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Navigating the Rising Tide: Commercial Build-Out Costs and Leasing Trends in Greater Boston

Updated: May 15

The Greater Boston area serves as a hub for commerce, innovation, and culture. However, businesses looking to establish or expand their presence here must carefully consider the implications of commercial build out costs, which are currently shaping the leasing landscape in significant ways. This blog explores the dynamics of these costs in Greater Boston and how they are influencing leasing trends and decisions in 2024.


Changes in the last 5-years:

Over the past five years, commercial build out costs have experienced notable changes. From 2019 to 2024, there has been a general upward trend in expenses due to several factors. Firstly, the cost of materials has increased, partly due to global supply chain disruptions and inflationary pressures. Labor costs have also risen as demand for skilled tradespeople outstrips supply, particularly in thriving urban markets like Greater Boston. These changes have forced businesses and developers to adapt, either by allocating more substantial portions of budgets to construction or by optimizing designs to manage costs effectively.


Existing space improvements Overview:

Minor Improvements: For minimal updates, such as repainting, new floor coverings, or updating fixtures and minimal structural changes, costs might range from $10 to $25 per square foot. These improvements usually only involve minor structural changes and focus on aesthetic upgrades to refresh the space.

Moderate Improvements: If the improvements include more extensive updates like replacing lighting and ceiling grid. Or more intense upgrades like, like adding additional offices, conference rooms and upgrading/installing a kitchenette, costs can increase to $25 to $75 per square foot. These types of improvements enhance the functionality and efficiency of the space.


Shell Space Build out Overview:

Basic Buildouts: For more straightforward projects with standard finishes and minimal structural changes, costs can range from $50 to $150 per square foot. This type of build-out typically includes basic electrical and plumbing, standard carpeting or flooring, paint, and some light demo.

Mid-Range Buildouts: If you're looking at upgrading finishes and adding additional offices, costs can increase to between $150 and $250 per square foot. This might also cover improved lighting systems, better-quality flooring, and additional amenities like kitchens or specialized meeting areas.

High-End Buildouts: For offices requiring top-of-the-line materials, custom design work, and potentially significant structural modifications, costs can soar to $250 to $400 per square foot or more. This range is typical for high-profile corporate headquarters or luxury office spaces.


Key Factors Affecting Costs:

Location: Costs can vary widely by region. But in a hub like Boston and its surrounding areas you will see higher labor and material costs compared to smaller cities or rural areas.

Material Costs: Fluctuations in the price of raw materials can affect the overall cost. Increases in the costs of steel, lumber, or specialized equipment can drive up prices. As we mentioned above, over the last 5 years, material cost has increased significantly.

Labor Costs: High demand for skilled workers in urban areas tends to drive up wages. As more developments arise in the Greater Boston area, competition for qualified labor intensifies, pushing costs higher.

Scope of Project: The size and complexity of the project will heavily influence the cost. Larger spaces and more complex designs require more materials, labor, and potentially specialized expertise.


The importance of Tenant Improvement Allowances.

As commercial build out costs have risen significantly over recent years, the importance of tenant improvement allowances in lease negotiations has become more pronounced. Despite asking rates not decreasing, landlords have been increasingly willing to offer more concession which includes tenant improvements. This shift has turned tenant improvement allowances from a nice-to-have into a critical financial tool that can make or break a lease deal. Particularly in high-cost areas like Greater Boston, where upfront investments for build outs are considerable, a competitive tenant improvement allowance can be a major factor in getting a deal done. This not only allows for more extensive customization of the leased space according to specific business needs but also acts as a crucial lever in negotiations, offering real value in a market where base rental rates remain high.


In conclusion, the rising costs of commercial buildouts in Greater Boston are reshaping leasing trends. Companies must adapt to these increases in material and labor costs by leveraging tenant improvement allowances, which have become essential for managing upfront expenses. Successfully negotiating these allowances can significantly ease the financial burden of enhancing business spaces, positioning companies for success in a competitive real estate market.

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