What is a White Box Finish?

The term “white box” in construction and real estate signifies how completed and ready a building space is before tenant improvements (TIs). A white box finish signifies a tenant space before (and excluding): flooring (except concrete floors), plumbing and fixtures (other than standard drinking fountains and restrooms), interior walls, paint and wall coverings, electrical fixtures (other than code-required electrical), furniture and any other tenant-specific equipment or office upgrades. 

What a white box finish does include is: exterior walls, windows and doors; roofing; standard lighting and electrical; basic heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC); concrete floor; restrooms and drinking fountain; hot water; code fire protection and stairs and elevator. 

Other words used synonymously with white box finish include warm white box, warm white shell, vanilla box, warm vanilla box, warm vanilla shell, lit shell, plain vanilla shell and additional similar phrases.

Producing a white box may seem like an easy bare-minimum construction project. But a lot goes into it; all components in this case must be built to code and completely ready for TIs to be implemented on the interior - and in some cases even light exterior construction. Licensing and building permits are required and can differ based on locations and jurisdictions. 

Obviously a white-box office is not move-in ready for tenants. The TIs are implemented when the lease agreement has been finalized. In fact this is the primary purpose of a white-box finish; it represents a building or office interior for commercial owners to quickly have space ready for tenants to finalize. With a white-box building or space tenants can easily use a contractor to finish their space into anything they wish. 

Often landlords will attempt to incentivize new tenant sign-ups by offering benefits such as tenant improvement allowances (TIA). These contribute at least partially to the tenants’ costs to finish the office space to be move-in ready. However TIAs typically exclude specialty items such as furniture, fixtures and equipment (FFE) or other tenant- or industry-specific accoutrements for their own businesses. Tenant agreements are expected to be finalized prior to tenant space finishing since the landlord doesn’t want to provide TIAs unnecessarily and lose that investment. Likewise the landlord doesn’t want a prematurely finished space, only then to be required to find new tenants, requesting their own space finishing, if the original tenant backs out of a verbal agreement.  

BuildRite Construction builds white box finishes, as well as TIs, as standard daily operations for customers. See information on BuildRite’s commercial construction services.