Lock away post-holiday clutter without becoming a ‘Storage Wars’ casualty

CONSUMER FORUM

Posted Dec. 28, 2014, at 9:12 a.m.

Storage for hire is now a $24-billion-a-year business, and it only shows signs of growing.

That dollar figure is a 2013 estimate from the Self-Storage Association, or SSA, a trade group that wants to assure us that putting our stuff out of sight is about more than hoarding.

SSA officials say there are more than 48,500 self-storage facilities in the country. Most are owned by the industry’s five largest public corporations: CubeSmart, Extra Space Storage, Public Storage, Sovran Self Storage (Uncle Bob’s) and U-Haul International. Another 4,500 firms own more than one facility, and about 30,000 own one facility.

The total of roughly 78 square miles of available storage space can be rented for a range of costs. The industry average is $1.12 per square foot for non-climate-controlled space. Climate-controlled space costs 30 cents more per square foot on average.

As of the third quarter of 2013, the occupancy rate was 87.4 percent (measured in numbers of available units per facility). The occupancy rate was 83.6 percent at the end of 2012. Roughly one in 10 U.S. households rents self-storage space.

So why do we need all this extra room? The industry says it’s meeting needs that go beyond society’s addiction to acquiring things. For example, putting some household furnishings in storage might give the home that someone’s trying to sell a sense of space. In this case, investing in self-storage might pay dividends in allowing a buyer a better view of what the home has to offer.

Some empty nesters might consider renting out a spare bedroom, along the model developed by Airbnb.

Homeowners might want to store their overflow goods and furnishings while bringing in some extra income. (Check local ordinances first, as some communities require permits and others strongly discourage such rentals.)

That rented space offers some people the option of getting out of the house for a while. Some have used facilities that include heat and lights for offices, studios or to fill other business needs. Such units can also turn into “man-caves,” creating a more tranquil home life while football season is in full swing.

The industry says its facilities might be one answer for people who can’t deal effectively with clutter. The SSA has produced radio commercials, print ads and on-hold recordings urging consumers to “de-clutterfy” by storing their excess belongings.

For people with long-term space needs, owning may be an option. Some facilities offer rent-to-own plans, while others may offer units for a set price.

There’s a lot of advice around concerning such purchases; we advise a lot of research — and a hard look at your needs — before deciding to buy.

One big consideration is insurance. You’ll probably want coverage, if you value your stuff enough to rent space for it. Consider the options and costs, and be sure you know what will and will not be covered. Luxury items will likely be exempted (they’re probably best kept in a safe deposit box or other secure storage anyway), and weird weather — including floods and other surface water problems — may also not be covered. Homeowners or renter’s insurance may cover some items in some storage situations; if extra coverage is needed, you may do better adding a rider to existing coverage than buying the rental agency’s policy.

You’ll need a weatherproof lock, likely costing $15-$20. Some storage companies also ask for a security deposit. You can look at a rundown of likely costs at http://home.costhelper.com/self-storage.html.

One person’s stash is another’s treasure; if you fall behind on rental payments, you may find your stuff going to auction. Know all the terms before you sign up.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email contacexdir@live.com.

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