Rental terms are the top priority of tenants when choosing office space, according to a survey by Northbrook, Ill.-based Joseph Real Estate Services Ltd. The firm asked Chicago suburban office tenants what they look for first in the search for amenities.

"At first, it came as a surprise to us that rental terms were at the top of the list," says Wendy Habisohn, director of operations at Joseph Real Estate Services. "However, it makes sense given the state of the economy."

Rental terms narrowly beat out the location factors of "proximity to expressways" and "close to home," which tenants rated as the No. 2 and No. 3 criteria. In previous surveys, taken in 1992 and 1996, respondents — mostly small business owners from the Chicago office market — listed privacy and private entrances as the top choices.

A recent survey by Washington, D.C.-based Building Owners and Managers Association International (BOMA) revealed a similar trend. The poll found that after location, tenants’ main concern were total costs, which include rents, taxes and operating expenses.

Although rental terms and location–related amenities attracted tenants, top-notch management service is the best way to keep tenants, the survey shows. Participants in the poll ranked responsiveness to maintenance-related calls and relationship skills as top reasons why they chose to remain at an office location.