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Where to Build? Factors That Make a Desirable Self-Storage Site

By Steve Hajewski Comments

When developing a self-storage facility, there are many decisions to make. However, none are as important and vexing as where to buy land. Finding the right market and parcel on which to build will involve several tradeoffs. In this article, I’ll discuss the location characteristics sought by successful developers and the factors that make a site desirable.

Correct Zoning

An improperly zoned parcel will stop your project in its tracks. As a self-storage owner or developer, the first thing you need to discover is which zoning category allows for storage in the market you desire and where that land is. This information is typically available through the city or county website.

Properly zoned land may still require a conditional-use permit. It’s very common that if you find a market with great unmet demand, there are zoning or community restrictions preventing self-storage construction. Most areas have a process to petition for a zoning change; however, this typically involves a significant investment in design and architectural-rendering services, with no guarantee of success. If you do succeed in a zoning change, it may afford you an excellent location with high barriers to entry for future competitors.

When properly zoned land isn’t available, pursuing the conversion of a large vacant structure may improve your chances of winning approval. The longer a building has been empty and the uglier it is, the less resistance you’ll encounter.

High Visibility

A location with a high traffic count is very desirable, and one that will be passed by local commuter traffic is ideal. In most communities, these parcels won’t be zoned correctly for self-storage. If competitor sites aren’t highly visible, however, it’s less of an issue for a new development.

Easy Access

The perfect site will be easily accessible. Some parcels may be highly visible, such as from a freeway, but not directly or easily accessible. However, unless competitors in the immediate vicinity are both more visible and accessible, this isn’t a major concern.

Proximity to Residences

Putting a new facility close to residential developments has become increasingly important as customers search for storage online. Go ahead and do a search on your mobile phone for “self-storage near me.” Chances are, Siri (or your friendly Android equivalent) will point you toward the closest site. Therefore, it’s highly advantageous to build near homes or apartments. If you must choose between visibility or proximity to population, the site closer to residential rooftops is the better choice.

Inside City Limits

Municipal borders are also important. It can be tempting or convenient to look just past the city limits for available or less expensive land. However, a site that sits across the city line won’t show up as prominently in online search if the customer is investigating a specific town, so it pays to be in the actual city than a neighboring suburb. A “just outside the city” location may require you to invest in pay-per-click advertising to maintain an online presence, especially during the rent-up period.

To see borders of a community as defined by Google, do a search for the desired city name and state. The town should show up with a fine red border.


In reality, self-storage facilities can be and are built on any land shape available. The buildings are highly adaptable and can make use of parcels that aren’t ideal for other uses. That said, a rectangular site is the easiest to lay out and build.

Several Acres

The size of the property you purchase will depend on the amount of demand forecasted for a market and the type of storage that will be built. Traditionally, sites consisting of drive-up buildings (commonly 30 to 40 feet wide) work best on parcels ranging from 3 to 5 acres. Smaller sites can be financially feasible if run remotely, but they’re often not attractive once the manager expenses are factored.

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