Like other real estate sectors, the US self storage industry experienced the ups and downs of 2020. However, by year end, it eventually proved that the reputation it had built for itself during the last recession as a resilient sector is still valid. Adjustments indeed had to be made, with both concessions and extra safety measures adopted by most operators to ensure close-to-normal operations. But demand continued to be strong, emerging from both tradititional sources associated with life-altering events like moving and downsizing as well as new ones such as businesses which needed to re-organize work environments. This allowed the industry to ride out the pandemic-induced challenges better than most.

Our research using Yardi Matrix data showed that sales of self storage facilities dropped during the early part of 2020, as might be expected, only to pick up from the summer onward. As a consequence of the strong demand, the average nationwide cost per square foot during 2020 rose to $80.1, an increase of more than 9% over 2019. This was in spite of the fact that the nationwide sales volume was down by a similar amount, 7.2%, and the amount of square footage that changed hands dropped by about twice that percentage.

As with other real estate sectors, some regions perform better than others. We took a look at the top five states in terms of increased sales volumes in 2020 compared to an average taken over 2010-2019. Using the average over previous years rules out the effect that non-typical numbers of transactions in any one year would have on our analysis.

In addition, we ranked the US cities that had experienced the biggest total sales volume increases in 2020. Then we also looked at which companies had purchased the most self storage space in 2020, discovering market confidence that was widely distributed geographically.

Oregon and Alabama with highest self storage sales increases steal spotlight from more hyped markets

In 2020, compared to an average taken over the years 2010-2019, the self storage markets of Oregon and Alabama experienced higher increases in sales volumes than larger states did. Michigan, New York and Arkansas were not far behind in terms of total dollar sales increases. All these states also witnessed significant increases in the price per square foot of the storage space sold.

In terms of sales volume, New York, California and Florida attracted the most investment, with all these three states seeing transactions amounting to more than $400 million in 2020.

1. Oregon

Oregon’s self storage sector witnessed a four-fold sales increase in 2020 — to $75.9M compared to a 2010-2019 average of $18.4M, giving it first place on our list. The cost per square foot also saw a significant rise, of around 47%, from $74.9 to $110.6.

In terms of the square footage that was traded, 2020’s total of 686,381 was a more than five-fold increase on the 119,151 that changed hands in the previous year, representing a jump from 0.5% to 2.8% of the total inventory. Five of the facilities traded are situated in Salem, while others are in Mount Angel, Milwaukie and Portland — one in the state capital being the largest of all, a $25.5M sale of a property with 165,640 rentable square feet.

2. Alabama

Alabama saw an accumulated $61.6M of self storage sales transactions in 2020, a more than three-fold increase compared to the annual sales average of $17.1M during 2020-2019, giving it the second position in our list. The properties sold were spread out across the state — in Mobile, Huntsville, Madison, Irondale, Sterrett and Birmingham — with most costing around $10M.

A total of 574,831 square feet of storage space was sold in 2020, a drop from 749,127 in the previous year and representing about 2.6% of the total current inventory. 2020’s transactions look like quality real estate as the average price per square foot rose from $41.7 to $107.1, more than doubling year-over-year, the second-largest increase in the country.

3. Michigan

Michigan accumulated a sales volume in 2020 of $117.2M, which was a 136% increase over the 2010-2019 average sales volume. The total square footage sold went from 2,591,164 to 1,479,438, a drop of 43% and a decrease from 6.8% to 3.8% of the total inventory.

The costs per square foot of this storage more than tripled, going from $25.7 in 2019 to $79.2 in 2020. There were costly facilities traded in Westland, Novi, Chesterfield and Lake Orion — in the Detroit area — and in south-central Okemos. Others changed hands in Ann Arbor and Livonia, also near Motor City, and in Grand Rapids and Wyoming to the west.

4. New York

The self storage sector in New York City and surrounding areas has been booming for a while, supplying the great need there. The total sales volume of $591.3M was the largest of any state, and more than double the average of $252.0M over the period 2010-2019. The square footage sold last year was just slightly less than the previous year’s figure, 1,941,546 compared to 2,156,044, representing an increase in average cost per square foot from $207.7 to $304.5.

Outside the Big Apple, the largest property traded was upstate in Buffalo, having 112,069 rentable square feet and costing $12.53M. In the nearby small town of Grand Island, at the opposite end of the size spectrum, a facility with 4,491 square feet of storage was sold for just $40,000. And four properties in mid-state Clifton Park were purchased, for an average price per square foot of about $47 — they now operate under the LifeStorage brand.

5. Arkansas

The Arkansas self storage sector saw a transaction volume of 4.4% of its total inventory in 2020, more than in any other state in our top 5, although it does have small self storage provision of slightly less than 7M square feet in all. The total sales volume of $19.3M in 2020 was  more than double the average of $9.3M over the 2010-2019 period.

The average cost per square foot in 2020 was $63.2 in Arkansas, an increase of more than 50% over the 2019 figure of $40.1. The state’s priciest transaction was the $8.88M sale of a facility offering around 85,000 rentable square feet, now run by GreenFill Storage, in the small town of West Memphis. The Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway metropolitan area saw four facilities sold for a total of $11.82M.

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NYC racks up the highest self storage facility sales but those in smaller towns like Napa, CA, also prosper

When looking at the US cities which saw the largest volumes of self storage sales in 2020, a different but complimentary picture emerges.

Easily heading our top 20 is New York City — with Brooklyn the borough seeing the most activity — clocking up a total of $483.3M sales in 2020, more than two-and-a-half times the number traded the year before. In 2020, CubeSmart struck a $540M eight-property deal with Storage Deluxe which included the year’s most expensive transaction, at 41-06 Delong Street in Queens’ Flushing neighborhood, costing $123M at a pricey $752 per square foot, which completed in December.

In the Los Angeles self storage sector, a Culver City property sold for $92M. In terms of cost per square foot — no less than $1,167.62 — it was the priciest in the country during 2020, and part of a $600M mixed-use development project.

San Diego comes third on the list with facilities traded in 2020 for a total of $67.4M, a $48.2M increase over the previous year. The largest transactions, located near the Old Town and in the Mount Carmel Ranch neighborhood, encompass around 100K and 70K square feet of storage and cost $285.28 and $334.29 per square foot, respectively.

Las Vegas saw total self storage sales of $64.3M in 2020, more than double the previous year’s total of $31.8M. The most expensive was a 3-acre property with 47,481 rentable square feet bought by CubeSmart from a private investor for $16.80M in March 2020, adding to the 12 they already have in the metropolitan area.

$63.2M changed hands in Phoenix, AZ, in 2020, up from $39.1 in 2019, accounting for a total of more than half a million square feet. One of the largest was a Class-A facility purchased in April by the William Warren Group for $11.90M at $110.2 per square foot which will now trade under the StorQuest Self Storage brand.

Boston, in sixth place, witnessed one of the biggest transactions of 2020, the $48.25M sale of a facility in the central Seaport District, working out at $458.34 per square foot. This transaction represented 11.8% of the city’s total 2020 inventory, more than any of the previously mentioned cities.

Napa, CA, in 7th place, is the highest ranking smaller location on our list, with $40.5M changing hands — at no less than $268 per square foot. Wilmington, NC, and Murfreesboro, TN, also find their way into the top 10, with more than double the sales activity that occurred in the previous year.

Napa Vineyard and Old House

CubeSmart buys big in NYC while other investors spread their expenditure nationwide

The nationwide sales volume stood at $3.68B in 2020 for a total of 46M sq. ft. In 2019, more than 54M sq. ft. changed hands for almost $4B. Malvern, PA-based REIT CubeSmart lead the companies investing substantial amounts of money in self storage in 2020.

CubeSmart is the US’s fourth-largest self storage owner, with 523 facilties in about the half the country’s states. They purchased 27 properties with a total of almost 2.5M square feet during the course of 2020 for a total of $612M. A large part of their expenditure was accounted for by the huge December deal with Storage Deluxe which included NYC properties.

Public Storage, the US’s largest self storage brand, spent $460M on 46 properties with almost 5M square feet. Among the most expensive buys were a facility in Brooklyn for $48.79M from the Banner Real Estate Group in February and two Californian properties from the Wentworth Property Company for $27.50M and $27.41M in March. Other purchases were mostly away from expensive cities, however, with five in both Ohio and Pennsylvania and four in both Texas and Alabama.

Brooklyn-based REIT Merit Hill Capital bought 46, mostly smaller, self storage facilities in many regions, comprising slightly more than 2.5M square feet for a total of $178M. These included 18 from Prime Group Holdings in the Northeast of the nation. Utah-based REIT Extra Space Storage, the US’s second-largest owner of self storage units, spent around $144M on 16 facilities, including five in Florida, gaining around 1.5M more square feet of storage space.

SROA Capital paid $122M for over 1.5M square feet, more than half of which was a purchase of facilities in New England from Storage Pros Management, completed in October. Another quarter of their sales total was a seven-property purchase of Wisconsin facilities from Sunset Investors in December.

Inland Real Estate Group purchased 17 facilities for $107M — 12 from Simply Self Storage and four from Life Storage — acquiring over 1.2M square feet of storage space. Their focus was on states in the center of the country, with 13 facilities being in Michigan and Kentucky and Tennessee each accounting for two.

Invesco spent $97M for almost half a million square feet across four West Coast facilities, the most expensive being a property in Napa which completed in January. Lendlease’s single $92M purchase from Public Storage is the Culver City mixed-use development project, which completed at the end of December.

Life Storage, the US’s fourth-largest owner of self storage units, operates 854 locations nationwide. Its seven 2020 purchases totaled $83.8  and were spread over six states, the largest trading for $21.7M in Federal Way, WA, in February. The Blackstone Group paid $74M for 24 facilities across the country, totaling more than 1.5M square feet of storage. 18 of them were purchased from Merit Hill Capital, the most expensive costing $14.3M in Tucson, AZ.

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There was healthy sales activity in many of the nation’s self storage markets in 2020, both early in the year before the pandemic really took hold and near the year’s close when confidence had been restored. Storage real estate in the larger cities commanded high prices but other regions and smaller markets have been leading the way in terms of increased sales activity year-over-year. And the increase in sale prices per square foot is a particularly strong indicator of the market’s well-being.

Restrictions that impacted both operators and customers were overcome. Self storage investors have learned that new locations and markets can always be found, and many operators report plenty of customers and the success of new business procedures despite the challenges. Considering the activity and optimism in many places during 2020, and with enduring real estate values reassuring those who invest, the stage appears to be well set for self storage in 2021.

Author

Francis writes and edits articles for the STORAGECafé portal. His education includes a master’s degree in artificial intelligence from Edinburgh University and he gained his doctorate studying linguistic ambiguity. In addition, his work compiling corpora and writing technical manuals have proved to be a great background for his current work. Francis can be reached at [email protected]

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