Managing a self-storage facility can be challenging enough without having to worry about excessive site maintenance and repairs. Most managers and other staff are equipped to handle routine tasks and minor fixes, but not all jobs should be handled in-house.
When an outside professional is required, how do you confidently hire the right one and ensure the project is done to your satisfaction? Following is guidance to help you vet third-party vendors and contractors and minimize potential problems.
Scope of Work
When you or your self-storage team lack the skills or licensing requirements to tackle a facility task correctly and safely, it’s time to bring in an expert. You need to assess the scope of work, find potential contractors or vendors, vet their qualifications, get bids, provide any information the company needs to complete the job, supervise and inspect the work, and render payment.
To ensure you can clearly communicate the scope of the work to all potential candidates, I recommend you create a written document and include photos. Focus on what is needed to complete the work and the expected outcome. I suggest you include:
- A summary of the task
- Expectation upon completion
- Job timeline with start and end dates
- How payment will be handled
Finally, include a copy of a servicer contract approved by your company’s legal advisor or team. For most repairs, this can be a simple, one-page statement of work (SOW) with standard terms and conditions.
Once you have a written scope of work, you’re ready to find contractors. It’s typically smart to take recommendations from other vendors you’ve used and trust; but if you don’t have someone “in your back pocket,” you may have to get creative or scour the internet to find suitable candidates. If you’re looking to service or repair a specific building component or piece of equipment, call the manufacturer and ask for a list of local certified and/or approved installers or repair companies. If the work is more generic, a basic online search can generate a long list of possibilities.
When vetting potential hires, start with who has the best reviews and discuss the scope of work over the phone to ensure the vendor is able to do the job. Then schedule a site visit, so the contractor is fully aware of the site conditions before they provide a proposal. Talk through the SOW and review the expectations, desired schedule and payment. Though some companies request a down payment, unless you’ve worked with them previously and have a fully executed contract, I don’t recommend you give a deposit.
Two critical components to vetting are licensing and insurance requirements. If the job involves plumbing or electrical work, you’ll most likely need to hire a licensed contractor, but check with your jurisdiction. In terms of the insurance necessary for contractors to work on your self-storage property, it’s best to check with your company leadership or insurance provider.
In the next phase, you’ll start to receive bids. The challenging part of reviewing them is one contractor may give you a single price for the entire job while another itemizes the work into 20 different line items. Some will even outline their own scope of work with clarifications and exclusions to the one you provided. The best way to avoid these discrepancies is to give each contractor a list of specific items and ask them to price only what you’ve outlined. Ideally you want to compare “apples to apples.”
If one company’s bid is much lower than another, it may be because they excluded a portion of your scope. Though the lowest price can sometimes come from a good contractor, in my experience, it typically aligns with the lowest quality materials and results. Often, some critical parts of the job are missed.
Once you’ve chosen a contractor, review the scope and pricing with them one more time to be sure you’re on the same page. Always get a copy of their license and insurance with your self-storage facility added as “additionally insured,” and have both parties sign the contract.
Management and Inspection
Now it’s time to do the job! Though it can be exciting to finally see some progress, keep an eye out for a few items that can cause a good project to go bad. For example, it isn’t unusual for the person doing the work to be different than the one who originally walked the site with you or bid on the job. When this happens, there’s no guarantee the person was properly brought up to speed.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep a copy of the SOW on hand as well as any relevant photos, discussion notes and a copy of the executed contract. Review these with the worker in advance, as communication is the key to a successful start and finish. Discuss details such as site access, work hours, and the importance of minimizing the impact on your self-storage tenants and protecting customers from safety risks. Once everyone is on the same page, work can begin.
Some jobs may take only 30 minutes while others may take 30 days or more. It’s the self-storage manager’s responsibility to periodically inspect the work for quality and scope alignment. Ask questions if something doesn’t look right. It’s always better to ask early, when a mistake can be prevented or corrected, than at the end of the project.
Once the work is complete, do a walk-through with the contractor to ensure all items meet your expectations. Address any housekeeping issues and ensure the workers clean up after themselves. You don’t want them to leave you a with mess or materials that pose a safety hazard.
If your project is short, it’s typical to make a single payment at the end. Longer projects may require progress payments. If you receive requests for these, inspect the work that’s been done so far to ensure you’re being billed for the right items.
After the final payment is made, it can be difficult to get the contractor back on site to clean up or address minor issues, so be sure the work is complete before you remit. That last pay application should also include a lien waiver releasing your self-storage property of any liability upon payment.
Overseeing maintenance and repair projects for a self-storage facility can be daunting. By following the above guidance to properly vet, hire and work with a service contractor, you can greatly improve the chances that your project will be a dream and not a nightmare.
Aaron Saunders is managing director of construction management for Spartan Investment Group LLC, which operates the FreeUp Self Storage brand. He has more than 15 years of construction-leadership experience as well as expertise in project planning/scheduling, contract management, engineering oversite and subcontract management. He’s assembled multiple construction teams during his career. To reach him, email [email protected].