Spec Suite, Whitebox, or Leave As-Is? Insights from Building Owners + Managers

22 July 2021

Our Asset Design & Support studio has completed 14 spec suites and marketing suites in the last 18 months. This is nearly double the amount than usual, considering our client roster and their portfolios of assets we work on. As co-leaders of the Asset Design & Support studio, this sparked our interest, and we wondered what was behind the trend. We reached out to some of our landlord clients to find out more about how they identify spaces that are ripe for building out as a spec suites. We discovered that many of our clients have similar or even identical experiences in this area...

How do you decide to spec-suite a space, whitebox it, or leave it as-is?

James Russell, Property Manager, Cushman & Wakefield:

“Some spaces need it more than others. When we get back third-generation space originally rented in the 1990’s, we find less marketability with existing conditions -- especially with so much desirable sublease space currently on the market. If a space is on a good side of the building with nice views and natural light, we may find a more urgent need to invest our capital elsewhere. The most difficult spaces to lease get the full spec-suite buildout, while more attractive suites may just get a demo and whitebox.”

Michael L. Murphy, Executive Director, Clarendon Group USA:

“Old or tired spaces do not market well. If they are a manageable size, maybe 6,000 to 7,500 square feet, we know right away that it’s really just a choice between a spec-suite or whitebox. For assets where the tenant firms are likely to have deeper pockets we will probably go spec-suite. In places where leasing conditions are not great we will usually whitebox so the space shows cleanly.”

As their responses indicate, leasing-up is the primary concern, with strategic investments in vacant spaces likewise important. Having served clients in the Class-A real estate space for many years now, we know at Dyer Brown that a potential tenant firm will tour five or six locations in one day, so they get to be choosy – especially now, with an abundance of vacancies.

The landlords we spoke with also agree that minor modifications to a spec suite design will sometimes be called for. They also say that, in effect, less is more: designing a spec suite to be as open as possible makes it easy to add walls and features – and adding will always be less costly than subtracting.


At Dyer Brown, we design spec suites for our landlords that are memorable and contemporary, but not too extreme – they must have broad appeal, attracting a wide range of end-user types, so the owners can lease the space faster and spend more time in construction, without changes. Knowing that every month a space sits empty is costly to our clients, we work hard to present our designs within a feasible, compact lead time and a thorough cost breakdown. Our goal is to shrink the construction administration phase with the intent of getting a tenant moved in sooner.

We are committed to working closely with building owners and managers on improving their real estate portfolio by designing spaces efficiently and without delay, which result in highly profitable buildings across the greater Boston area.

Post authored by

Heather Stanley NCIDQ
Senior Associate | Manager of Asset Design + Support
Dyer Brown Architects

Dyer Brown Architects

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