Electric Heat, Stuck in a Commercial Lease


Dear David,

I have a townhouse with electric heat. I plan on selling it in five years. I’ve received a quote of $12,000 to install gas heat and air conditioning. In your opinion, would this be a worthwhile investment? – ZAPPED

DEAR ZAPPED: The quick answer is yes. Switching to gas will obviously lower your heating and air conditioning costs, but will also benefit you in terms of resale. People tend to be scared of things they don’t understand, and for home buyers, electric heat is one of those things.

I’ve had the opportunity to list a number of units for sale in complexes with original electric heat. In my experience, the units that have been converted to forced-air gas end up being a much easier sell. You’ve established that you are able to make the switch in your unit, which is good news. Forced-air gas conversion may be unrealistic in locations where natural gas is not already on site.

While the $12,000 quote you mentioned sounds pretty realistic, I recommend getting a couple of quotes before you proceed with the job. If you wish, I would be happy to recommend someone.

Pro tip: If you’re selling a unit with electric heat, keep a year’s worth of bills on hand for potential buyers. Transparency can help a buyer get their head around the cost, and dispel any unnecessary fears.

Dear David,

After three years, our business is failing. We’re having a hard time paying our rent. We signed a 5-year lease and still have 2 years left to go. What can we do about the lease? – THROWING IN THE TOWEL

DEAR THROWING: I’m sorry to hear that things aren’t working out as planned. In this case, I would suggest that you speak to your landlord. A lease is a legal contract, and you’re responsible for the rent for the next two years, whether you occupy the space or not. If the landlord knows you’re in a tight spot, they may be able to help you sub-let the space, which would allow someone else to come in and take your place. Something like this is dependent on the landlord’s approval of course, but from their point of view, a unit sitting empty is probably less than ideal.

Alternately, your landlord may by willing to give you a bit of a break on rent for a few months, if it can help you get your head above water. Not everyone is willing to do this, but again, it’s better for landlords to have a tenant in the space than to have it sitting empty. If paying rent is your biggest hurdle, it may be worth a conversation.

Pro Tip: Don’t stick your head in the sand and wait until you are desperate. The earlier you can talk to your landlord, the better. With a little notice, you improve your chances of coordinating a sublet with the winding down of your business, while a seamless transition can benefit both you and your landlord.