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What exactly is a ‘Cat A+’ or what Peldon Rose have dubbed ‘ready-to-work’ refurbishment? A Category A project takes an empty building, or ‘shell and core’ and turns it into an operational space, kitted out with all the basics such as lighting, heating, fire alarms and suspended ceilings. A Category B project goes further, adding partitions, tea points, furniture, storage and branding, creating a bespoke environment specifically for the occupants’ requirements. Category A Plus sits somewhere between the two. A full Cat A refurbishment is followed by a ‘soft’ Cat B fit-out, resulting in a ‘plug and play’ space that tenants can move straight into, leaving scope for them to add their own finishing touches, branding and personality.
The demand for Cat A+ fit-outs has increased by 25% in London in just two years, with similar rises across other major cities – so why the sudden interest? Peldon Rose CEO Jitesh Patel thinks there are three main drivers. Firstly, property markets in urban centres are changing. Disrupters such as co-working and serviced office providers are challenging traditional lease models. ‘Landlords are having to find alternative ways to attract tenants and Cat A+ fit-outs are one way to offer the plug and play solution many of them are looking for,’ he says. But property isn’t the only market being disrupted. As tech start-ups take on the big guns in traditionally stable sectors such as law and finance, companies want more flexibility – another reason that traditional leases are becoming less attractive. Finally, there is pressure on building stock and Cat A+ enables landlords to repurpose existing buildings and offer more space in increasingly crowded cities.
It’s too early to tell what the long-term return on Cat A+ investments might be, but emerging research suggests that returns could be higher from a ready-to-work space than a traditional offering. Eye-catching design informed by insight into local demand reduces void times and highly functional and attractive fit outs can attract a premium, making them worth the additional investment.
But if we’ve learnt anything from Kirsty and Phil after all these years, we all know that the first, second and third rules of property investment are ‘Location, Location, Location’, and understanding the local area can make or break a Cat A+ project. Patel explains: ‘If landlords have buildings in areas that are already offering more flexible workspaces, a Cat A+ refit can help them to stay competitive.’ But unlike Cat B projects, where Peldon Rose works closely with the tenant to understand their every need, Cat A+ is all about wooing them with the building – generating ‘curb appeal’ to catch the eye of local businesses. ‘The key is to create a building that will stand out from the rest of the pack, not just in its style and aesthetic, but also in terms of facilities and infrastructure to support wellbeing and ease of use for the occupier,’ says project director Steve Taylor. ‘We created a social space around the kitchen at the Smithson building at St John’s Square, with bleacher seating that passers-by can see from street level, which gives people a real feel for what it might be like to work there.’ And the benefit for tenants is that, once they’re in, unlike coworking spaces and serviced offices, they can add branding and finishing touches to make the space their own.
Some landlords are offering three levels of Cat A+ such as gold, silver and bronze or traditional, contemporary and tech, as scheme options. Others look at the locality and respond to the needs of their target audience. ‘First-rate design is all about capturing the unique characteristics not just of the building, but the surrounding area,’ says Taylor. ‘We gather in-depth knowledge of the local populace, types of industries, demographics, and likely tenants before we put pen to paper.’ This is the approach that Patel believes has got longevity. ‘Real estate is about placemaking now – we’re creating communities,’ he says, and you only have to look at the effect of the tech industries on London’s Shoreditch or of fintech on King’s Cross to know he’s right. It looks like we had all better get those pencils sharpened for A*s all round.