Moving and Lack of Space at Home Are Making Self Storage Increasingly Popular

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Self storage has proved many times that it is a resilient industry, and most of its strength comes from the needs it serves. Demand is varied and can arise from various important events at all stages of life — some age groups need it more than others and for different reasons. Generations of young adults with expanding families can put household items in storage while they make necessary renovations or perhaps rent a nearby unit as a cost-effective overflow for their possessions. Gen Xers who are now at a stage when financial stability allows them to upgrade their living situation can use storage when they move to larger houses, and seniors can do likewise if they need to downsize or relocate to realize their retirement ambitions. Then there are students who find themselves living back at home and can rent a locker for their stuff until they return to their college rooms. In these days of changing circumstances, the self storage industry is staying positive and providing a valuable service for all generations.

The industry also does a great job at adapting to changing times and changing needs – whether adopting online property management solutions or implementing smart tech for their daily operations – with confidence remaining relatively strong among self storage operators and investors.

The US Self Storage Industry Continues to Be Positive

With demand remaining strong, the industry continues its growth, albeit at a relatively slower pace than in previous years. The US is now home to over 1.4 billion square feet of self storage space, of which 190 million square feet, or 13%, were built in the past five years. Yardi Matrix reports that in October 2020 New York led the way in terms of the amount of storage space planned or under construction, this being no less than 17.8% of the city’s existing inventory. Sacramento and San Jose took the other two places on the podium, with equivalent figures of 16.4% and 15.0%, while the national average is 8.5%. All these numbers quoted are increases over the previous month. And after a period of adjustments, the street rates for standard 10’x10’ units in most large US cities have been growing recently, with national average now being $116.

In a study carried out by StorageCafe, Rentcafe’s sister division focusing exclusively on self storage, about a third of respondents reported having rented self storage at some time, and 11% of those who hadn’t said they would in the future. The industry has cemented a place for itself in the lifestyles of many Americans, helping anyone who has to move to a new home or rent accommodation temporarily. And as self storage is much cheaper per square foot than residential space, it can be a great option for anyone living on a budget and with limited living space who finds they have too much essential stuff but no place for it at home.

How Do Different Generations Use Self Storage?

The survey revealed that Baby Boomers and Gen Xers — aged from 40 to about 72 — use storage more than other age groups, comprising 39% and 38% of renters, respectively. Many will have reached good salary levels, with possessions to match, while others will have retired recently. Both groups often find they have to move home, the former to accommodate growing families, the latter perhaps to somewhere smaller or with better weather. Indeed, compared to the younger generations, twice the number of Boomers, 11%, said they needed storage as they were downsizing. And Gen Xers, aged from 40-55, were the most likely to need self storage due to a lack of space at home for their possessions – 36%, compared with only 31% of Millennials.

As self storage is strongly associated with wage-earning age ranges, it is no surprise that some of the cities which register the most searches for self storage have large populations in their middle years. For example, the study discovered that residents of San Diego, CA, and Austin, TX, generated the most storage-related Google searches, an average of 5,870 and 5,810 monthly, respectively, with New York and Chicago close behind. While the over-65s make up 16.5% of the population nationwide, they account for only 12.3% and 8.7% in San Diego and Austin, and these cities also have less than the national average of under-18s. Workers with families in such places would find storage useful for storing their kids’ old toys and books, along perhaps with seasonal sports items and clothes.

What Is Being Stored These Days?

The study found that just over half the people surveyed, 51%, mainly rent self storage to keep furniture, with those who use it primarily for seasonal items and clothing making up 22% and 16% of respondents, respectively. Furniture tends to be stored by people who are moving, renovating, or needing to live somewhere smaller temporarily. There were some regional variations, with residents of states such as Alaska, Colorado and Utah tending to store primarily seasonal items — this might come as no surprise given the bulky equipment required for winter sports, for example on a trip out from Anchorage, AK!

The different generations exhibit varied patterns of behavior also with regard to what they store. About 36% of Millennials say they primarily put clothing in their units, significantly more than the 13% of Gen Xers and 14% of Boomers who do this. No less than 49% and 44% of these latter two age groups, respectively, say they primarily store furniture. Almost two thirds of the respondents were women, and while they were less likely than men to store furniture, 20% of them said clothes were the items most commonly put in their units, compared to only 13% of the men — a storage locker can be a great overflow wardrobe for items that are not used all year round!

The Changing Faces of Self Storage

The current pandemic has ushered in new procedures at storage facilities, but many operators had already implemented online operations and others quickly followed suit, helping the industry adapt and meet changing needs. And it seems storage renting patterns have been changing, with reports of fewer vacates and demand shifting to suburbs — along with confirmations of the industry’s continuing economy health. Such trends would indicate that residential renters may be making self storage a more permanent part of their lifestyles these days.

The clientele may also be changing somewhat, with more college students being seen now — this may indicate that Gen Zers are renting in increasing numbers as they study online, perhaps living back home with relatives and needing to keep their prized possessions elsewhere. Many storage operators pride themselves on being attentive toward any financial distress their customers might be experiencing, and older generations, who are said to prefer the personal touch, may be especially appreciative of this.

While smaller living quarters are often behind the need for renting storage away from home, the StorageCafe survey found that people living in big, multi-bedroom homes actually use self storage more. Approximately 35% of those living in homes with 3+ bedrooms said they use self storage while only 30% of studio dwellers said they rented a storage unit. Similarly, a third of people living in large homes with more than 3,500 square feet reported using self storage. This may be a trend indicating the increased reliance which Americans of all descriptions are placing in the industry.

Young Couple on Sofa Surrounded by Packing Boxes

Clearly the self storage industry is maintaining the valuable role it provides for people of all generations. Those on a budget can use it as cost-effective overflow space, and anyone renovating or moving to a new home can use it more temporarily while they get things settled. And the industry has shown itself quick to respond to changing circumstances and demands — there is a reason it is regarded as a reliable real estate sector for investment. Storage operators who have implemented new online procedures make using the service a stress-free experience, and they also know how to enhance their reputations by showing understanding toward customers. The self storage industry looks to be an important part of Americans’ lifestyles going forward.

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Francis Chantree is a writer and editor for Yardi, focusing on real estate and lifestyle content. He is a former programmer and researcher who exchanged computer language for his greatest passion, human language! When not writing and proofreading text, he can be found gardening and reading.

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