Buying an Office
We purchased our office building in January. So if we’ve done that, we can spend an hour writing a blog post about it. In for a penny, in for a pound.
While writing this post, I noticed a lot of overlap between our approach to buying an office and the process we apply to our client projects. Keep an eye out for these themes as you read on:
- Identifying needs before we dive too far into action steps
- Not being so rigid with those identified needs that we miss new opportunities
- Understanding the need to adapt on the fly
- Listening to the needs of the people on your team
I’ve found we have a knack, at Mediocre, for waiting until we’ve genuinely outgrown something before we upgrade it. It may be on purpose (sometimes) or a nice by-product of juggling several things at once (I admit this is more likely).
That doesn’t mean we use cracked monitors or get by on three-legged chairs (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I’m talking about looking for patterns and not always rushing. Example: how many days in a row have we wished we had a new conference room table? I love the idea, but we’re running a small business. That means:
- Money is always on the list of considerations.
- Buying tables willy-nilly will literally pile up quickly. Let’s not rush something we can’t easily undo.
We had quite a few “okay, it’s time” changes in 2018-2019. We started looking for a space to buy. We’d rented our office for 5-6 years, but with increasing rent costs, and our intent to exist as a company for a long time, it felt more and more right to find ways to build equity in ways we could more directly control. Not just equity in the property itself but autonomy over the space: could we offer to host a nonprofit event in the building with no warning? Could we pivot quickly based on a need we heard from a neighbor without running it past someone first? Those questions came up more and more.
What We Wanted
We had a list of priorities (more like a priority cloud):
- We wanted to stay in the same neighborhood.
- We wanted to find a space already zoned and used for commercial work.
- We wanted both neighboring buildings to be active commercial spaces (not someone’s home).
Gentrification was (and is) front of mind here, and I’m pretty confident those bullets don’t solve every problem imaginable. Still, we intended to start there, then foster an ongoing campaign to stay active in the community, partner with nonprofits on pro-bono projects, and try to listen as much as possible.
We started looking for a space that fit those bullets and looked for a long time. Like our approach to everyday work, we’re flexible and give new ideas a chance, but we also didn’t rush this process.
In March 2020, Mediocre’s team, along with the entire planet, took a poll and voted to work remotely. (Editor’s note: for context, Google “What Happened in March 2020, Everywhere on Earth?”) We kept our search going, but I’ll admit there were about six months in there where we just flat-out didn’t worry about it.
Still, even entirely remote, our team wanted a space to return to when the time was right, to foster collaboration, focus on projects, and avoid storing printers and flat files in their living rooms.
What We Bought: 714 N Limestone
Our old (rented) office was at 704 N Limestone. I left the office on a Sunday (just picking things up, don’t worry) and saw that our neighbor, two doors down at 714 N Limestone, had added a For Sale sign in the front yard. I’m 90% sure the sign wasn’t there when I went into the office an hour earlier. I called our realtor and set up a walkthrough for the next day.
Before seeing the space, we believed that it aligned with the above bullets at a high level. NoLi CDC owned the building but was moving their operations into their newly-opened-and-bustling Julietta Market up the street. Check out NoLi CDC’s legwork on Community Development practices in Lexington’s North End.
We visited the space; then we made an offer. The sellers accepted the offer.
This process was logical. But it’s still scary to spend the money. I guess that feeling never goes away. Buying an office was the most significant purchase we’d ever made (this may show our team’s aw-shucks-small-potatoes background). I called a few mentors and tried to look at the (figurative and literal) move from a few angles; then, I trusted that we’d do our best and see how it went.
714 N Limestone is an old brick building built in 1909. When we bought it, a central wall split the space into two units. We knocked out the drywall in a previously-sealed threshold to open the interior into one big space. We removed a kitchen and a central room (not load-bearing, we checked!) and tried to simplify as much as possible (not removing anything original, just some modifications from the past 15 years). We refinished the floors, painted, painted, painted, replaced all of the gutters, painted, re-shingled the roof, painted, and we also painted. I suspect that no matter when you read this, we will still be painting.
See photos below. We did most of this renovation work ourselves but pulled in experts as needed. For things we do ourselves, I hope that our zeal for “do it right, as best you can” compensates for amateur craftsmanship. Maybe that’s how you become less of an amateur.
Like our entire company, the building is still a work-in-progress: we have lots to improve, and we try to tackle 1-2 things per week. This year, we hope to enhance the backyard, repair exterior brick mortar, and repaint the exterior (we like orange, but the paint is peeling badly).
We’ll likely never return to an “everyone in the office” work model, but throughout 2022, more and more of us have started coming in again every day. Maybe we just saw enough of our home offices, but I’ve also come to appreciate the power of working together in person. We had a few team members join us while we were entirely remote, and I learned a lot about what’s lost in our culture and general relationship-building when you’re isolated from day one. Perhaps that’s another blog post.
It was scary to go through with this purchase, and it’s not like it’s ever really over. Ask me in 20 years after we pay it off. But for now, it’s on to other bigger and scarier things.
Email us here if you want to see the space, and I’ll meet you for a walkthrough. That’d be fun.