People’s lifestyles and their attitude towards housing have changed a lot in the last decade. Many delay marrying and starting a family, but still want to live in good-quality homes that offer every desirable convenience – including expansive, uncluttered layouts. Moreover, as incomes tended to rise, spending power also allowed us to live big and own more —and the need for extra storage goes hand-in-hand with that, as the more you own, the stronger the desire to keep things organized and safe. Self storage is also strongly connected to life events and necessities. Whether you’re moving to a different city in search of a better job, downsizing and in need of a safe place for some of your belongings, owning too much stuff for the size of your home, living in multigenerational households where every square foot counts, or running a business requiring temporary storage options for paperwork or office supplies, the self storage industry is positioned to provide a solution.
Fueled by strong demand, self storage has seen tremendous growth in recent times, with developers building facilities in every corner of the US in an effort to respond to the increasing need for extra space. The national average street rate for a standard 10×10 self storage unit currently stands at $115/mo.
But who exactly is driving the expansion of the self storage sector and what are they looking for? We at STORAGECafé wanted to hear directly from self storage users so we conducted a survey among people showing a direct interest in the real estate market, both home seekers and people looking for places to rent.
Based on answers from over 1,700 respondents in the U.S., we’ve tried to shed some light on who is actually renting self storage, the reasons why they need this type of service, and how self storage habits vary depending on age group and housing situation.
- 33% of all the survey respondents currently rent or have rented self storage in the past, and 11% of those who never rented self storage declared they intend to do so in the future
- Moving is the most popular reason for renting self storage, cited by 37% of the survey respondents, followed by a lack of space at home, invoked by 22% of the respondents
- Baby Boomers and Gen Xers represent 77% of those who are renting self storage
Single-family residents more likely to rent self storage
35% of the survey respondents living in single family homes are renting or have rented self storage in the past, while 30% of the respondents that live in apartments declare the same thing. Another interesting finding is that the probability of renting self storage grows gradually, along with the number of bedrooms in a house. The bigger the house, the higher the chances of residents using self storage.
30% of the survey respondents living in a studio apartment said they are renting self storage or have rented some in the past, followed by 31% of those living in one-bedroom accommodations, 32% of the respondents living in two-bedroom homes, and 35% of the people residing in 3+ bedroom homes.
The fact that self storage is more popular among people living in larger homes might seem counterintuitive at first. But if you come to think about it, the need for storage grows with the number of possessions you have. Also, larger homes usually accommodate larger families, resulting in more sophisticated storage needs.
Big home or tiny apartment dwellers – they all want a piece of the self storage pie
The highest proportion of self storage users is among the survey respondents living in homes between 1,300 and 1,800 square feet (37%). About 34% of those residing in houses with between 1,000 and 1,300 square feet, as well as 33% of the survey respondents inhabiting homes with between 2,500 and 3,500 square feet, are using self storage or have used the service in the past.
31% of the survey respondents living in homes having less than 1,000 square feet are self storage customers. About 30% of the survey respondents living in houses with more than 3,500 square feet, and an equal percentage of those living in houses with between 1,800 and 2,500 square feet, declared that they are renting or have rented self storage.
Interestingly enough, survey respondents in 1-person households registered the highest rate – 34% – of self storage users. This tendency can be attributed to the higher mobility of one-person households and to their propensity toward occupying smaller dwellings that don’t provide a lot of storage space.
About 33% of the survey respondents that are part of 2-, 3- and 4-person households are using self storage currently or have used it in the past. 30% of the survey respondents who live in 5+ person households said they use self storage to satisfy their need for extra space. Also, 31% of the people who are renting self storage declared they are mostly dissatisfied about the size of their homes, while the rest are mostly satisfied.
Whether living in large or small homes, and having big or small families, all Americans experience a need for more storage space.
39% of renters keep their units for over a year
Self storage customers tend to rent their units long-term – a whopping 39% of them hold on to their locker for over a year. Almost 33% of the survey respondents are in the habit of keeping their self storage units for 2 to 6 months. Another 16% of the respondents rent units for 7 to 12 months while 12% use them short-term, for just one month.
Moving is the most popular reason for getting self storage
Moving is the most frequently cited reason for renting a self storage unit – almost 37% of the respondents said they rented self storage while relocating. For another 22%, not having enough space at home was the main incentive behind renting extra space away from home.
Changes in household size is the third-most popular reason why people are renting self storage – 8% of the respondents got a self storage unit to help during such busy times of their lives. Another 7% of the survey respondents said that the determining factor for renting a self storage unit was downsizing. About 21% of the survey respondents cited other reasons for renting a self storage unit, including storage of vehicles or collectibles.
- Using Self Storage for Business Gains Traction: 5% of Self Storage Renters Store for Commercial Purposes
A small yet significant share of respondents – 5% of them – declared they are using self storage for business purposes. From storing documents to storing equipment, tools and vehicles, small and medium-sized businesses are turning toward self storage as a flexible, easy-to-access and inexpensive way of solving their need for more space. Some of the items most frequently stored for business purposes are equipment, tools and vehicles, office supplies, fabrics and art and craft materials.
10×10 and 5×10 are the most popular unit sizes
The most popular sizes are the 10×10 units and the 5×10 units, with each of these gathering 31% of the respondents’ votes. The 10×20 units are employed by 25% of the self storage users, while small, 5×5 units are the least popular of those we considered, as only 13% of the respondents reported getting one of them.
41% of self storage customers visit their units at least once per month, while another 24% of them declared they visit their units at least once per week. Another 11% of them are visiting their units less often but at least once per year. A surprisingly high proportion of people, 24%, visit their self storage unit less frequently than once per year.
More women than men are using self storage
How many shoes and items of clothing can a woman have? Now we finally have an answer: more than they can store in their own homes. As it turns out, women show a greater predilection toward self storage than men – 65% of the survey respondents who said they were renting self storage are women while 35% are men. 20% of the women said they are storing mainly clothes in their units, with only 13% of the men declaring the same thing. Furniture is the most common item stored by 62% of men, compared to 52% of women.
Women are a little more inclined to store seasonal items than men – 20% vs. 19%. About 9% of the women are storing home appliances in their units, compared to 5% of the men.
Baby Boomers and Gen Xers make up 77% of the self storage consumers
39% of the survey respondents that are currently renting self storage or have rented in the past belong to the Baby Boomer generation, and another 38% are Gen Xers. About 16% of the self storage customers in our survey are Millennials and Gen Zers – which means they are 35 and younger. The remaining 7% are 72 and older.
Millennials may be the largest demographic group – now over 75 million strong – but it’s their predecessors that take the lead in terms of spending, which might explain why GenX-ers and Baby Boomers are also the biggest self storage customers. Both generations tend to have a much higher spending power than Millennials, as shown by the Consumer Expenditure Survey.
While Gen Xers had an average annual expenditure of almost $75,000 in 2018 and for Baby Boomers it was more than $63,000, for Millennials the figure stood at just $53,000. These two generations that are older than Millennials are better positioned to make large purchases, do home remodeling projects, or to switch houses. All these activities imply a need for extra space, and therefore the propensity toward self storage.
Moreover, both Gen Xers and Baby Boomers tend to have more complex family situations than Millennials and Gen Zers. The bulk of Gen Xers are at that stage of their lives when they are busy raising families and caring for ailing parents, which means that they require plenty of living space, while their storage needs are amplified. Baby Boomers are dealing with their own host of issues, whether it’s downsizing, multi-generational living or caring for grandchildren.
Millennials and Gen Zers, on the other hand, are at the early to middle stages of their professional and personal lives, so their storage needs are not quite as sophisticated and well-defined as those of older generations. Interestingly enough, though, they show a strong predilection toward using self storage as an extension of their homes and are visiting their units with greater frequency than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers.
Baby Boomers, more likely to use self storage due to downsizing
11% of the Baby Boomers declared that they need self storage due to downsizing, while another 10% of them got self storage because of changes in the household. Only about 5% of both Millennials and Gen Xers cited downsizing as the reason why they rent self storage.
Baby Boomers are less likely to need self storage for moving – about 48% of them listed relocating as a motivation for renting self storage, compared to 52% of Gen Xers and 56% of Millennials. Gen Xers, on the other hand, are the most likely to get self storage because of a lack of space at home – 36%, compared to only 31% of the Millennials and 32% of Baby Boomers.
People living in studio apartments are the most likely to rent self storage in the future
12% of the survey respondents who are living in studio apartments and have not used self storage so far declare that they are planning to rent a unit in the future. 11% of those living in 2-bedroom houses, and 9% each of the respondents residing in 1-bedroom or 3-bedroom homes also said they consider getting self storage in the future.
In terms of actual home size, which directly impacts a person’s need to place their belongings in storage, we noticed that survey respondents living in smaller houses are more interested self storage. Therefore, 12% of the survey respondents living in houses under 1,000 square feet and 11% of those inhabiting homes between 1,000 and 1,300 square feet, who so far have not used self storage, said they’ll probably get a unit. Among the survey respondents living in houses larger than 1,300 square feet, the percentage of future self storage users hovers around 9%.
People with larger families are also more interested in becoming self storage customers – 14% of the survey respondents living in 5+ person households predict they will be renting a self storage unit in the future, compared to only 8% of 1-person households or 10% of those in a 2-person household.
44% of the survey respondents who said they will be renting self storage in the future cited moving as their reason, followed by 18% complaining about the lack of space at home, and 13% who estimate that downsizing will result in a need for extra storage space. Another 11% said that changes in household size is the reason why they will be renting self storage, while more than 3% plan to rent self storage for their business. Finally, a total of 11% of the survey respondents who are planning to rent self storage cited other reasons than the ones listed above, including RV storage or boat storage.
Furniture makes the most common item in self storage
A majority of self storage customers, around 51%, declare that they use their self storage units mainly for furniture. An additional 23% of the self storage customers keep seasonal items in their self storage units.
Clothing is the next item frequently kept in self storage, by 16% of the survey respondents, while about 9% of them use their units mostly for home appliances. The survey respondents also mentioned storing collectibles and antiques, kids’ stuff and toys, seasonal decorations, RVs, boats and other vehicles.
From a sword collection to the backseat of a Bronco, here are some of the most unusual items people put in self storage
People store all sorts of stuff in their self storage units, besides the regular furniture, clothing and home appliances. We got plenty of funny and unexpected answers when asking consumers about the most unusual items they placed in self storage.
Collections are a recurrent theme, from a sword collection to an Annabelle-evoking antique doll and a massive collection of eyeglasses. One respondent shared that he keeps a dog in the storage unit, but, fortunately, it’s a hammered steel dog – no relation to the sword collection mentioned above, or to the welding machines another user bundled up in his unit.
Ever wondered what to do with the old plumbing pieces you got stuck with after redoing your bathrooms or kitchen? For one of our survey respondents, the solution is pretty obvious – simply put them in your self storage unit.
The backseat of a Bronco and a cuckoo clock purchased from Germany, no less, also found shelter in a storage unit. Candy vending machines, hundreds of artificial plants and…. coffins add up to the unlikely array of items deposited in storage units.
Expensive sports memorabilia, fishing rods and a baby grand piano sound like more reasonable belongings to be put away in a self storage unit. However, a storage locker filled with mannequins raises some interesting questions.
San Diego tops list of cities for self storage-related searches
The public interest in self storage is also revealed by the volume of online searches related to it, and, from looking at the numbers, it appears as if Americans are keen on searching online for the best self storage options in their areas.
We analyzed self storage-related Google searches for the country’s 30 largest cities, and the average monthly total for the past 12 months stands at 2,812. The city that generates the highest degree of online interest toward self storage is San Diego, California, with an average of 5,870 monthly searches.
Second in line is Austin, Texas, with a monthly average of 5,810 online queries linked to self storage. New York City comes in third place, with 4,840 monthly searches related to storage units in the area.
Other cities that generate high volumes of searches on self storage are Chicago, with a monthly average of 4,800, Denver with 4,480, San Antonio with 4,350 and Las Vegas with 4,090. San Francisco, Seattle and Portland also make the top ten in terms of self storage search volumes. Average monthly queries amount to 4,020 for San Francisco, 3,720 for Seattle and 3,330 for Portland.
Interest for self storage increased during the COVID-19 pandemic in the country’s 30 largest cities, as shown by the 9% upsurge in the volume of searches when comparing the past 12 months with the period before the pandemic started (February 2019 to January 2020). The pre-pandemic volume of self storage-related online searches for the country’s top 30 cities stood at 77,350, compared to 84,380 now.
San Francisco registered the highest increase, by more than 60%, in the volume of self storage online searches during the pandemic versus pre-pandemic levels, from a monthly average of 2,510 searches to 4,020. Other cities that are showing increased levels of interest in self storage are Washington, DC, with a 47% surge of online searches, Charlotte, with a 31% increase, and Seattle, with a 27% increase.
Self storage continues to have significant appeal for Americans, and it remains a necessary, affordable and easy-to-use service. The industry is even more important now, as the COVID-19 pandemic has created a need for people and companies to have more space at home or at their place of business, and one way to accomplish that is by using self storage.
The survey was conducted on two online real estate platforms, rentcafe.com and point2homes.com, for a period of one month.
The sampling was designed as a non-probability sample, and the platforms’ active users voluntarily engaged in taking the survey. Over 1,700 valid questionnaire results were interpreted for this study.
The data used to compile the list of cities with the most online searches related to self storage was taken from Google Keyword Planner.
The list of questions is presented below:
1. Are you a homeowner or a renter?
2. What type of residence are you currently living in?
3. What kind of home are you currently living in?
4. How large is your home (sq. ft.)?
5. How satisfied are you with the size of your home?
6. How many people are there in your household?
7. Have you ever rented self storage?
8. For how long have you rented storage space?
9. What is your reason for renting self storage?
10. What’s the size of your self storage unit?
11. How often do you visit it?
12. What are the most common items you placed in self storage?
13. What are the most unusual things you ever stored in a storage unit?
14. Why have you never rented self storage?
15. Are you planning to rent self storage in the future?
16. What are your reasons for considering self storage?
17. What do you plan to store?
18. What city do you live in?
19. In what age group do you belong?
20. What’s your gender?
The purpose of this survey was to collect information on the preferences and attitude of people towards self storage and present it as a commentary on a topic of general interest. The data reflects the opinions of an American audience with an interest in real estate as interpreted by STORAGECafé. It should not be regarded as investment advice or a recommendation to invest and should not be used as a basis for investment decisions.
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