Brothers Ethan and Chris Landis, owners of Landis Construction, had home offices for the first 13 years of their company's existence, and then had temporary offices adjacent to their current office for two years. They recently moved their business into a building that they bought at auction, razed, and rebuilt using green principles.

Their ultimate goal: to create a design destination — a business center with space rented to, perhaps, an interior designer, an architectural firm, and/or an engineering group. On the way to their goal the Landises have learned some lessons about buying and building their own office and becoming landlords.

Location, Location The brothers chose to invest in a more urban, mixed-use neighborhood — Takoma Park, Md. — than in an industrial office park. “In terms of who we want to be, our company's image,” says Ethan, “we felt this helped distinguish us.” Yet, in five years, he says, they may be “the only commercial building in a two-block radius.”

Know Your Limits Landis Construction is a residential design/build company, and the Landises found they had a huge learning curve in designing and developing a commercial property. “We were woefully under-prepared for the requirements of this type of construction: fire and safety, zoning issues, ADA-compliance, steel and concrete structures, engineering issues, commercial space layout, storm-water management,” says Ethan, who notes that they spent “the better part of two years developing designs.” And, because of their adjacency to a historic neighborhood, there were a lot of committees from which they had to get approval. He believes they could have done things more quickly and probably more economically had they hired a firm that specialized in the type of design and construction they needed.

One thing that helped them focus their design was getting to know the neighbors — including those on the local review board — and the neighborhood.

Got Tenants? The Landises leased the building themselves, and Ethan admits it took a lot of time. Although they tracked the time, he's not sure whether it has been properly valued against what a leasing agent might have cost. “If we didn't fill the spaces before the end of the year, we would have hired an agent,” he says. But the building is filled to capacity with a Web-design firm, a landscape designer, an electrical union induction office, two specialty contractors, and the Design-Build Institute of America.

Now that they've been in the space for several months and are down to the nitty-gritty, such as buying a good coffeemaker and putting in a “fancy phone system,” it's all worth it. “The space has raised the level of team play,” Ethan says, “and has made us all feel happier to come to work. It's truly a space that distinguishes us as a company and helps in terms of efficiency and in our ability to serve our clients.”