Is Ownership (Rather Than Renting) the Next Trend in Self Storage?

Carrie Royce | Aug 02, 2010 @ 12:01 PM

Boat storage can be a necessity for seafaring types, especially in regions of North America where summer only lasts from June through August—like Idaho.

Mention Idaho and many outsiders think of “famous potatoes.” But residents know the vast, mixed landscape has far more to offer than a third of the nation’s spuds. Outdoor enthusiasts delight in the high peaks, winding rivers, fishing lakes and ski slopes. That’s one of the reasons many celebs seek refuge from the paparazzi in Idaho. I’m a big fan of the state myself; I think its vast, rustic beauty is America’s best kept secret.

Boating and camping are big all across the state. So are snowmobiling, jet skiing, bicycling, rafting, horseback riding—pretty much every outdoor adventure has a place in the “Gem State.” In fact, you can hardly go a mile without passing a half-dozen glinting boats, RVs and similar grown-up playthings.

With so many things to do in either summer or winter, there’s high demand for self storage. There are about 30 self storage facilities within the Idaho Falls city limits (even more in the surrounding towns!). But why shell out a monthly fee to someone else for 200 square feet of empty space when you can “pay yourself” for it—as a real estate investment?

That’s probably what one instinctive real estate entrepreneur asked himself when he came up with the idea for Idaho Falls Storage Condos—specialty storage spaces for sale on the outskirts of town.

I spotted the advertisement for the storage condos in the Idaho Falls Post Register while on vacation this week, and my eyebrows jumped. These aren’t your ordinary self storage units.

The gleaming rooms are completely finished in commercial-grade steel with concrete floors, insulated walls, heat and climate control. In the ad’s picture, bright fixtures light the way up the interior stairs to a narrow loft. A sizable boat on a trailer and two jet skis take up about a third of the space. Life jackets and accessories hang neatly on the wall. (...I'm virtually drooling here.)

Not fancy enough? You can further customize the unit to fit your needs with heat, ceiling fan, shelving, work bench, custom painting and floor finishes.

It looks to be the perfect space for Idaho’s characteristic big-boy toys—a private second garage, just a stone’s throw away from home (a local expression).

Pricing is outlined on the property's website. Looks like you can purchase a unit for about half the cost of a tiny residential condo in the area:

16x48' – $53,000

20x48' – $60,000

24x48' – $67,000

According to the website, terms of ownership are identical to a residential condominium project. Buyers own their individual spaces, as well as the land underneath it. In fact, if a 24x48’ unit is simply not big enough for your stuff, you can spring for two storage units side-by-side and structurally combine them.

The entrance and roadway between the buildings are common areas. Because large vehicles and trailers come in and out of the units regularly, there’s a 70-foot space between each building to provide room to maneuver, enough even for the larger model boats and RVs (including my favorite, the pontoon—with installed shower and bathroom of course).

The storage units are wired for electricity with plenty of power outlets, but they aren’t equipped with bathrooms—the county will not allow them in individual units. Still, with a Porta Potti, some leave-in horse shampoo, a couple of old blankets and a hot-plate, you would think you could turn the condo into affordable living space once you bankrupt yourself buying recreational vee-hicles.

Alas, Idaho Falls Storage Condos has the answer for that, “These units are strictly for storage. The county ordinances and zoning laws forbid [living in your unit].”

That said, you can certainly hang out in style for a while: On the north end of “building A,” there’s an owner's lounge with TV, vending machines and restrooms. Or, you might sublet your unit and pocket a little extra cash… As long as the renters understand and comply with the bylaws.

The exterior offers some convenient perks for adventurers as well: You can “empty” and wash your toys on site. Some of the buildings feature wash bays and hydrants. “Pending DEQ approval, there will be an RV and wash station located at on the east end of building 3,” the website for Idaho Falls Storage Condos says.

The perks aren’t free. Monthly association dues are required to cover the cost of common area expenses like water, electricity, property taxes, insurance, snow removal, miscellaneous repairs, landscape upkeep, RV waste disposal and any other costs associated with the common area. And, of course, Idaho Falls Storage Condos has a unique set of bylaws. (Neither dues nor bylaws are shared on the property's website.)

So what about theft? Surely the criminal element would see such an overtly premium facility as an optimal target? Maybe not… The property is completely enclosed by a fence with a gate that only you have the code for. There is also a video security system to monitor your unit 24/7.

In Idaho Falls, he who dies with the biggest toys wins. And since the dozen or so boat & RV storage facilities in town are typically near rental capacity, the opportunity to purchase your own an extra garage is a hit. Phase 1, which opened in 2010, is nearly sold out. Two more phases are already underway.

So what do you think—will ownership appeal only to the outdoorsy lifestyles of Idahoans, or is it the next hot trend in self storage nationwide?