This blog was published in an earlier form  at during my time with Partner Engineering and Science Inc.

This true story is three decades old but the lesson learned is still applicable today for commercial real estate due diligence.

Just before I started as an in-house architect for a real estate investment advisory firm they had acquired a recently completed eighteen story office building for a client.  One full floor of 12,000 square feet was occupied by a state agency.  The office of the agency’s director was located on the building’s top floor.

I was sent to the building to discuss with the tenant representative their complaint.  Their floor was built out as open space with six foot high cubicle work stations.  The ceiling heighth was 10 feet.  Their complaint was the lighting was inadequate at many of the work stations.

Suspended ceiling fluorescent light fixtures in the ‘50s and 60s were flat acrylic diffusers that created a bright pattern in the ceiling plane. This was because they distributed the light in a wide angle so the ceiling light was shining directly in a person’s eyes when standing.

flat liminiare

During the 1960’s lighting engineers developed an open recessed grid “parabolic lighting fixture” The light was directed in a narrower angle down.   The light was itself was not visible to a standing person and provided a more pleasing experience  Unfortunately , the narrower angle meant the light was not evenly distributed over the work spaces.

parabolic lighting

The light fixtures in ceiling of the tenant space had these fixtures.  The luminaires were in an 8 foot x 8 foot pattern in the ceiling grid.  Taking readings in the circulation workspace areas, I found that the levels were very uneven and, indeed, many of the workspaces were below the acceptable design level.

Why was this?  What we found was that the ceiling had been installed by the developer for marketing purposes before a tenant was found. When the tenant signed the lease no thought was given to the fact that the ceiling lights were installed.  Normally in a new tenant build-out the ceiling would be surveyed by the architect or interior designer to create a reflected ceiling plan that would coordinate the lighting and work stations and circulation.  The height of the work station panels exacerbated the problem

Since the lease and move-in were completed before the acquisition we did not know the details of the tenant build-out. The developer had long gone.  The cost of reconfiguring the ceiling was prohibitive.  Not only would the grid have to be reworked, but there was a likelihood that many of the fixture “whips,” the flexible electrical connections that go from the above ceiling junction boxes to each fixture, would not be long enough and mean a lot of electrical work. Plus the work would be done off-hours.  Providing task lighting for all the work stations was the best solution.

There was no mention of this by the owner’s representative during the interview for the Property Condition Report so we didn’t have the opportunity to investigate and negotiate. a price reduction. However, all things considered, the task lighting was an agreeable solution to the problem.

The obvious lesson for the buyer is to press the consultant about existing tenant complaints.