If your business offices have begun to feel cramped, chances are you're thinking about moving. But once you've made the decision to move, how do you navigate through the complicated world of construction and commercial real estate?

Many people who are able to swiftly run their own business find themselves adrift in the process of finding or constructing new office space. The Greater Cincinnati area is as ripe with real estate as it is with experts to help you find or build the perfect office. So before you sign or build, explore the resources that are readily available.

First, you need to evaluate whether you want to lease or purchase a property. Then you need to determine the ideal location as well as gauge your square-footage needs - both for now and for any anticipated future growth. You may be torn between buying and leasing; the benefits of each depend on a number of factors.

Ken Jones, manager of business development and pre-construction at Turner Construction, acknowledges that the decision to build can weigh heavily on a CEO. "I think there are competing interests in the construction market today. The cost of construction materials has gone up in the past few years, and that makes the decision to build harder."

That said, Jones points to national figures that indicate "” over the lifetime of any office structure "” 89 percent of monies spent will be on operational costs, and just 11 percent will be allocated to the upfront construction costs. "That's one reason people are looking to build. They want high-performance buildings" that will operate at peak energy efficiency over the lifetime of the building, he says.

Jones says a company's corporate culture can certainly play a role, too. "A business might want campus-style buildings, for instance."

Your firm's technology needs will play a critical factor in the decision to move or build, as well. "It's a lot more difficult to retrofit older buildings for the technology, fiberoptics and cable and such," says Jones. "That's why you see a lot of new school buildings going up."

"The lease vs. own decision is a financial decision," says Peter Chronis, president of Reece-Campbell Inc., a commercial building contractor. "But past that, there are some issues, some benefits, that might override a financial analysis.

"If you're building your own building, you can design it to fit your own operations," says Chronis, who adds that he comments from the perspective of having spent 20 years in a building that didn't fit his needs. "You also have your own ability to shop for financing. You have control of your own timing, and obviously, you build equity over time, just like a house."

For companies that can afford to buy or build new offices, owning the land and the real estate can be a great investment. As Bob Brown, an attorney at Rendigs, Fry, Kiely and Dennis, notes, "Once you pay a lease check, that money is gone, whereas with resale of owned property you will see that money again."

Businesses who find themselves in a financial position to build their own offices must weigh the benefits of land ownership with the challenges, according to Brown. While building an office allows you to create a space that is ideal for your office, including alleviating parking problems, it also eliminates the landlord who would bear the burden for pre-existing conditions and for maintenance costs.

Ownership isn't always ideal, some say.

"This is one of the major decisions a company will make," observes John Frank Jr., chairman of Colliers Turley Martin Tucker, a major provider of commercial real estate services. "They need an expert to figure out the costs of leasing vs. owning over a long period of time. They really need a complicated analysis.

"You can make the choice to own for the wrong reasons," adds Frank. "A lot of people want to own for the sake of owning, and that's not good."

The managing partners of Ulmer & Berne faced exactly this own vs. lease decision. The law firm opted to renew its lease in downtown Cincinnati and expand its office by 16,000 feet rather than purchasing or building a new office. "We would rather invest our capital into our core business. So leasing frees up capital for us and means we need not worry about maintenance needs and dealing with the needs of co-tenants," says the firm's Scott Kadish.

For businesses that have decided to lease an office, negotiating a lease can seem daunting. While there are high standards for landlords of residential properties, the same protections are not always offered in commercial situations. Leasing an office, particularly a Class A or B space, is often a major financial decision that is best reached with the help of a real estate lawyer. Brown offers this advice: "Most landlords around here expect a negotiation, and expect some give and take. You won't get everything you want, but they are eager to fill their building."

Signing the lease is one aspect of obtaining a new home for your business, but locating that perfect office is a whole different story. Finding a space that best suits your needs is best done with the help of a commercial real estate broker. Commercial real estate brokers keep detailed information on office spaces around the city that includes demographic detail of the office location. Need a high-traffic area? Desperately seeking a spot near I-71? Looking for a large amount of land to build on? A commercial real estate broker serves as an information hub, providing all the data you need to make an informed decision. A broker can also help a business decide whether they should buy or rent a property.

"If you are the president of a company, you know how to run your business, but you don't have enough market knowledge to get the best deal for your company in terms of your relocation," notes John Gartner, senior sales vice president at Grubb & Ellis West Shell Com-mercial. "We meet with the person in charge of signing off on behalf of the company; we understand the project at hand; we complete the analysis associated with the project; handle any incentives; and basically act as one of the new employees for the company by taking a personal role in their relocation."

With databases providing information on all area locations, a broker can access information that fits your specific requirements for a new office. For companies who are deciding between leasing and buying, Grubb & Ellis West Shell Commercial can put together a cost-benefit analysis of buying, leasing, and building, says Gartner. This provides a business with all of their options and allows the broker to suggest the best option available. The commercial real estate broker can provide options that are tailor-made to fit your specific needs.

If this is the year that your business decides to move, there is no reason to do it all on your own. Most would agree that real estate is a market that is best explored with expert assistance. "You don't go to court without an attorney," says Dave Ebbesmeyer, director of research and marketing at Grubb & Ellis West Shell Commercial. "So if your business is not real estate, you're probably not qualified to survey and negotiate your own deal."