The self storage industry has proven itself to be economically reliable over time. That said, storage is not entirely immune to declining rents when the economy hits hard times (as during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic), but it’s less vulnerable to disruption than other real estate industries. That’s one reason property management software is an excellent investment for property managers looking to be more profitable and efficient or even to grow their business.
Still, Yardi Matrix predicts that the construction of new storage facilities will drop as much as 40% by 2025, but that might not be as bad as it sounds. Here’s why: The self storage market is currently oversaturated, so a decline in new buildings could actually be a good thing for current property managers. That’s why it’s always the right time to find the best property management software.
No matter what the economy looks like, managers and owners should do their research to find the right property management software for their self storage facilities. There’s simply no better way to get a leg up on the competition when it comes to marketing, managing, financial reporting and virtually every other day-to-day activity. This article explores the features your self storage software must offer if it’s going to help your business thrive today and grow tomorrow.
Online property management software overview
Before we break down self storage software by feature, let’s look at the big picture. And keep in mind, since we now live in a mobile-friendly world, your software should be cloud-based, which is another way of saying the platform should be online. That alone will save you the hassle of downloading and updating your program — updates will happen routinely and automatically.
Here’s what property management software can do for your business:
- Market your facilities online
- Manage auctions
- Create a powerful, easy-to-use website for your business
- E-sign leases
- Automate rent collection
- Control advanced rent, discounts and other pricing structures
- Receive and track maintenance requests online
- Streamline accounting in one place
- Simplify owner reporting
- Provide renters insurance
- Get new facilities up and running quickly
- Support you with a dedicated customer service team
- Make work easier than you thought
- Get ready to grow
- Fit your unique needs with optional add-ons
Does that look like a lot? It is! Your property management software needs to be powerful (or you’ll just end up buying separate programs for accounting, marketing, etc.). But it’s just as important for your software to be intuitive and easy to use.
Check out the features below so you’re prepared to search for the property management system that fits your self storage business.
Market your facilities online
Right now, millions of self storage units are being advertised online. As you can imagine, the competition for leads is pretty fierce.
Property managers and owners can market this incredible volume thanks to their software. Some solutions provide streamlined access to sites like RENTCafé and StorageCafe to post listings and find leads. They make it possible to market storage units in a captive environment outside of expensive, storage-only keyword searches. That’s a fancy way of saying you’ll get access to leads that are exclusive to you and other property managers who use your software, which means more prospective renters will see your listings.
E-sign applications & leases
Many property managers are tired of manually processing applications and lease documents in-person — something that’s difficult or impossible to do during periods of social distancing or when dealing with long-distance prospects. You never want to lose a lease simply because of friction during the signing, and this is an area where online property management software can help. Here’s how.
You’ll be able to quickly share an application or lease with a prospect via text or email, which the applicant can then fill out online. Once they’re approved, you’ll be able to digitally send the final agreement, then have them sign and return it for your countersignature. The file will be saved in the cloud, so you and your leasing agents can access it as necessary, and the tenant can also view it through their tenant portal at any time.
More strength, more numbers
A self storage facility or compound can have thousands of units. Even if you have leasing agents to help manage tenants who are coming and going, with that many leases to organize, anyone can be prone to human error. And let’s face it, no one is as efficient as a computer. But that doesn’t mean software is replacing your team. It simply makes them better at their jobs. In fact, the more efficient you can make your operation, the more likely you will be able to expand and hire more staff to keep the profits coming.
Create a powerful, easy-to-use website for your business
Your business can have hundreds or thousands of self storage units available, but without a single website to help people find you online, there’s a good chance you’re throwing money down the drain. But here’s the catch: A poorly made website will hurt you in two ways.
- Search engines like Google won’t recognize your authority, making it harder to appear at the top of your prospects’ searches.
- Visitors to your site are less likely to recognize you as a leader in your market.
Don’t worry if you’ve never made a website. There are affordable options out there, and as luck would have it, the best option is probably to use your property management software company. Online software providers understand that your success depends on your ability to attract visitors to your website. That’s why some of them will make a site for you.
Not only will they design it, they’ll do all the maintenance work to keep it running. Plus, if you have multiple properties, some software companies can create multiple websites, one for each storage facility you operate. It’s a great way to further customize your advertising for unique markets.
Collect rent online
There may only be a few times that tenants have extended conversations with you and your team. Obviously, most interactions occur up until the point when they sign a lease. Besides that, monthly rent payments make up the majority of your interactions (other than maintenance requests, which we will cover in the next section).
But what if you could automate this process too? Tenants wouldn’t have to worry about remembering to pay, and you wouldn’t have to worry about tracking tenants down. Your property management software can automate payment reminders via text or email. It can also assess late fees automatically, which can significantly streamline your workload and follow-up. Every call, text or email will be tracked in the system by property and tenant, and all data is neatly organized and stored in the cloud for your convenience.
Control advanced rent, discounts & other pricing structures
Automated rent collection may seem like the future for self storage, but it’s really only the beginning of what’s possible with an intuitive online platform. Some premium software services will be able to simplify complex pricing structures. This means you have the ability to set rent control limits according to laws in your state or even make rent deferments when appropriate. You’ll also be able to input any promotions and discounts — all pricing adjustments are automatically applied or removed based on the parameters you set.
Here’s a quick recap of the benefits of online rent collection:
- Get paid via debit, credit card and ACH
- Set up recurring payments
- Manage late fees
- Set up rent deferment plans
- Automate discounts and promotions
Receive & track maintenance requests online
When it comes to maintenance, there are often three parties involved: the property manager, the tenant and the maintenance tech or vendor. Everyone needs to be able to communicate to finish the job, ensure payment is made promptly and see that the tenant is satisfied with the end result. In the past, tenants have had to call the property manager (hoping they’re in), who then has to do the same with their preferred vendor. That’s quite a bit of phone tag for the 21st century.
Property management software lets all parties communicate online with much less friction. Tenants can even take a picture of the issue with their phone and upload it straight to their tenant portal. You or someone on your team who handles maintenance requests will receive it and connect with a vendor. All communications and actions are easily tracked for faster follow-up.
This system isn’t just great for tenants and property managers. Some software offers additional benefits such as vendor portals and full-service invoice processing so your storage maintenance system is fully streamlined and electronic — it is now possible to eliminate paper invoices forever!
Keep accounting in one place
Accounting with basic spreadsheets is not as easy as you might think. Even accounting software requires you to jump in and out of separate programs, consolidate reports, etc. The smart software of today has a better solution: built-in accounting. This allows you to seamlessly move in and move out tenants without missing a beat.
- Handle AP, AR and GR within your property management software
- Generate group, individual or even customized financial statements for owners
- Track sophisticated budgets and make adjustments with ease
- Prepare and manage 1099s in less time than ever before
- Track, manage, and send invoices using a free invoice template
If your self storage is in need of advanced bookkeeping, there is software that offers corporate accounting, sometimes as an optional upgrade.
Simplify owner reporting
Owners of self storage facilities tend to be “bottom line” people. They want to see organized financial statements and other records with the ability to understand them with a quick glance. If you were to go about making these reports manually every month — especially if multiple owners are involved — you’d probably be in for a few sleepless nights. Property management software takes all your data and turns it into easy-to-read, sometimes customizable reports. Be sure to use a platform that offers an appropriate level of detail and customization for your owners’ needs.
Create report packets
Report packets are collections of reports that offer information that matters to each owner. For instance, some owners have higher levels of investment than others, which means they may be entitled to information that others don’t see.
In a perfect world, every tenant would move out after their lease expires, but that’s not always the case. From time to time, you’re likely to find yourself stuck with a storage unit full of somebody’s stuff and no one to haul it off. In these cases, an auction can help you get rid the contents and even increase your bottom line.
Auction management should be built into your property management software or offered as an upgrade. It will let you view all current balances, including the number of overdue units and how long each one is past due. When the auction is complete, you’ll be able to mark the unit as vacant and market it to prospects.
Provide renters insurance
Insurance is easy to offer, it’s inexpensive, and it provides incredible value for your renters. Many storage managers require their tenants to have renters insurance because it reduces personal liability and risk and speeds up the time it takes to process complaints.
Without insurance, there’s a chance that you can be held responsible for damages, theft or even personal injury. If your property management software offers renters insurance, it will be easier to set tenants up with it when they sign the lease.
Get new facilities up & running quickly
Let’s say your business just acquired a new storage complex with 1,000 units, and you have the green light from your owners to pick property management software to manage the facility. Some platforms take weeks or even months to get started. They might offer powerful management tools, but you might not have the time to wait — every day a unit sits vacant is lost income.
The good news is that some software takes much less time to set up. This can mean a matter of days. Since the best software will also provide a growth path in case you want some of those more sophisticated tools down the road, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice speed and efficiency for functionality.
Trust there’s a support team that has your back
Even the easiest property management software has a learning curve. It’s important to make sure the tech company behind the software you choose is reputable and able to dedicate a support expert to your account.
There are several support benefits that you should not have to pay extra for:
- Chat support (with a human representative, not a bot)
- A customer service number
- Online learning and education programs
- Conferences, webinars and other learning activities
- Networking opportunities with leading self storage partners such as SSA
The longer a company has been around, the more likely it is to include important support features that smaller or newer companies lack.
Get ready to grow
Every self storage manager has unique goals. The best property management software will offer features that help you meet them no matter where you’re at. When you’re ready, it should be easy to contact your software company and let them know what your goals are. If they don’t have the capability to grow with you, it’s probably time to find software that can keep up.
Pro tip: Before making a purchase, ask about how each software company can help you grow. What other products and services do they offer? What conditions will prompt them to engage you in a discussion about useful tools to help your business? The more you know about what they can offer, the better you can gauge your chances of sticking with them for years to come.
Look for optional add-ons
Your business might be rapidly adding units or growing at a slower pace, but property management software should never be one-size-fits-all. If there’s an optional feature or add-on that you need, you should have plenty of options available.
If there’s a feature you want that’s part of an upgrade package, meaning you can’t get it separately, use that as an opportunity to ask questions and find out why those features need to be kept together. There could be a good reason, so it’s important to compare and contrast “packages” across different brands.
Is there a “best” property management software for self storage?
Everyone wants to know which software is the best out there. After all, you don’t want to settle for second place, right? The problem is, there’s no one answer. Because this is a significant investment in time and resources, the most important thing to do is to treat your decision with care. The property management software company you go with should have a proven history of success in multiple markets.
It’s also a good idea to find out what their corporate culture is like. What do their customers say? How do they treat their own employees? That will tell you how their values will be reflected in their software and their service to your business. Ask as many questions as you can think of before you buy, and you’re likely to end up with the perfect platform for your unique needs.