When most self storage owners wake up in the morning, they don’t usually think about the Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC). Most owners are busy managing occupancy, controlling costs, and overseeing the operations of their self storage business. On a daily basis, these tasks are far more important than decisions made by Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell, and the rest of the FOMC. At the same time, the Fed Funds rate that is established by the FOMC has an enormous impact on the value of self storage facilities.
As investors are enjoying the fluid nature of today’s transaction market, it has become evident that buyers and sellers may need to focus on more than just purchase price. We are in an incredible period for the self-storage industry where the unconventional and unexpected have become a part of everyday business. The influx and sheer amount of buyers/equity in the self-storage space over the last few years has led to higher transaction velocity, higher values and, much to my surprise, has extended the self-storage investment cycle with very little signs of slowing down.
The value of professional advice during a self-storage transaction cannot simply be measured by wins and losses. In fact, often times the most valuable advice does not even lead to a transaction. Over the years I have written articles and analyzed just about every aspect of the self-storage business. However, we rarely explain what good real estate broker duties are and why we get paid to help our clients buy and sell self-storage properties.
In today’s dynamic self-storage business environment, many independent owners are forced to compete with larger, better capitalized and more sophisticated self-storage operators. Most owners consider the REITs to be the largest competitors in their markets, but we are now seeing the regional players and third-party management companies grow to a level that leaves the local independent operator with more skilled competitors than ever before. So, the question has become how can an independent self-storage operator take on the giant corporations and large third-party management companies and not only survive but make increased profits? Quite simply, operators need to change their attitudes and become more proactive! Following are four strategies that you can employ to compete and thrive in your local market.
Many experts agree that the self-storage market has reached the high-water mark, but for the first time in my 20+ year real estate career, the industry is seeing both operational head winds and investment expansion. Over the last three weeks I have attended several market updates and self-storage investment meetings. While it is unclear how the self-storage sector will perform in 2018, the majority of the large operators and self-storage REITS are predicting slow to moderate revenue growth in the 3-5% range. However, the biggest self-storage REIT, Public Storage, is not so bullish on 2018 performance.
Looking back over the last three years, without qualification, the market has simply been the best it has ever been at any time in the existence of the self-storage business. Interest rates have remained low, lenders are aggressive, industry information is getting better, values have risen rapidly, NOI’s have been growing and large institutional investors are buying self-storage assets. All of the positive energy and results have supercharged the development cycle and the industry is now entering uncharted territory.
Experience has shown us that the value of self-storage has more to do with where we are in the real estate cycle and with market sentiment rather than the actual performance of the property. Most independent self-storage owners appear to still be selling primarily because of life events, with few making the decision to sell in order to capitalize on the current real estate market. However, it is also very apparent that the institutional investors are taking notice of the current market conditions and are choosing to sell some or all of their self-storage holdings and are being disciplined with regards to new acquisitions. Concerns about new supply and rising real estate taxes seem to be on the forefront of all self-storage owners’ minds.
Over the last 10 years, the self-storage industry evolved from a mom and pop investment class to a mainstream institutional asset class. The industry weathered the great recession and is now reaping the benefits of strong market fundamentals. Heading into 2018, I want to highlight some industry trends that will continue throughout the year and help the industry’s continued growth.
As we near the end of 2017, there are several signs that should capture your attention and point you in appropriate directions so you can capitalize on current market and economic conditions. From a big picture perspective, the first sign that should catch your eye is that cap rates may have reached their low point and could be ever-so-slightly on the rise. Meanwhile on the capital markets front, loan options have never been better (with the exception of construction financing). Digging deeper, here are some other signs you can look for as we wind up the year.
Over the last 12-36 months, the self-storage development train has been picking up steam and it is clear that certain markets are starting to feel the effects of new supply. Because this information is so critical to the ongoing success of the self-storage industry, Argus has worked in conjunction with other information sources and industry professionals to compile the most accurate development information in the industry. I want to give special thanks to Chris Sonne for his collaboration with Argus on this project and our efforts to provide the industry with the best possible development data available.
As indicated by the stock performance of the 5 self-storage REITs in 2017, the self-storage investment market is experiencing some headwinds. As we continue to see self-storage Net Operating Incomes flatten and deceleration of rental revenue, we are also experiencing areas of expense pressure including spending on advertising/marketing, payroll and real estate taxes. However, as the values of self-storage investments have flattened the demand for the investment in the private sector is remaining strong. We continue to see new supply coming on line and the impact of new supply could be higher in 2018 vs. 2017 reflecting multi-year lease-up of prior year deliveries.
Today the investment market for self-storage assets can best be described as having flat or softening values, but the demand remains strong. It is still a seller’s market, for now! Over the last 3 years, selling prices of self-storage properties have risen dramatically. A typical owner has seen their value (without any increase in rents or occupancy) go up by about 27%+; even more if your operating results improved. This large jump in value comes almost exclusively from cap rate compression of 150-300 basis points. These outsized gains in value over the last 3 years have resulted in the first wave of new development hitting the market. This, along with a few other headwinds will temporarily slow the pace of self-storage investment. Let’s take a look at a few things that will impact investment opportunities in the self-storage space over the next year and what you can do to stay competitive despite this potential slow down.
The self-storage acquisition market continues to be robust and we are seeing many new investors, both large and small, entering the space for the first time. However, the buyers today are a different group than the usual suspects of the last few years as many of the REITs and other household names are taking a more conservative approach to acquisitions in 2017. Because we have so many new buyers in the market place, I thought it might be helpful to review a couple of the necessary steps one must take to ensure a smooth transaction and complete a successful closing.