San Diego boasts not only a great climate and the world’s largest naval fleet, but its diverse and advanced industries keep the economy comparatively buoyant. Anyone moving here to take advantage of this — and San Diegans who want to maximize their lifestyles — can benefit particularly from the self storage in the city, so we talked to a local provider to see how they can help.

Apart from San Diego’s defense-related jobs, there are high-tech, biotechnology and communications companies based here — industries in a good position to respond to current trends for increased remote working and automation. The tourism industry is also well developed thanks to the nearby beaches and sport fishing opportunities. The city’s unemployment rate was 7.7% in October 2020, significantly below both the previous month’s figure of 8.9% and California’s unadjusted rate of 9.0%. These economic factors combine to ensure that it remains a good place to live and work and that the local self storage sector flourishes.

San Diego provides about 5.8 square feet of self storage per person, more than in places such as New York, Chicago and the other big West Coast cities. There is therefore plenty for anybody who is moving here, downsizing, or needs space to store their belongings — perhaps those surfboards during the winter! The September street rates for San Diego storage units generally increased since the previous month, growing for non-climate-controlled 5’x5’ and 10’x10’ lockers by 5% and 4%, respectively. The average monthly rate for the latter is $160, cheaper than in both Los Angeles and San Francisco. The amount of storage space planned or under construction, as a proportion of the current inventory, was 11.6% in September 2020. One factor that boosts the need for self storage is limited living space, and the sizes of newly built houses and apartments in San Diego have been shrinking over the last few years, with some residents finding they may need extra space for their belongings.

Kraig Haviland of San Diego Self Storage
Kraig Haviland of San Diego Self Storage

To discover how the self storage sector is doing in San Diego, we talked to Kraig Haviland at San Diego Self Storage, who have no fewer than 18 facilities in the area, both near the center of town and in outlying areas such as Sorrento, Eastlake and close to the airport. They had already anticipated some of the changes needed to make the renting process go smoothly during these times and have added to these to provide maximum safety. They have also found that a range of well-targeted discounts and free services helps keep customers happy.

1. What is the self storage picture in San Diego these days and what are the challenges it is facing?   

Since COVID hit in full force in March, rental activity was initially slow but picked up and it has extended into Autumn.  Customers have been reluctant to vacate their units.  We have seen an 8% decrease in our vacate rate compared to the same time period last year.

2. How has COVID-19 changed the way in which self storage owners operate their facilities in San Diego?   

We have made lots of changes.  Fortunately, we had enabled paperless and on-line rentals prior to the pandemic and so we were able to continue to rent spaces.  We have instituted stringent cleaning protocols of the common areas throughout the day.  We are limiting the office to one customer at a time.  We have put tables in our offices to promote social distancing when we assist our customers and we also have hand sanitizers on hand.

3. What in your experience are the most important extra services to offer customers?   

We offer a free truck and driver for move-ins and this is a service that customers are very happy to use.  The ability to accept packages for business customers has also been a beneficial service.  A third service I feel is important is the ability to allow later gate access to a new customer who is trying to move into their space.  This can be a stress reliever and can make the storage experience even more positive.

4. What special offers and discounts have you found to be most effective for attracting customers?   

Storage customers are increasingly savvy and are accustomed to receiving up-front discounts.  Even when at locations that are nearly full, we still like to offer 25% off of the first month as a sweetener which doesn’t cost us much and it makes the consumer feel like they got something in the deal.

5. Have San Diegans changed their self storage habits as a result of COVID-19?    

As I mentioned earlier, the vacates are less frequent. Transfers are up slightly. There seems to be less customer activity at the facilities as well.

6. In your experience, what are the best ways to deal with cases where customers can no longer pay rent on a unit?  

We try hard to stay in constant communication with customers who are behind on their rent.  We have had more customers just sign their units over to us and we also have made a lot of pay and vacate deals.  The customer pays us a small percentage of what they owe and retrieves their belongings that same day.

San Diego's Coronado Bridge

It would appear the San Diego self storage sector is stepping up to the plate, with operators adapting to the challenges of these times and able to maintain profitable street rates into the bargain.  There are solutions that make it easier for both operators and customers to cope with the new reality, including online procedures and ways of helping clients who are experiencing financial difficulties. In addition, experience shows that certain extra services and offers can turn storage seekers into customers. And it seems people are now renting their units for longer in San Diego, a sign that the industry is appreciated and will continue to be of great benefit to residents. To sign off, we simply cannot resist repeating what Ron Burgundy says in the comedy film Anchorman: “You stay classy, San Diego!”


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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