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What drives the expansion of the self storage industry?

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A Fifth Of Americans Rent Self Storage With Gen Xers In The Lead – the key takeaways

  • More than a fifth (21%) of Americans currently use self storage, with another 15% saying they intend to do so in the future
  • Furniture is the item most commonly put in a self storage unit
  • Not having enough space at home, reported by 40% of current storage users, is now the main reason for using self storage, overtaking moving, which was reported by 34%
  • Larger households have more need for self storage — 27% of those with five or more members currently turn to storage away from home
  • People aged between 40 and 55 — mostly the “Gen Xers” — are the age group most likely to be renting self storage right now
  • The US cities that showed the greatest interest in self storage in 2022 were New York, Chicago and Houston
  • Las Vegas, Nevada, is the city that gets the most searches for all types of vehicle storage units

Self storage has been trending for a while, and it was an essential service in recent years for people experiencing upheavals. This industry has momentum, with plans to add close to 53M more square feet of storage space in 2023.

Renting low-cost extra space outside the home is always useful, relieving pressure on cramped living spaces, and it can also greatly ease the process of moving home. Self storage answers current challenges such as downsizing a home to balance a budget, storing vehicles safely when a garage is not an option, and the trend for multigenerational living that makes living spaces increasingly more crowded and cluttered. But in what directions is the use of self storage actually trending right now?

We asked approximately 18,000 people why they use self storage, what they keep there, what types of unit they use, and more besides. Here is our profile of the current self storage customer and main industry drivers as based on our survey findings.

Faith Based Events

How many people have a storage unit in the US?

More than a fifth of Americans currently rent self storage, with an additional 15% planning to do so in the future. Much of the new clientele that discovered the usefulness of the service and amplified demand during the pandemic have continued to rely on self storage in its aftermath. The increase in employment flexibility – with many people now working from home or from co-working spaces – have acted as additional pressure points for home spaces, adding to the traditional storage needs that revolve around the 4 Ds.

A significant increase in RV travel has supported a rise in vehicle and RV storage, and there has been plenty of need to store professional equipment and merchandise as many businesses went online.

Moreover, as new apartment units are mostly built in large-scale communities, living space is dwindling, making many people seek storage solutions away from home. In fact, our survey shows that self storage is now particularly popular among renters.

Almost a quarter of Gen Xers rent self storage, making them the keenest storage users

The 40-to-55 age group — comprising the “Gen Xers” — are the most likely to be renting self storage currently, with 23% of them doing so. They are often in prime home ownership years, and even though they tend to be wealthier than millennials, they are still not as financially secure as either boomers or the Silent Generation. This will mean they need to spread their dollars further, and extending limited space using self storage can be an ideal solution.

Gen Xers most often rent the 10’x10′ non-climate-controlled type of storage unit, the main reason being not having enough space at home. In addition, the item they most commonly store is furniture, although they also state that they have put some rather unusual items in storage such as mounted deer heads, ivory tusks and pool tables.

People aged between 24 and 39 — largely the millennials — have started feeling the need for extra storage space, perhaps because of growing families and increasing spending power. Roughly 21% of Millennials declared they are using the service.

Among the older 56-to-74 age group, 21% are currently renting self storage — plus, no fewer than 20% are considering it in the future, more than in any other age group. They may well have accumulated more possessions, and may also have more adults in their households, putting a strain on living space.

At the other end of the spectrum, self storage is popular among only 11% of the 18-23 age group. This is perhaps not so surprising, as Gen Zers, who are most likely fresh out of college or just starting out in the job market, are less prone to owning excess stuff.

Overall, roughly equal proportions of men and women use the service, and homeowners and residents of houses are slightly less inclined to rent self storage than renters and apartment dwellers are.

Lack of space at home is the main reason why people rent self storage

Not having enough space at home for everything is the main reason people are renting a storage unit — 40% of survey respondents give this as their primary reason, which is a sharp increase from the 33% in last year’s survey. By contrast, moving home triggered 34% of respondents to rent a unit currently, slightly down on the 36% which led the list of reasons in the previous survey. Renters are much more likely than homeowners to rent storage while moving, 44% as opposed to 25%, indicating the greater frequency with which people in rentals have to swap residences.

The figures for storing items for business purposes and for when needing a place for household items while carrying out renovations both represent slight increases on the previous survey’s numbers. Clients may well now have greater understanding about how self storage — which is a lot cheaper than office space and more flexible that a warehouse — can help their businesses. And renovating might be increasingly appreciated as a way to adapt a small living space to a household’s requirements in times when that space is constrained for many.

Furniture, clothes & appliances are most often stored — and Gen Xers store sports gear

Furniture is still the item most commonly put in self storage, by around a third of the people in the survey. These items might often be dining tables and chairs, which look great in a spacious house but are surplus to requirements when the kitchen table has to be used for everything until a large residence can be afforded again. Other pieces of furniture commonly stored include small cabinets and lamps, while mattresses need to be kept flat and therefore cannot be put in a small unit.

The next most common items kept away from home are clothing, stored by 22% of respondents. Renters and apartment dwellers have a higher-than-average need for extra space for their clothes — 26% of them rented storage for this purpose, compared to only 16% of homeowners. This is particularly in evidence when they live in smaller homes, with 27% of residents in 1-bedroom apartments and studios putting some clothing in a storage unit. With winter coats and footwear in a storage unit for most of the year, they would not contribute clutter to the home.

Sporting items and hobby gear are often held in a storage unit and then picked up on the way to the beach, the mountains or the golf course. The Gen Xers are the most likely to keep sporting gear in a storage unit — 15% of the  40-to-55-year-olds who use storage do this. Storage users in the largest houses, covering over 3,500 square feet — 15% of these too — have a surprising need for space to keep sports and hobby equipment, possibly because large homes house multi-gen households. In fact, the storing of sports gear rises from 11% for residents living solo to 15% for households with five people or more.

Home appliances and equipment are the third-placed category of items that are put in a unit, as they were in the previous survey, with 20% of storage renters doing this.

Self storage is for big and growing households — 27% of storage renters live with 4 or more others

23% of those living in 2-bedroom homes are the biggest fans of self storage. These are probably young families, still striving to make their incomes stretch, and therefore more in need of extra space at low cost.

A similar pattern is seen with actual home size. The largest share of storage renters in terms of the living space they enjoy at home is 22% for those with a floor area of 1,000-1,499 square feet. The next most likely group of people to rent storage have home sizes of less than 1,000 square feet, 20% of them. Meanwhile, any residents with floor spaces covering 1,500 square feet or more are 17%-18% likely to be renting storage.

One reason for needing extra storage space is when a household expands, whether this is due to newborns, boomerang kids or elderly relatives who need to be cared for. Of the respondents living in households of between one and three people, 18%-19% said they are currently using a storage unit. However, this figure jumps to 27% for households of five or more people — and it is 21% for 4-person households — reinforcing how important a service self storage can be for crowded homes.

5’x10’ and 10’x10’ are most popular unit sizes

Among the wide range of unit types available across the country, the multi-purpose 5’x10’ and 10’x10’ sizes are the most popular overall, both being used by 22% of storage renters who declared a preference, broadly the same shares as reported in last year’s survey. These sizes are great for storing miscellaneous items that are getting in the way, such as books and boxes of old toys, not to mention sports gear like skis and golf clubs plus maybe a bicycle or two.

The next most popular size is the 5’x5’ locker, preferred by 17% of storage renters, which is ideal for people with limited living space who want to keep a few possessions from cluttering up their homes. To see the full range of storage units that are available and what sorts of things they can accommodate, consult a storage unit size guide.

Renters are much more likely to prefer small storage units, with the highest share of those who declared a preference, 28%, choosing the 5’x10’ size. Homeowners, meanwhile, go for the garage-size 10’x20’ units as much as they rent 5’x10’ lockers, 18% of them in both cases. As might be expected, a preference for larger units is expressed more by residents of houses than by apartment dwellers. Men tend to rent the larger units more often than women do, 30% going for either the 10’x20’ or 10’x30’ sizes as opposed to 20% of women renters.

Homeowners choose non-climate-controlled storage & units for vehicles

A regular non-climate-controlled storage unit is good enough for many people in many situations. A climate-controlled unit, on the other hand, will be very useful for storing delicate items and in areas with extreme weather conditions. Renters and apartment dwellers rent the two types of unit with roughly equal enthusiasm. Homeowners and residents of houses, however, are split quite differently with slightly more than half choosing non-climate-controlled storage and only a third renting units with climate control — as these groups also tend to rent larger units, this may indicate that their possessions are commonly larger, more robust items that don’t need the protection climate control provides.

At the specialist end of the spectrum, both homeowners and residents of houses — more than 10% in both cases — rent units for cars, boats or recreational vehicles. By contrast, less than 2% of home renters and around 5% of apartment/condo dwellers rent units specifically for these vehicles. This matches the numbers who rent the largest standard unit type, the 10’x30’ size — often big enough for a motorhome or even a small boat on a trailer — with homeowners and people in houses renting it around twice as often as the others do.

Interest in self storage is on the rise, with internet searches ramping up in Southwestern cities

We wanted to get an up-to-the-minute picture of how the need for self storage varies across the nation, and how popular the different types of units are. We therefore analyzed, across the year 2022, the average numbers of Google searches per month for self storage in around 150 key cities in the U.S.

Interest for self storage across the US’s major cities nearly doubled between 2019 and 2022, largely driven by the significant changes in the real estate and economic markets. Dallas has seen one of the biggest growth rates in terms of the number of searches at 273%. Still in the Southwest, Houston and Phoenix have also experienced spikes in self storage interest over those three years — 218% and 236%, respectively.

In terms of the overall popularity of the service, it may come as no surprise that New York, with its many small apartments and culture of moving frequently, attracted way more searches for self storage than any other city — and they represent a 61% increase from the number recorded in 2019. The Big Apple’s self storage sector has traditionally been undersupplied, but it currently has development of new storage facilities in the pipeline representing 7.2% of its current inventory, the second highest such figure in the nation — after Orlando, Florida — as per Yardi Matrix data.

Which US Cities Saw the Most Interest in Self Storage in 2022

*Non-climate-controlled 10’x10′ storage units
Source: StorageCafe analysis of Google Ads and Yardi Matrix data

In the US’s next-largest cities, there were almost triple the numbers of searches for self storage in Chicago and Los Angeles last year than there were in 2019. Texas weighs in with Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas self storage, all also in the nation’s top 10 of the highest numbers of searches for self storage in 2022. Phoenix, Arizona and Orlando, Florida, joined Houston and Dallas in having more than triple the number of searches since 2019.

Las Vegas is by far the smallest city in the top 10 of cities by storage searches, punching above its weight for self storage, in parallel with its healthy growth as an urban hub. Vegas also scores very highly with regard to searches for vehicle storage of various descriptions, beating out all other large cities in this regard. Colorado Springs and San Diego, just outside the top 10 in terms of searches for all kinds of storage units, land second and third spots for searches for vehicle storage — San Diego, along with Los Angeles, also has the highest number of searches for boat storage.

The service is clearly particularly sought after in the Southwest of the country — Texas, Arizona and New Mexico all saw more than double the number of searches between 2019 and 2022 — perhaps not surprisingly given the vigorous migration activity in the area. Self storage rates are also friendlier in the Southwest than in other sought-after regions, with the average rent on a regular non-climate-controlled unit in Houston, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Austin, Las Vegas and Phoenix being in the range $94-$124, below the national average, as per Yardi Matrix data.

From crazy costumes to fossils and hunting trophies — some odd and eerie items get put into storage units

While furniture, winter clothes and golf clubs are commonly put into a storage unit, some of the items stored are very strange indeed! Here are 10 of the most unusual items our survey respondents mentioned:

In conclusion, the keenest self storage renters are Gen Xers living in averaged-sized residences, perhaps with large households, and more commonly renting than owning their homes — they appear to be rather keen on putting sports gear in storage too. These days, in a shift from previous patterns, people are more likely to rent storage to take the strain off their living space than because they are moving home. Self storage is searched for more than ever across the nation’s largest cities — particularly in the Southwest — and its costs are always much more reasonable than residential space, enabling residents in all types of accommodation to maximize their lifestyles.

Methodology

This analysis was done by StorageCafe, an online platform that provides storage unit listings across the nation.

Our findings are based on a survey among 17,900 respondents in the United States that ran for a month on the rentcafe.com, propertyshark.com and storagecafe.com websites.

The data for our analysis of self storage searches was obtained by extracting monthly-average numbers from Google Ads of nationwide searches using city-specific key phrases. This was carried out for around 150 key cities in the U.S. for the course of 2022. Other city-specific key phrases were used to find numbers of searches for specialist storage unit types for cars, vehicles, RVs and boats.

Self storage street rate data was obtained from Yardi Matrix, StorageCafe’s sister division and a business development and asset management tool for brokers, sponsors, banks and equity sources underwriting investments in the multifamily, office, industrial and self-storage sectors.

Source: Storage Cafe