Skip to main content

NEW YORK (Main Street) -- Summer isn't only about hot dogs, baseball and apple pie, it’s also prime moving time for home sellers, apartment dwellers, and wanderlust compellers.

If you’re on the move and you need to stuff some of your, well, stuff in a storage unit, it’s not the straightforward process it might seem to be.

First, know that you’re dealing with a huge industry, and one that is growing unrestrained by chain link fences and pull-down metal doors.

According to the U.S. Self-Storage Association, there are about 46,000 self-storage facilities in the U.S., with 2010 revenues clocking in at $20 billion.

Expect those numbers to grow.

“The industry has been the fastest growing segment of the commercial real estate industry over the last 30 years and has been considered by Wall Street analysts to be 'recession resistant' based on its performance since the economic recession of September 2008,” the SSA says on its web site.

Hidden in that language is a message from storage unit companies that “you need us more than we need you.” After all, business is brisk, so don’t be surprised if a storage business holds better cards than you do when negotiating a deal.

How to turn the table?

Some good answers come from north of the border, courtesy of the Toronto-based Canadian Association of Movers.

Its new list of tips for consumers looking at storage options center around doing your due diligence, being pro-active (you don’t want to wait until after a problem occurs to discover you hired a 20-foot by 20-foot lemon), and finding a storage company you can trust.

Here’s a glimpse:

Know the skinny going in to the deal

The highest priority when hiring a storage firm is to deal with one that’s reputable and that has a history of low-or-no claims against it. The Better Business Bureau does a good job tracking storage facility performance, noting that there were about 1,000 complaints about U.S. storage units in 2011. A thorough check of your local BBB should be a first step in hunting down a storage firm.

TheStreet Recommends

Read the fine print

Most failed claims come after the customer failed to read (and re-read) the storage contract. Pay attention to the liability language in the contract that pertains to how the company responds to damaged goods. If you’re unsure, run it by a lawyer. The $150 or so you’ll spend doing that could come in handy if a claim needs to be filed.

Check extra charges

Storage companies treat fees like Baskin Robbins treats ice cream -- there’s a ton of different varieties. Before you sign on the dotted line, ask about wrapping fees, moth-proofing, packing “special items” like mirrors and computers, and fees for undisclosed “warehouse services.” Chances are fess for those services can really pile up and you can negotiate some of them out of your contract.

Make a List

This one seems onerous, and it probably is. But making a list of each item stored can help you save money. Why? Because storage companies tend to “overestimate” what you’re storing, and may err on the side of higher fees than lower ones. But if you can pop a list under the nose of a storage facility manager showing exactly what you’re storing, you can catch a price break. At the least, a list shows the manager that you’re on top of the issue and won’t be taken advantage of by the storage firm.

Think about insurance

The Canadian association doesn’t explicitly say that you need storage insurance, but they do recommend it. “For full protection, insure your goods to value and, for this protection, you will pay a monthly premium with the storage charges. If the goods are not insured to full value, you will suffer a penalty in the event of a loss.”

CAM also says there is a fairly hefty list of items that the storage firm will not take responsibility for (working electronic devices and fine china are on the list). So always know what the storage firm will take responsibility for and what you have to take responsibility for when it comes to your household goods.

On the list of favorite things to do in life, moving ranks somewhere between paying your taxes and undergoing root canal.

But don’t let that stop from you from making the right choices when you need a moving storage option.

For more on moving:

Storage 101: What are Your Options

10 Ways to Save on Moving Costs