How to choose the right self storage contractor for your new build
Jana Haecherl |October 30, 2017 |8 min read
You’ve done market research, completed a feasibility study, and figured out funding for your project, and now you’re finally ready to find a contractor to develop your dream self storage project. Congratulations! New developments are exciting - you’ll be able to plan out a project that fits your vision and goals and put your unique stamp on it.
Because it’s a big investment and it’s so important to the future success of your business, you’ll want to assemble a winning team to manage the development of your new build. With over 730,000 construction companies in the U.S., choosing a contractor can be a daunting process. But fear not! With a little guidance and the right coaches in your corner, you can go from day zero to grand opening without a hitch. Check out our list of tips and tricks for finding the perfect contractor for your self storage project below!
Do a pre-screen to weed out the baddies
Before you waste your time interviewing and setting up appointments, make sure the contractors you’re looking at are legitimate: they need to be licensed, bonded, and insured, and in good standing with the Better Business Bureau. If they’re a self-storage builder, check out their standing with self storage organizations like ISS or SSA. The prescreening process will protect your business from having to deal with fraudulent or incompetent contractors. You definitely don’t want to waste a penny on a contractor with a shady history or incomplete track record.
Investigate, research, and interview
Now that you’ve narrowed down the field, it’s time to dig in deeper and do some homework to find out a lot of information on your contractor contenders. Start by checking out their references. Talk to previous customers, ask around about their work, check out their previous projects, and visit nearby builds in your area. Take a tour inside buildings the contractor has designed and built and look for signs that point to more than just normal wear and tear, like roof leaks, uneven surfaces, and wasted space or energy. Ideally, your contractor will have years of experience building self storage projects in your area that can weather the climate and stand the test of time. Self storage experience is a must-have, especially for owners and investors who are new to the industry.
Next, get the details on their financial standing. Yes, it’s awkward to talk about. But neglecting this conversation could means months of headaches and a timeline gone amuck. Sometimes high-quality contractors with lots of in-progress projects and clients will go bankrupt in the middle of a project, leaving their clients high and dry. Even if it’s uncomfortable, you need to get some reassurance from your contractor that their business’s finances are healthy and won’t melt down in the middle of your project.
Furthermore, set up a meeting with the contractor’s project management team to go over project planning and building protocols. It’s likely that your contractor has a team of project managers who will be overseeing the day-to-day details of your project and assisting with the timeline. Get to know this team, bring any questions you may have (they should be experts on who’s who when it comes to city officials and what’s happening with development in your community), and make sure you’re comfortable with their level of expertise. Ideally, they will have handled multiple self storage projects before, ranging from small-scale to large, and they’ll be able to field your questions confidently.
Your self storage contractor also needs to offer site design and engineering services to guide you through the entire process - including the permitting and zoning process. If you’re working with an architect, your contractor’s engineering and site design team will need to be able to work together with your project architect to make your vision come to life. There’s a lot of key players involved in designing, building, and completing a self storage build, so make sure you meet with every single one of them and evaluate their competency.
There’s a lot of research and important conversations that go into selecting a contractor. To make it a little easier, here’s a short-list of questions to ask to jump-start your discussion:
- How many years of experience do you have building self storage facilities?
- Have you done any self storage projects in my area, and can I get a tour?
- Can I get a list of references for your self storage projects?
- Do you offer site design and engineering services?
- How large is your project management team? Who will be managing my self storage build’s timeline?
- How is your construction company doing financially? Can I see a financial summary that shows you’re currently in good standing?
If you’re planning a green project, make sure to find a contractor with specialized experience in building LEED-certified buildings and implementing environmentally sustainable design. A contractor with experience in building green projects will know the ins-and-outs of green materials, waste and water systems, energy demand, and regional/local LEED standards.
If you’re planning an unmanned facility, make sure to ask about that, too. You might want your unmanned property to have more technology built-in so that it’s easier to manage remotely, like a kiosk, electronic door locks, high-security gates and fencing, and keypad access. Your contractor should have experience with this kind of build, be able to give you a list of unmanned property references, and offer insights into designing for remote management.
Money doesn’t grow on trees, and you certainly need to have a budget in mind for your self storage build. Get competitive estimates from your contractor shortlist, and educate yourself on price differences. A bid from a contractor with a full-service project management team, engineers, and site designers won’t be comparable to a contractor who doesn’t offer this full package. You might only be paying for labor and materials with a small operator, versus paying for professional services from a contractor with a development team. In fact, you’ll likely save a lot of time and money if your self storage builder designs, manages, manufactures, and builds the entire project. Full-service is the way to go if you’re working on a tight budget.
It’s also important to keep in mind the cost differences in quality of materials, finishes, and varying scopes of work. Simply choosing the lowest bid won’t get you the best deal for your money - you want your self storage development to last the test of time. Cutting corners now and choosing the cheapest route could result in gigantic repair bills and further construction down the road.
Remember, a bid is just an estimate. Your contractor should be able to give you a low bid and a high bid based on potential hidden costs and change orders. Hopefully your project falls somewhere in between, but make sure you read the fine print so you’re fully prepared for the dollar amount it takes to get your project to the finish line.
Create a timeline
Work with your contractor to create a feasible timeline for the project. Obviously, you’re going to want to get the project done quickly so you can start filling it up with renters as soon as possible. After all, the longer your storage property sits empty, the more money you’ll lose.
Ask your contractor if they’ll have other big projects that they’ll be working on at the same time as yours, and find out if there is any chance that other commitments could interfere with your new build. Get a timeline down on paper with various contingency plans and talk through any other what-ifs you may have about the project.
Even the best managed self storage build will take some time, so while you’re waiting for the site construction to finish, make sure your website is up and running and bringing in leads and reservations for your business so that you’ll have renters filling up your units from day one.
Go with your gut
At the end of the day, it’s important to pick a contractor who you feel comfortable working with. If your personalities don’t mesh, and you don’t like his or her work-style, you’re never going to feel at ease with handing over the reins to your project. Great customer service, fantastic communication skills, and mutual respect go a long way. (When you email, they should get back to you pronto - a slow response time from your contractor is a big red flag.) You’re hiring someone to oversee your big investment, so make sure it’s someone you feel super comfortable with.
Get a contract
Last but not least, make sure to get a legally-binding, written contract between you and your selected contractor. You should never start working before an official contract is reviewed and signed by both parties - definitely don’t just go off a handshake. Even if you’ve known the contractor for years and have immense trust in his or her work, you’re risking a huge financial loss if the construction project goes south and becomes a legal battle.
The contract should include the project details, timeline, procedures in case of deviations from the plan, schedule, or budget, evaluation standards, and of course, compensation guidelines. Read it over carefully, and have a third-party verify it so that there are no grey areas (legally speaking). After all, self storage builds are big projects, and your investment is at stake.
If you're new to the industry, building your first self storage project, or looking to expand, check out our free resources! Read this blog post and click on the image below to download our free ebook for more fast facts on new self storage builds.
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