by Larry Alton
For those relying on real estate investments as a core part of their financial planning, the debate between different types of properties is an important one. Multifamily homes tend to yield profits quickly, but they also have a high rate of failure. The same goes for office and retail space—you may be able to negotiate a longer-term lease, but the business behind it may fail, leaving you with nothing. Comparatively, self-storage properties are a safe bet, with a failure rate of only 8 percent. That’s a great number for any type of investment.
What makes self-storage so successful within the greater real estate investment arena? It comes down to a few factors, especially flexibility and low overhead. Together, with increasingly mobile lifestyles, the market is perfectly calibrated for a growing self-storage sector.
Focus On Flexibility
Though the phrase “self-storage” tends to conjure up a singular image of garage or closet-like spaces—and many do look like this—part of what makes this market so profitable is that it can shift to meet the needs of the local community. Flexibility is a virtue and easy to achieve in the self-storage world.
Many storage facilities offer boat or RV parking, for example, so that owners don’t have to keep these large vehicles on their home properties, but these types of offerings are contingent on location. You won’t find much water in Phoenix, Arizona, so it doesn’t make sense to offer boat storage in this area. Rather, you’ll find standard storage spaces in many sizes in this location, but near large bodies of water or along the coast, the company often includes boat parking in their offerings.
One word of warning about storing cars, boats, and RVs: Be conscious of liability. Unlike most other items kept in self-storage units, these items need to be insured, and proof of ownership must be provided. It doesn’t matter if you typically don’t require insurance or other documentation—you’ll be glad you got it if something happens and you end up in court.
Advance Your Infrastructure
In general, overhead costs for self-storage units are much lower than those for residence or even for offices and commercial spaces. They just don’t need the same level of architectural finesse as spaces that people inhabit. There are no windows to buy or special siding to choose. Many storage facilities are even built from inexpensive, recycled shipping containers.
Of course, since your infrastructure costs are fairly low to begin with, there’s no reason not to advance your self-storage site to make it more appealing. For example, while almost every self-storage site uses a gate code to monitor who comes in and out of the site, that can’t prevent theft by unit owners. You might consider upgrading your units to install door alarms that are coded to individual users, rather than just using locks that someone else can cut.
Move With the Market
Based on the community, some storage companies provide storage calibrated to wine collectors, while others emphasize climate controlled spaces that can be a boon to antique collectors who want to protect their finds. These varied offerings emphasize the importance of listening to your customers. When you get a call looking for a particular kind of storage, it’s worth noting the request and seeing where it might fit in your overall strategy.
Requests like those above typically come from more affluent neighborhoods where you’ll be able to charge higher rents, but where you may also need to improve the appeal of your property. In some areas, investors have changed the appearance of their storage units to better fit in with the area, making them look like modern, commercial buildings while maintaining a utilitarian manner inside.
Ultimately, these types of requests require infrastructural changes, so you’ll need to assess your budget to determine where they fit, what kind of profit they’ll yield, and how much of such an offering you would like to include at your self-storage property.
No matter what path you choose, it’s about knowing—and moving with—your market. The flexibility to do that is what makes self-storage such a profitable investment in the first place.
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