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Self-Storage Outlook 2012: Positive Signs in the U.S. Economy Bode Well for Industry Performance and Investment

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More Improvement on the Horizon?

Bolstered by generations-low interest rates, the self-storage investment sector should continue to improve in 2012. Areas with high barriers to entry, such as Boston, New Jersey, New York and San Francisco, are expected to stage a strong performance this year. Muted construction in these major metros will allow operators to burn concessions and raise rents to pre-recession levels.

The southern states will see steady population growth as residents migrate to Texas, which has created 50 percent of the nation’s new jobs since the onset of the recovery. As a result, demand for self-storage space in most of the Lone Star state’s metros will improve.

Meanwhile, in the West, elevated unemployment and strategic home foreclosures will encourage residents to downsize into apartments, buttressing the need for self-storage space and lengthening average stays. Formerly overheated housing markets such as the Inland Empire, Las Vegas and Phoenix will benefit from this trend through 2012.

However, when the tax break afforded to homeowners who short sale or foreclose as part of the Mortgage Debt Relief Act of 2007 expires, fewer residents will walk away from underwater mortgages. This will add clarity to home prices and slow the migration to apartments. This could, in turn, temporarily soften self-storage demand.

Unique Opportunities Arise

In the self-storage investment arena, the real estate investment trusts (REITs) will remain bullish on discounted class-A and -B properties in primary markets, while smaller, private buyers will shift toward secondary and tertiary areas. The Sunbelt will garner the most attention this year, as a wave of real estate-owned properties emerge in overbuilt markets such as California and Florida.

Well-capitalized institutions that can achieve efficiency through economies of scale will acquire distressed assets for value-add plays. These investors will lease up the properties to achieve maximum occupancy levels and refinance the portfolio within a two-year period to leverage additional acquisitions.

As competition intensifies for upper-tier assets, cap rates will continue to compress in the second half, averaging in the mid-7 percent range. Private buyers, meanwhile, will target markets in Georgia, Michigan and Utah, paying cash for highly vacant class-B and -C properties for potential upside. Assets in these areas will trade below replacement costs and can produce returns in the low 10 percent range.

The guarded optimism for a better year for the economy and self-storage market should give way to more cheer when it comes to investing in commercial real estate. Private investors have become more active, and more capital is flowing to class-B assets and secondary markets in light of rapid tightening of yields in the upper tier of the market. The current prospects of investing in a hard asset that is set to improve along with an expanding economy, even at a moderate pace, with generations-low cost of debt locked in for five to seven years and competitive cash flow yields, point to a unique commercial real estate investment window.

Michael Hoffman is the first vice president and national director of the Marcus & Millichap Real Estate Investment Services National Self-Storage Group. The company specializes in commercial real estate investments and has more than 1,200 professionals in offices nationwide. To reach Hoffman, call 303.328.200; e-mail .

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