5 September 2019/ rent_office_guide

A guide to your office fit-out and relocation

You’ve found the ideal office space – it’s in the perfect location, has ideal facilities and is exactly the right size for your business. Now, all you need to do is turn it from a blank canvas into a welcoming office. So, the office fit out process begins …

See offices for rent in your area on Realla

Office fit out definition

An office fit out is the process of making an office suitable for use by a new tenant. Depending on the state of the premises, it can entail anything from months of building work to plastering walls to simply equipping the space with desks and computers. The scale of the office fit out you’ll have to undertake will also depend on whether you’ve purchased your office space or are leasing it, as most building owners will ensure at least a basic fit out has been completed before letting out an office.

Fit out vs refurbishment

A fit out is generally undertaken to make a new office space suitable for its new tenant, or to change what a commercial space can be used for – like converting a D2 leisure space from a bowling alley into a cinema. There are different types of fit outs, ranging from shell & core, which addresses structural issues and makes a building useable as an office, to category B, which includes furniture and technology installation. An office fit out can take anywhere from a week to a few months and will generally be funded by the building’s developer or owner and carried out by a specialist fit out company.

An office refurbishment won’t include any building works and focuses on aesthetic changes only. During refurbishment, desk configuration may be changed, walls can be painted and altered, brand signage might be installed, but any works will only superficially change the space. An office refurbishment will generally not take more than a few weeks to complete, for even the largest space, and is often carried out by interior design companies, rather than fit out specialists.

Who carries out an office fit out?

Your requirements will be different depending on whether you’re a new company or one that’s relocating. You’ll also have different requirements if you own the space or are leasing it. If this is your first office, enlist the help of a company that specialises in office fit outs. They’ll help you plan and execute the fit out from your very first design mood board to the installation of the final desk.

If you’re relocating, an office fit out specialist will get your new space ready and will also help ensure you leave your previous premises exactly as required. This is particularly helpful if you have a commercial dilapidations clause in your previous lease. They’ll also help you adjust to a new office layout, whether you’re moving to larger or smaller premises and make sure your new office is configured exactly as you need it to be.

Types of office fit outs


Shell and core

If you’re purchasing a building that you’re going to be using as office space, either for your own business or to lease to others, it’s likely you’ll need to undertake a shell and core fit out. This is particularly common if you’ve purchased an older building, as it may require extensive works to make it fit for new occupants. Regardless of the age of the building, enlist the help of a surveyor to identify any building works that need to be carried out before letting any tenants in.

Shell and core fit outs address potential office space issues from a structural perspective, inside and out. They can range from relatively minor alterations like screeding floors and plastering walls to full electrical rewiring, installing new central heating or air-conditioning systems and extensive rebuilding works to fix structural problems. A shell and core fit out can also extend to reception areas, car parks and kitchen and bathroom facilities, too.

It’s unlikely that those leasing an office space will need a shell and core fit out, as the owner or developer should have already carried this out.

Category A

There isn’t a set definition for a category A fit out, but it will generally include alterations like:

  • Raised floors
  • Suspended ceilings
  • Blinds
  • Internal surface finishes (like flooring and wall painting)

The cost of this will generally be covered by the building’s owner/developer, but if you require specific alterations to be made, like additional meeting or break out rooms that don’t amount to a full category B fit out, you might have to contribute to the fit out’s cost.

If you’re moving your business into a space that’s had a category A fit out, you’ll need to purchase your own furniture and complete any finishing touches, like installing your own branding. It’s still very much a blank space and category A fit outs are often carried out by developers before they have secured a tenant, to make the office space look more inhabitable and appealing.

Category B

A category B fit out completes an office space. It will generally include the installation of:

  • Break out spaces and meeting rooms
  • Desks and general furniture
  • IT and audio-visual equipment
  • Any specialist lighting
  • Branding and final decorative touches

It will also cover a full fit-out of kitchen and reception areas, where applicable. Depending on the company you work with, a category B fit out can either be fully designed, planned and carried out without you needing to do anything, or it can be a collaborative process. If you’re renting your office, it’s up to the building’s owner how extensive your fit out can be, so make sure you discuss it with them before works start to ensure everyone is happy.


A turnkey fit out comprises aspects of both a fit out and a renovation and, as the name suggests, leaves you with nothing more to do than turn the key to reveal your new office. It’s almost impossible to estimate an average price, as factors like location and the original state of the office must be considered. As do whether you require additional features like raised flooring, particular furniture or extensive changes to the way the space is configured. The best way to find out how much a turnkey fit out will cost is to enquire with a local office fit out specialist but be prepared to pay for the luxury service.

Fit out restrictions

In the UK, commercial properties have different classifications, which are set out by the local authority and restrict what they can be used for. This is to ensure that each building is being used appropriately. For example, if an A3 property (which could potentially be used as a pub or lively restaurant) sprung up in the middle of a housing estate, it would likely cause problems for local residents. Office buildings fall under the B1 business use category and there are no special restrictions in place, meaning you generally won’t need to consult anyone before beginning a category A or B fit out (other than the building’s owner if you rent your office space). However, core and shell or turnkey fit outs may need additional permissions.

If you’re planning an extensive fit out that includes building work, check if you need planning permission. Generally, interior alterations which do not affect the structural integrity of a building won’t require planning permission. This includes things like building partition walls to create meeting rooms or knocking down an interior wall to create an open plan feel. If you’re unsure if your fit out will need planning permission, contact your local authority before starting any work beyond laying flooring and painting walls.

Listed buildings will require addition permission before any works are carried out, from both your local authority and Historic England. Again, most internal works can be carried out without planning permission, but it’s important to check first as anything that affects the building’s “character as a building of special architectural or historic interest” is not allowed. Failing to find out if you need planning permission before beginning any alterations to a listed building is a criminal offence, so don’t risk it.

In addition, you’ll need to ensure that your office space complies with BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) guidelines, which ensure all buildings minimise their environmental impact and are as sustainably built as possible. Generally, this is something the developer will have already dealt with, but it’s worth checking if your fit out will change anything that could impact on a building’s sustainability (such as windows and insulation).

Fit out agreements

Although this guide will give you a rough indication of what’s generally included in each type of office fit out, you must discuss exactly what each office’s fit out will include before signing a lease. Vague terms like ‘premium’, ‘fully-inclusive’ and ‘high-standard’ are often thrown around, but your contract must clearly define what your fit out will entail and include. Look for things like:

  • The estimated timescale of the fit out
  • Estimated costs (if you are required to contribute)
  • Exactly what furniture and equipment will be included, in specific quantities

Enlist the help of a solicitor if you’re unsure what the building’s owner is going to provide to get the space ready to avoid confusion or unexpected costs fur.

Looking for office space to let? Check out Realla and find your next office space for rent!