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7 Advantages of Investing in Self Storage Real Estate

Real estate has long been regarded as one of the most reliable and long-term lucrative investment options. That’s why Selenid and I invest in real estate via our “tortoise beats the hare” strategy. Most individual investors have access to commercial real estate investing through multifamily real estate. To be fair, this is the easiest real estate sector to understand. However, other niche real estate sectors such as industrial, medical office or self storage real estate are also available. And I like to learn about these even if we have not invested in them quite yet.

In the past, one of our key resources, Cityvest, discussed with us the niche of medical office space real estate investing. I found that review super helpful. As a result, I asked them to share some information of self storage investing with us as well.

self storage real estate

Interestingly, they also have a self storage real estate fund opportunity open now so the timing is fortuitous.

Let’s explore!

Why consider self storage real estate?

Given the dramatic change in real estate investing since interest rates started their dramatic climb over 2 year ago, a much more rigorous analysis of various real estate asset classes is important to reassess prospective growth in values for the remainder of 2024 and beyond. The self storage real estate investment market is particularly attractive right now. Especially due to its dynamics in cap rates and growth rates in rents.

According to the National Association of REIT (NAREIT), the self-storage asset class has achieved an average annual return of 18.83% over the past 28 years. The return outperformed apartments at 14.21%, retail at 13.53%, office at 12.10%, and the S&P 500 8.04% over that same time period. Historically, it has been extremely lucrative to be an investor in self-storage real estate.

Is it still attractive to be investing in self storage?

Cushman & Wakefield’s report entitled “Market Trends and Sector Outlook – U.S. Self-Storage” states: “Self-storage has begun to demonstrate better risk-adjusted returns than typical multifamily. Relative to other commercial real estate property types, investors view self-storage—like a number of alternative real estate asset types—as a safe haven during economic downturns, buoyed by countercyclical demand drivers.”

Another national self-storage report from Yardi several months ago highlighted that many markets are experiencing month-to-month decelerating rents, but concludes that “Self-storage demand has historically been recession resilient, coming from a variety of sources, and growth rebounds quickly following a downturn due to month-to-month lease terms and flexible customer rate increase programs.”

And an article in Forbes entitled “ How Humdrum Self-Storage Became the Hottest Way to Invest in Real Estate” described how investors are recognizing self-storage as a lucrative property type given its solid and stable cash-on-cash returns with a lean operating strategy.

Understanding self storage real estate investing

Self-storage facilities offer individuals and businesses a secure and accessible space to store their belongings on a short or long term basis.

Self-storage is one of several real estate asset classes that are actually operating businesses attached to real estate. Investors in this sector own or operate the storage facilities, deriving income from tenants who lease small units. In a very rural area, a storage facility might be as simple as a gravel pad with a shed. In urban markets, there are entire buildings with a thousand units with access technology and climate control.

There are over 50,000 self-storage facilities in the U.S. . Impressively, that’s more than the number of McDonalds and Starbucks in the U.S. combined. The average storage facility has an average of 550 units. Nearly 10% of all Americans rent a storage unit. The industry overall operates at over a 90% occupancy rate with an average storage unit costing $150 per month.

The result is industry revenue around $50 billion dollars per year. NAREIT projects a 5.8% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) to 2027 (other reports project a 7.5% CAGR) resulting in a $64 billion revenue self-storage market. Given its long-term growth rate, self-storage’s return on investment has been outperforming retail, office, apartment and the S&P for over 25 years.

The leading private equity firm, Blackstone acquired Simply Self Storage in 2021 for $1.2 billion. They have continued to make acquisitions. Blackstone’s rival, KKR, has also started acquiring self-storage properties.

Advantages of self storage real estate investing

1. Demand Stability

One of the most notable attributes of self-storage real estate is its remarkable stability in the face of economic volatility. Individuals use self-storage for getting their homes ready to sell, remodeling their homes, temporary storage while moving from one house to another, downsizing their living standards, moving parents to nursing homes, keeping things they don’t use every day, kids moving back home and the list goes on.

During economic downturns, people often downsize or find themselves in transitional phases, necessitating temporary storage solutions. This is likely to be true over the coming several years. Especially as household-forming millennials have not attained the earnings level to afford the spectacularly high price of larger apartments and houses, thereby increasing the need for storage. Conversely, economic upswings can lead to higher consumption and an influx of possessions, driving demand for storage space. Self-storage occupancy rates nationwide have averaged above 90 percent since 2015.

The saying in the self-storage industry is that the demand drivers are the 4 D’s: Death, Dislocation, Downsizing, and Divorce. So, whether we are in a good economy or a bad economy, self-storage seems to be always in demand.

The asset class has proven to be pretty recession resistant. During the recession of the Great Financial Crisis in 2007 and 2008, according to the NAREIT database, self-storage only lost 3.86% in value versus other real estate that were down much more significantly. Further, as the economy slowed during the pandemic in 2021, the storage REIT index was up an amazing 79.4% – higher than any other real estate sector. Even when downsizing, Americans do not seem to lose their appetite for storage.

2. High Margin Cash Flow

The subscription-based model of self-storage generates a consistent cash flow, a highly desirable characteristic for investors.

Many self-storage leases are month-to-month, enabling facility owners to adjust rental rates frequently, reflecting market changes.

Rental increases in self-storage are often tolerated because a 10% increase in storage cost may only be $15 per month (which automatically gets billed to a credit card), while a 10% increase in apartment rent may be $200. Moreover, the relatively low overhead costs associated with operating self-storage facilities of just $3 to $5 per sq ft contributes to a very high net operating income. This ensures a steady cash flow for investors.

The recent inflation in managing multifamily and other real estate assets has not impacted self-storage proportionately. Tenant turnover in self-storage requires virtually no costs such as broker fees or tenant improvements to market empty units to new users. Self-storage units are immediately reusable, which is unmatched amongst other real estate asset classes.

3. Operational Simplicity

Unlike certain real estate sectors that demand complex tenant negotiations or extensive property renovations, self-storage facilities are celebrated for their operational simplicity.

Daily management tasks typically involve customer inquiries, standard lease agreements, and routine maintenance. The absence of intricate buildouts or elaborate lease negotiations simplifies operations and minimizes potential disruptions.

Self-storage is the only real estate investment that by many state statutes an owner can sell a tenant’s goods if they don’t pay rent within 57 days. To a certain extent, the maximum of 2 months arrears of rental income is mitigated by and collateralized by the renter’s stored items. If you have an undesirable tenant, it is much easier and quicker to vacate this tenant by sending the tenant a 30 day notice to vacate the premises as compared to the legal process that would be required in housing statues.

4. Market Fragmentation = Consolidation Play

The self-storage industry is characterized by significant market fragmentation, with thousands of local and regional players dominating the landscape.

According to the Self-Storage Almanac, the 5 huge publicly traded self storage REITs own less than 30% of the self-storage market. Each public REITs is seeking to buy units in large blocks rather than make hundreds of small acquisitions.

The self-storage industry provides a consolidation opportunity for private real estate funds. The strategy would be to roll up numerous self-storage facilities and sell the consolidated assets at a premium price to large self-storage REITs and funds.

5. Adaptability and Technological Integration

Self-storage real estate investments have exhibited remarkable adaptability to evolving trends and technological advancements. Software, kiosks, online booking, surveillance systems and remote sign-ins can reduce the need for property management and personnel.

With self-storage, you only need to keep the units clean and updated. You don’t need to worry about things like renovating kitchens or the pool house. Investors who remain attuned to these trends and embrace technological innovations position themselves favorably for sustained success in the self-storage market.

6. Low Tenant Turnover

Compared to residential or commercial properties, self-storage units experience lower tenant turnover. Once tenants have committed to using a storage unit, they are likely to maintain the lease for an extended period. This results in reduced vacancies and turnover-related expenses.

Self-storage unit space, when vacated, has a faster turnaround time (usually in days) for the next customer as compared to the need to renovate multifamily, retail or office space. An indication of low tenant turnover is that self-storage occupancy rates nationwide have averaged above 90 percent since 2015.

7. Diversified Tenant Base

The average self-storage facility has 500 units so the tenant base is highly diversified. And there will only be a handful of empty units available at any one time.

For a typical storage facility, the breakeven occupancy rate to service standard debt is roughly 45%. That percentage for retail, office and commercial spaces can be 65% or more.

Is self storage real estate a viable investing niche?

Self-storage real estate investing has proven to be an excellent niche real estate investment through recent economic market cycles.

The foundation of its attractive investment position is built on demand stability, lucrative cash flow, operational simplicity, adaptability through economic environments, low tenant turnover and having a diversified tenant base.

For example, here is some prospective data on CityVest’s recent self storage fund:

self storage real estate

However, like any investment, self-storage real estate comes with its own set of pros and cons, necessitating professional investment managers with significant experience capable of thorough market research.

By understanding the nuances of the market, embracing technological advancements, and maintaining an acute awareness of location dynamics, investors can position themselves favorably to reap the rewards of this compelling investment avenue.

I think this was a really interesting review. And now that I think of it, there are 2 new self storage facilities being built near me that I pass just about every day. Certainly opportunities need to be vetted like any other to make sure the numbers work…There are no called strikes in investing. However, the advantages of self storage real estate warrant consideration!

If you would like to learn more about this asset class or opportunities in this niche, check out Cityvest here!

In the meantime, here are additional resources to help you become the best physician real estate investor you can be:

What do you think? Does self storage real estate make sense as an asset class? Have you ever invested in it? Would you? Let me know in the comments below!

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    Jordan Frey MD, a plastic surgeon in Buffalo, NY, is one of the fastest-growing physician finance bloggers in the world. See how he went from financially clueless to increasing his net worth by $1M in 1 year and how you can do the same! Feel free to send Jordan a message at [email protected].

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