One important characteristic to consider when evaluating an office building as an investment is the height of the ceilings. Historically there has been a strong preference by tenants for high ceilings and justifiably so. High ceilings allow more light into a space and have an innately pleasing aesthetic. Witold Rybczynski has a nice history of high ceilings in his Slate column:
"Making ceilings taller doesn't add that much to the overall cost of a building," says Robert A.M. Stern, the architect of the Comcast Center, "but taller ceilings allow light to penetrate deeper into the building, which is important if you are optimizing daylighting."
Rybczynski also notes some market norms: 8 3/4 feet in 1965, 9 feet in the 1970's, 11 feet for new projects today. If that trend continues - ceilings for new buildings will be 12.5 feet. at the end of a 15 year hold on an asset purchased today. It is important to be cautious if you are evaluating an asset with ceilings at the lower end of the range and looking at a long term investment horizon as the risk of obsolesces rises.
Of course some markets are not as sensitive to high ceilings. In cities where vertical height is an important constraint on development, the economic cost of high ceilings is much higher. In Washington D.C. the height limit (the width of the street plus 20 feet) forces developers to fit floors under the cap yielding an office environment with much lower ceilings, on average, than other markets without these constraints.