America, we need to talk. We simply have too much stuff. The evidence: In the U.S., self-storage companies now rake in nearly $40 billion a year. It’s easy to say the solution to needing self-storage space is to get rid of whatever it is you don’t have room for, or anything that doesn’t “spark joy,” as Marie Kondo says.
But if you’re moving to a new home that won’t be ready before you vacate the old one, you need to get belongings out of the way during remodeling, are getting crowded out by stuff that’s too valuable to part with, or need temporary storage for other reasons, the self-storage industry is ready to rent you a dumping ground.
Checkbook’s undercover shoppers collected prices from a sampling of self-storage companies throughout the Philadelphia area. Here’s what they found, plus some shopping and storage tips.
Shop around. Shoppers found big facility-to-facility cost differences for similarly sized spaces. For example, to rent a 10-by-20-foot unit for a year, prices ranged from $1,840 to $4,279.
Check different locations. Even among facilities owned by the same company, you might find substantial price differences. For example, shoppers found a $465 difference between two of the locations they checked for Storage Rentals of America for use of a 5-by-10-foot unit for one year.
Availability drives pricing. Check whether renting two or more separate units is less expensive than getting one large space. Most facilities use dynamic pricing that is guided by availability: If a certain type or size of unit is in short supply, Checkbook sometimes found it was cost effective to lease two smaller units instead of one large one.
Consider far-away locales. You might find lower prices as you get farther out into the suburbs (although you can’t always count on that). If you don’t need to visit your storage unit often, consider grabbing savings available by renting from far-flung facilities. Visiting your unit can then count as a vacation!
Don’t assume that chains offer the lowest prices. Checkbook found no consistent price winners among the various self-storage chains.
Consider floor level. Ground-floor storage may be more convenient, but storage on higher floors sometimes costs less. So long as units on higher floors are elevator-accessible (and almost all are), the savings may justify the minor inconvenience.
Climate-control costs. Many facilities offer climate-controlled units. That makes them more comfortable to be in when you’re moving goods in and out. It also reduces risk of damage to your goods, for instance, from mildew, from freezing if you will be storing liquids, or from heat damage to glues if you will be stashing antique furniture. But climate-controlled units typically cost 20% to 40% more.
Consider indoor vs. outdoor access. At some facilities you have a choice between outdoor access (drive up and unload directly) or inside access (located on a hallway). Outdoor access is often more expensive.
Ask for discounts. Without even asking for discounts, shoppers were sometimes offered half off the first month’s rent or the first month for $1. Be sure to inquire. Some facilities became more forthcoming when Checkbook’s shoppers said they would be calling other facilities looking for the best price.
Consider a long-term commitment. Some storage spots offer lower rates if you commit to six months or a year or prepay several months’ rent.
Beware of extra fees. Many facilities charge onetime “administration,” “set up,” or “processing” fees. These junk fees were for the most part modest but check anyway.
Check your insurance coverage. If you have a homeowners or renters insurance policy that covers your personal property away from your house, you probably don’t need to buy extra coverage from the storage company; ask your insurer for details to make sure. If your stuff isn’t covered, you can buy insurance from the storage company. It’s usually pretty cheap: At one facility, $10,000 of coverage cost $47 a month.
Check hours of access. If you’ll need odd-hours access, know that some spots aren’t open 24/7.
Consider alternatives. Other options exist for parking your odds and ends. If you need to clear space during a remodeling, you can rent a mobile storage container for your driveway; it costs about half what you’d pay at a self-storage facility. And if you want to hire someone to do all this schlepping and storing for you, moving companies usually offer that.