bottom end of Class C are often run down with out-of-date furnishings and poor maintenance services. They typically don’t have attended lobbies, little to none on-site parking and more often than not, no elevators or decent disabled access. Their HVAC systems are limited to perhaps central air conditioning units and they have no manned security.
Class C buildings are functionally and architecturally obsolete and are normally located in the less desirable areas. Because they are limited in facilities, amenities and desirability, these types of properties command the lowest rents and attract the much smaller businesses and the least credit-worthy occupants. These are generally the no-frills tenants who desire a functional space at below average rates for the area. Typically, tenants looking for a more economical option for an office space.
There is an unofficial 4th term used to denote a buildings’ worthiness. This is the coveted ‘Trophy Building’ moniker. A Trophy building is simply the top 2% of properties within a given classification. It is the crème de la crème of its category. When most people refer to Trophy Buildings, they refer to the extreme high end of Class A. These buildings are generally well known iconic structures and are highly sought after, often fetching a sale value in excess of £100 million. They are the one-of-a-kind buildings with distinctive architectural designs and composed of the highest quality of materials. Buildings such as 30 St. Mary Axe, London (aka the Gherkin); 6 St. James Square, London; and One Angel Square, Manchester; are considered Class A Trophy Buildings.
Class A office buildings have high quality finishes, state of the art systems, exceptional accessibility and a definite market presence. These buildings are generally modern, have the best amenities and are located in the most sought-after areas. As a consequence, they tend to command the highest rents.
Class B premises are generally well located buildings with decent to excellent facilities and amenities. Most tend to be former Class A buildings that have aged, although a well located Class B building could be renovated and reclassified as a Class A.
Class C buildings are typically aged more than 25 years without any renovations. Their functionality, features and amenities are virtually non-existent and they tend to be located in less desirable locations. These buildings attract the lowest rents, smaller businesses and the least credit-worthy occupants.
* Founded in 1907, The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International is a federation of 92 US associations and 17 international affiliates. BOMA is a major worldwide institution representing the owners and managers of all commercial property types. Their mission is to advance the commercial real estate industry through advocacy, influence and knowledge.