It all started with a plastic bag last winter.
“I think you’ll REALLY like this place over the others we’ve looked at — it’s right in your price range and they’re even willing to wait 3 months for you to start the lease until your other lease is up!”
My commercial broker, Amy, was her usual perky, peppy self as she maneuvered her late model BWW X5 slowly the narrow alleyway that passed for a street near San Francisco’s courthouse / jail complex on Bryant and 8th Streets in SoMA.
As we slowly drifted past a motley assortment of buildings in the street, I kept sinking down further into my seat and even contemplated refusing to get out of the car when it stopped at our destination.
The back alley buildings themselves held the businesses one would expect in the neighborhood immediately surrounding the local pokey – bail bondsmen after bail bondsmen, followed by shingle after shingle advertising criminal defense attorneys (“Available 24/7!”). And let’s not forget the tasty side of other sketchy-looking services that cater to the patrons of the court system and jail.
Amy squeezed her large SUV into a small, cracked driveway next to a pale pink rock-facade 1960s era apartment building; we slid out gingerly onto the broken pavement, looking furtively from side to side for I don’t know what.
Across the driveway, a lean, blonde, very-tanned man greeted us energetically – Charlie, the broker from the “other side”, i.e. the guy who represented the landlord in a commercial rental transaction.
As Charlie thrust a lean, tanned hand toward us, Amy stage-whispered to my partner and me, “It was so nice of him to come out to show this. Most brokers are already done for the week. But he and I go way back and so it’s a favor.”
It was only 10 am. On a Friday.
So it made sense that he would be done for the day….if his clients were vampires.
The property itself was one of the oddest office buildings I’d seen in San Francisco. Badly weathered aluminum siding covered on the upper part of the building above a layer of pastel faux-rocks. A large external cement staircase in the front led up to each of the 6 units, 2 per floor. They all looked like apartments rather than offices, each featuring a very homey front door with a knocker and a large picture window next to it.
Charlie bounded up the stairs in front of us, casually announcing over his shoulder that all the other tenants were defense attorneys.
And then I saw it. The bag.
As I lifted up my foot to take my first step onto the staircase, I noticed the small, white, lumpy bag on the ground at the base, with a neatly tied bow — it was a bag that looked grossly familiar to anyone who has ever owned a dog.
I froze, my stomach lurching ever so slightly, and quickly side-eyed my partner, seeking some reassurance that that bag was not what my stomach and nostrils were perceiving.
Without missing a step, he whispered as he passed me and stepped onto the staircase, “Yes, that is exactly what you think it is.”
Our tour of the apartment / office turned out to be just as disheartening as our trip up the staircase. Charlie pleasantly pointed out the features: 3 beige separate (bed)rooms, beige in-suite bathroom, beige kitchen, beige wall to wall carpet, beige linen closets, fire escape access in the back down to the garbage cans….yes, garbage cans. In the back, where garbage goes.
At this point, there was no shaking the apartment-complex feel to it, although when asked, both Charlie and Amy swore it had always been a commercial property. They both gamely attempted to sell the highlights of the space’s 3 bedroom floor plan — more privacy because of the separate rooms, all new kitchen appliances, a shower in the bathroom, large closets for coats….by the end, I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to work there or make a happy home.
But even if the doggie welcome bag hadn’t been there, the office space was simply not at all what we could move our tech product design firm into. As I’d emphasized to Amy many times, our must-have requirements, after price range and square footage, included an office with natural light, and parking, both for me and my staff and for our Silicon Valley clients, many of whom had to drive into San Francisco for business meetings. (But not typically criminal court dates.)
Needless to say, we said our goodbyes to Amy and her services later that day. While I certainly didn’t hold her responsible for the doo-doo bag, I did let her know that we had higher hopes for her meeting our office requirements. But given the commercial real estate market, perhaps I was overly harsh on her on even that front. After all, Amy was only able to show us inventory that was available. And the inventory pickens were indeed slim.
While it was to be the last, this wasn’t our first disappointing office visit to San Francisco commercial space within our size and price range. The other visits, while not as notably colorful as the Bail Bondsmen Backalley, all seemed wrought with similarly fatal flaws — one building was a converted warehouse that had a single tiny bathroom per floor of 8 offices.
And then there was the Peruvian startup attempting to run an illegal co-working space out of their offices. Although we were initially excited about their bright, IKEA-decorated sublet, the dreamy deal started falling apart when we started asking several tough, probing questions such as, “Has your landlord actually given you permission to sublet the space?” These were met with a lot of blank stares, and a few “Es bueno, es all bueno, no problem, no worries. Deal?”, which we met with a corresponding, “Nooooo, no es bueno. Noooooo deal.”
I could go on about ore dire properties we viewed, but it just takes me back to the sadder place to recount the weird, cavelike, or just downright depressing office spaces for rent.
Basically, though, I was starting to believe that we’d be better off pitching a tent in the SoMA Streat Food lot next to the food trucks and turning that into an office space with tasty snacks nearby.
Wondering what happened next? Check out more about my roller-coaster experiences in the San Francisco land grab in Part 2: Why can’t I just work in my car??