One of the worst mistakes a self-storage facility operator can make is to defer property maintenance until routine repairs become very costly to address.
Putting off repairs may temporarily save you money, but delays will be more expensive in the long run, says Diane Gibson, owner of Cox Armored Mini Storage Management, which oversees 18 self-storage facilities in Arizona.
To make it easier to come up with the cash for unexpected maintenance projects, consider setting aside money each month to create a maintenance fund, Gibson advises. She said some mortgage lenders set up an impound account for such purposes when they finance the purchase of self-storage businesses.
“That makes it so much easier for an owner to do maintenance because they don’t have to take money out of pocket,” she said.
Sometimes deferring maintenance can limit your business opportunities. Natolie Ochi, vice president of SKS Management, which runs self-storage facilities in California and Hawaii, warns that it may be hard to convince a lender to refinance your property loan if your facility has a large backlog of maintenance projects.
Here are three common maintenance problems that often are overlooked until the problems become very costly to correct:
1. Leaking roofs
“Probably one of the biggest problems is not taking care of roofs, letting them go to the point where they start leaking,” said Gibson.
When roofs leak the water typically damages tenant property. Because many tenants seldom visit their units, the issue can go unnoticed for months.
Caesar Wright, president of Mako Steel construction company in Carlsbad, Calif., says standing seam panel roofs rarely have such problems, but screw-down roofs often do.
“We encourage people to get on that roof once a year, make sure screws are fastened down,” he said.
Some leaky roofs can be resealed with acrylic or urethane. One of the reasons roofs fail at self-storage facilities is that managers forget to clean gutters and downspouts.
“It is so common,” Wright said. “That can cause quite an issue.”
When the water backs up, it often has no place to go but inside the building, he explained.
While this is a job no one enjoys, gutters and downspouts should be cleaned annually, he said.
2. Doors that don’t open properly
When doors become very hard to open, the units become unusable. No one wants to struggle with a rollup door each time they visit their self-storage facility. Even so, doors that are difficult to open are a common deferred maintenance issue, said Gibson.
“A lot of times owners will hold off and not fix doors that have broken springs,” she said. “You can’t rent the units. I have seen people have 100 doors that need to be fixed. The doors keep adding up. It becomes so much money to fix all of them.”
The problem can be addressed with routine maintenance. If tenants complain about doors, respond right away. Also, it’s a mistake to rent out a unit if you know there is a problem with the door. Take the time to make repairs.
“The only moving part in storage is the rollup door,” said Wright. “There is a tension bracket on the door that you can adjust. It’s good when tenants move out to get a good look at that door, make sure that it is easily operating.”
3. Crumbling asphalt
Ochi said the most common problem she sees at self-storage facilities is poorly maintained parking lots and driveways. If a potential customers have to navigate around potholes to reach your office, they may take their business elsewhere.
“That always is unattractive, just really a bad impression,” she said.
When your parking lot is badly damaged, units become difficult to rent and property managers end up reducing fees to keep new business coming in, Ochi said. In the end, you lose more money than you would have spent if you had kept up the appearance of your property.
She noted that poorly maintained driveways and parking lots might contain tripping hazards. If a customer falls and a court rules that you were negligent, you and your insurance company could be liable for legal damages.
“People are very litigious these days,” Ochi said. “You do have to be careful.”
If your employees see a potential hazard, make sure they’re trained to report it at once, she added. “That is a must.”
A fresh set of eyes
Because it’s easy to overlook maintenance issues when you work at a property every day, Ochi recommends periodically bringing in a set of “fresh eyes” to look for things that may escape the attention of regular staffers. If you use a management company to run your facility, she suggests making periodic visits yourself and walking the grounds. If you run your own facility “hire someone to walk the property with you.”