Renting Storage Units: How Much Does Space Cost?

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2010-12-249

Beyond the usual estate sales, garage sales, rummage sales, arts and crafts or trade fairs and government auctions, I heard about a new spot where people stake out possible treasure hidden among other people’s stuff. That would be in rental storage units that are now popping out everywhere to accommodate the clutter business.

Don’t get me wrong — I think these storage structures are great if you need a temporary place to park your wares say if you’re thinking of moving to a new home, you’re undergoing a remodel, or you have an estate you need to eventually redistribute to beneficiaries. They’re also great for small businesses that need to hold inventory or equipment somewhere, so rent is just part of doing business.

But what I wonder about are these warehouses that are being used to store stuff that will probably never see the light of day ever again, and that isn’t going to be used on a regular basis, by virtue of the fact that it lives far and away from where you live yourself.

Clutter Everywhere
I don’t know what you call it but anything that doesn’t fit the nooks and crevices of your main residence and permanently needs another place of its own is something I’d deem as clutter. I am still somewhat surprised by the fact that people pay to house knick knacks and random stuff that they can’t bear to part with, just in case they find a use for it at some later time. It’s one thing to store items in the deep recesses of your house or apartment but it’s another thing to fork bucks to keep them elsewhere in order to continue holding on to them. Do you have a price for your sentimentality? For many people, it’s much more than how much space costs.

The Age of Consumption

Our families have grown smaller in the last half century, yet the living space we occupy has doubled in that same time period. Because of the prosperity that Americans experienced since the last World War, our appetites for material things have grown tremendously, requiring several cars per family, or TV sets and now even computers and game consoles per room! Don’t forget that families inherit from previous generations too, and many can’t bear to let go of concrete memories in the form of material things.

Some astonishing facts about the rental space business:

  • 11 million U.S. households spend on rental storage, which generated $18.5 billion in revenue for 2005.
  • The U.S. population increased 25 percent from 1984 to 2005, while square footage of self storage increased by 600 percent.
  • 500 million square feet of storage space was built from 2001 to 2005, which translates to 7 square feet for every person, according to the chairman of the Self-Storage Association, a trade organization. It’s pretty cool that even space gets a trade organization!
  • In 2005, self-storage ranked #1 for most profitable sector among REITs, beating out shopping malls, long term care facilities and residential REITs. Wow!


How much is space going to cost you?

Some monthly rates in San Jose:

  • The smallest 5 x 5 foot unit rents for $70.
  • a 10 x 10 foot unit rents for $240.
  • a 10 x 25 foot unit goes for $425

Unfortunately, many units become abandoned by some customers when they fail to pay the rent, and under California law, after 64 days of non-payment, they forego their stuff completely when a lien is placed on their property. Every few weeks, a self-storage facility holds auctions to clear out the spots and defray the rental costs, and so they receive bids from treasure hunters, many of whom are part of a subculture of regulars who participate in the bidding.

How do auctions for storage units work?

An entire storage unit is opened up for display, the bidders look around and review the goods, then the entire unit is up for grabs to the highest bidder. The bids per unit are payable only in cash and are, of course, all over the map (think: $50, $200, $500, $1,200), as varied as the contents they exhibit. Once they win, most bidders resell the items they get in the usual places such as eBay, Craigslist, home consignment centers, flea markets, or maybe their very own garage sales. If they pick up something of value such as jewelry or a fancy painting, then off it goes to get appraised. Watch out though! Some hazards of the system include hot, stolen items that may yield you nothing but a hole in your pocket, so buyer beware!

If serious thrifting and treasure hunting is for you, then abandoned storage houses are but another place to consider. But hopefully you don’t do this just to start your own new collection of clutter in your very own leased storage box.

< Reference: San Jose Mercury >

Created December 24, 2006. Updated December 24, 2010. Copyright © 2010 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Matt April 1, 2008 at 3:41 pm

I prefer to simply keep my garage CLEAN

Chuck Madere June 28, 2008 at 8:01 pm

Hey what a great idea you have got there. You are right about people failing to make their payments and losing their items stored. The thing is I did not know that the storage company holds auctions on the contents.
I will check this out and see if it will be something I may want to do.

I too am mining for gold.
Chuck Madere

Goldylox September 28, 2008 at 12:01 am

zomg who needs all that storage… packrats!

Chloe November 24, 2008 at 7:14 am

Having good storage ideas will really help organize things.

Zey May 4, 2009 at 12:36 am

Couple of years ago, I used to go and bid on those storage units(usually it’s every 3rd weekend). Average size unit was going for $150-200. I bought a few, but didn’t find anything that could cost lots of money. I don’t think that people that have any valuable items in there will stop making their payments.

T Phillips June 20, 2009 at 8:37 pm

Zey mentioned that they don’t think people who have valuables stored would let it go to auction but that isn’t necessarily true. People die, for example and in those cases sometimes the next of kin know nothing about the storage unit and the company simply sells off the stuff because they just assume the person doesn’t want to bother paying anymore.

There are other circumstances as well, a lot of people simply forget what they have sometimes. If you have been sticking stuff in storage for years and years (which many people do) they may not even remember an antique vase along the rubble or a gold necklace that they had packed away. It happens 🙂

Brittany Morris March 24, 2012 at 2:01 pm

I love going to storage auctions. Check out for more great auctions!

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