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Un-Real Estate

11 minute read
by Alex Hillman

“What’s the latest update with the “Future of Indy Hall” discussions? Are we staying in our building? Are we still thinking about buying the building? Are we moving? Are we leaving Old City?”

While this post is going to be a rather real-estate focused update, I’m thinking a lot about how the vast majority of our community doesn’t use Indy Hall’s coworking space every day. For those of you who are connected to Indy Hall more through the online community or events or the arts, this is still an important update in terms of transparency but I also have many thoughts fresh in my mind about how planning for this move compliments an even bigger opportunity for our community to come closer together and better define what we do beyond the workplace that we share.

And for those of you who’ve joined Indy Hall in the last 3 months, this post and the posts it links to are a valuable primer for the discussion up until this point. Check them out and let me know if you have questions!

As I promised back at the end of August, the next step was to start putting the things we had discussed in those Town Halls and conversations into action.

So today I want to share an update on what I’ve been working on over the last 2 months, what our next couple of goals are between now and the end of the year (which is just around the corner!!), and how you’ll be able to get involved.

Here’s the briefest summary I could muster:

  • I’ve been actively looking for a new home for two reasons: buying our current building makes even less sense than I thought, and I wanted to at least take this as an opportunity to see what else is out there.
  • The real estate industry sure hasn’t made it easy. I’ve thankfully found some allies, but I’ve had a LOT of my time wasted by opportunists, total jokers, and complete slimeballs.
  • The good news is that I’ve found at least one very good option – and it’s in Old City! I’m also getting closer to at least one or two more so we can compare and contrast instead of falling in love at first sight. Expect more details about each of the options soon, and I’m working out how to host at least one group tour through each one (in addition to photos/video tours).
  • Goal: if we haven’t already chosen a location for our new home by the end of 2015, we’re at the point of deciding between 2-3 good options. That timeline gives us plenty of time (8-ish months) to handle all of the moving parts. No move will be effortless, but we can front-load the work to make it the least disruptive to everyone’s work.
  • Several people have expressed interest in the financial aspect of buying a building if we go that route. There’s a lot more to discuss there but I want to start that conversation so drop me a line (details at the bottom of this post)!

If you’d like a little more detail, here’s what’s been going on in my head lately:

Looking for a new home, and why

I’ve been concentrating a large portion of my effort into exploring other options – both rental and for purchase – for our community to call home.

My objective was simply to see who and what was out there in terms of options. Could we find a space that’s better than the one we’ve made our home? Or a comparable space, but at a better price? Or hell…a better option at a better price?

Purchasing a building is still a smart idea, but purchasing our current building just doesn’t make sense unless the seller (our landlord) magically came to their senses. And having several trusted advisors confirm my judgement, I’m not willing to bank on “magic” for the future of our community.

I haven’t entirely ruled out the possibility of staying at 22 N 3rd Street somehow, but in taking this as an opportunity to see what else is on the market and how it stacks up, I feel even more confident than before that we can do a LOT better than where we are now at the same price or less, and have the opportunity to fix some of the biggest weaknesses of our current situation.

Why is the Real Estate industry completely insane?

Those of you who know me well know that I’m patient. I’m tolerant. I listen. I genuinely care.

Let’s just say that my patience and tolerance has been battle-tested by real estate agents and developers alike as I’ve been making my way through an ever-growing rolodex of real estate contacts from all over the city of Philadelphia. 🙂

The first kind of challenging experience is the one where a RE developer approaches me to try to convince me that they’re working on “neighborhood XYZ, which is going to be the next hot thing in Philadelphia.”

In some cases, I’d meet a very smart, creative developer working with very deliberate goals…but they were working in parts of the city that I know either are or feel difficult to access for a lot of people. Far more often, though, I’d meet a developer who is nearly impossible to have a conversation with. “Hidden” agendas abound. Mind-games. Attempts at manipulation. It reminded me a lot of the worst dating experiences I’ve had.

If we’re going to collaborate with a RE developer, it’s crucial to me that it be someone with whom we at least share some goals and values and with a longer term goal that we can share. That’s a rule.

The other challenging experience was with real estate agents. Literally twice a week since June I’ve gotten an email or cold call from an agent who wants a shot at representing our search for a new home.

Nearly every agent started by sending me a list of 5-10 listings, which sounds like a good start.

Except nearly everyone sent me the exact same 10 listings, all of which I’d already found on my own, including options that I knew for a fact were no longer on the market because I’d already spoken to the rep or the owner themselves. It’s been amazing to me is how few real estate agents put in a lick of work to earn their commission.

Or worse, how quickly they’d lie to me about one listing just to have the opportunity to talk about another one that didn’t fit my criteria.

Only a couple of RE teams – including Indy Hall’s own @Dave Speers and @Ben Everett, thanks guys! – have approached me wanting to focus on the relationship first (that’s the Indy Hall way, after all) and introduced me to a thoughtful set of options and ways to approach things. There’s a stark difference between the people who genuinely want to help us and the ones who can’t see past the potential transaction.

I’ll be writing more about the myriad of things I’ve learned through this process for anyone else who finds themselves on the hunt for commercial real estate, or is generally curious.

I’m so very thankful to have found a handful of allies, but truly amazed at how bizarre the rest of the real estate industry thinks, speaks, and acts when they smell blood in the water.

Thanks for indulging my rant, now onto what we’ve found and how 🙂

Narrowing the options

In order to start the search, we had to start somewhere. I learned quickly that constraints would help our search, and since pursuing options across the city would mean at least one more level of difficulty, I made the decision to focus in our own backyard and see what we could find in Old City. We can always extend the search later based on what we’ve learned, right?

A lot of options were easy to rule out: from mid-sized corporate high rises that we’d never feel comfortable in, to some very quirky and cool spaces that had bizarre layouts that weren’t conducive to our use.

It turns out there are a decent number of 10k square foot properties in Old City…that are 4 stories tall. But think about how separated the 1st and 2nd floor of Indy Hall are now…even though we have a big open staircase. There are days where I never get to see people in parts of the workspace unless I’m actively seeking them out, and even then it can be hard to find them. Now imagine if we were in a 4 story building, almost always with boxed in staircases. Not good for us.

So I set the constraint of a maximum 2 floors. That knocked a good number of spots out of the running.

But we’ve found one very good option, and are still looking for one or two more.

Not only is it a good option, it’s in our backyard (yay!) has loads of potential, and the price is right.

And as soon as we can, I want to share it with all of you! Here’s why I haven’t yet:

  1. Given how weird and sneaky RE people have proven to be, I want to be able to show the seller that we’re serious and to give us a window of time to lock in a rate.

  2. In order to show that we’re serious, I need to prove that we have buying intent and access to funds. So I’m working on that right now, to get a bank who’s interested in lending to us to write a letter saying that they WOULD lend to us, even if we’re not all the way through the lending approval process.

  3. I don’t want us to fall in love at first sight. I’m still following leads on other spots, and my goal is to come up with 2-3 really good options to consider as a community and weigh the options.

By my read of what to expect from real estate folks, these next couple of steps could happen fairly quickly or they could drag out a bit. But we won’t know if we don’t walk down the path.

So I’m walking that walk, and talking that talk. It’s not my comfort zone, but I feel confident that I’m surrounded by people who can help me figure it out, and that this community has my back.

What comes next and how you can participate: financing, touring potential new spots together, and the end of 2015

Right around now is where this starts to get real, and get exciting, as a number of things will happen in parallel and I’m going to work my hardest to keep updates more frequent (and as a result, hopefully, shorter).

So we can stay on the same page, here’s what I’m working towards and what you can do to get involved:

Look out for an opportunity to visit/tour 2-3 potential new homes. If you can’t make it, don’t worry, we’ll snap lots of photos and do a walkthrough video or two.

I’m meeting with our best potential partner bank later this week, and I’ll have more to report back on that soon. You can look out for a larger open discussion about the financial bits of buying a building as a community – it’s something that I think can be a powerful tool for us to build together but it also gets complicated fast. I’ve done a fair bit of research on this already and want to share what I’ve learned so far in person before I take the task of writing it all done.

So especially if you’d consider being a part of buying a building for Indy Hall to call home – even at a relatively small scale investment – shoot me an email now and I can add you to the short list for early discussions.

Whew. That’s it for now.

As always, please treat this post as the beginning of a conversation, not the end. I won’t make any major or irreversible decisions without an opportunity for dialogue first. If you have questions, ideas, or concerns about anything I’ve written here (or didn’t write, for that matter), please say so!

I’m listening, and I’m feeling good.

Thanks for being a part of this community – y’all are what make all of this work worth doing in the first place.

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Hey, thanks for reading!

Alex Hillman I am always thinking about the intersection of people, relationships, trust and business. I founded Indy Hall in 2006, making us one of oldest fully independent coworking communities in the world. This site is packed with the lessons and examples I’ve learned along the way. You can find me on Twitter, too! 🐦 Say hi.