Simple Passive Income through Self-Storage Investing

Self-storage. It’s simple. It’s proven. For many investors, it’s the dream. 

Investing in self-storage gives you the best parts of income property investing without the hassle … life can be breezy when your tenants are boxes. 

But all investments have pros and cons. 

We invited Dave Zook … successful business owner and experienced real estate investor … to share his insights and experience in the self-storage sector.

Get ready for high yields and low drama!

In this episode of The Real Estate Guys™ show, hear from:

  • Your hassle-free host, Robert Helms
  • His hassling co-host, Russell Gray 
  • Founder and CEO of The Real Asset Investor, Dave Zook

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The skinny on self-storage

Some of the best tenants in the world are boxes. 

Self-storage is one of the coolest niches in real estate. We’re all familiar with the concept … at some point, we all have more stuff than we have space. 

What can we say … we’re sentimental people.

Maybe it’s Baby Boomers downsizing … or maybe it’s corporations that would rather store documents off-site than pay more for premium office space. 

The importance of the stuff in boxes is in the eye of the beholder … but the potential income from the boxes is golden in the eye of the investor.

Self-storage comes in many forms. Some investors go for climate-controlled self-storage units. Others specialize in space for vehicles like boats and RVs. 

No matter what route an investor takes, the self-storage model is really pretty simple. 

And there are few people who know as much about this particular business model as our good friend Dave Zook. 

Dave is a successful business owner who started in syndication and has done all kinds of different real estate deals including … you guessed it … self-storage. 

And boy does Dave have stories to tell. 

Dave first got interested in self-storage about 20 years ago. He delivered modular buildings from his family business to a dealer who had a self-storage business. 

“I would ask him questions about how this works, and he told me it was the easiest way to make money ever,” Dave says. 

Pros, cons, and strategy

When you invest in self-storage, who are your tenants?

Dave says he has seen a flow of people moving to the apartment space. 

When you move from a home to an apartment, you don’t have as much space for storage … most apartments don’t have a backyard shed. 

People feel comfortable keeping their stuff in self-storage spaces … many facilities are guarded, gated, and secure … some are even climate-controlled. Some keep their stuff in storage for a very long time. 

Dave says many people enter into self-storage planning to use it short term … but the pain from the monthly fee isn’t great enough to spur action to move the stuff out immediately. 

Some tenants move stuff in thinking it will be there for three to six months … and end up being a tenant for three to six years. 

Dave shares that another big benefit of self-storage is that tenant-landlord law is a lot different. 

When you’re dealing with boxes instead of people, everything becomes a lot easier. 

“The government isn’t as concerned about how our boxes get treated as how people get treated,” Dave says. 

But like any investment, self-storage does have its downsides

One of those is size and scale. 

Most self-storage facilities tend to be bigger. Smaller sites do exist, but they are much rarer. Dave says he typically goes after sites with 400 to500 units. 

Sometimes, Dave and his partners buy an existing facility and then expand it to add more units or add climate-controlled units to up the value and cash flow of the property. 

This strategy takes time and additional money … but it can pay off well. 

The process of taking an existing property and turning it into an attractive storage facility usually takes about a year. 

“It depends on the market and the time that it takes to get permits, but typically we can go in and 12 months later have a certificate of occupancy, and we’re in business,” Dave says. 

Making the most of the market

Are there markets that make more sense for self-storage than others?

Dave says he and his partners focus on secondary and tertiary markets. Right now, they really like the Southeast. 

“We’re in places like Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida, because that’s where the growth is going,” Dave says. 

Boosting your occupancy means boosting your income. 

Dave says that when it comes to self-storage, 100 percent occupancy isn’t a good thing … that means your rent is too low. 

If you’re in the 85 percent occupancy range, on the other hand … you’re doing really well. 

Historically, self-storage has been a very recession-resistant asset class. It handles disruption very well. 

Looking back on 2008, 2009, and 2010, self-storage as an asset class outperformed any other commercial real estate asset class. 

Dave says he feels like we are at a high point in the cycle … which means we’re due for a recession. Self-storage may be a good asset class over the next several years. 

“Think about it. If I have to move or lose my job, I don’t want to get rid of my stuff. I’ll store it for a couple of years instead,” Dave says. 

Learn more, earn more

If you think self-storage may be the asset class for you, you need to find a team. 

“I would say that 50 percent of the success of self-storage is based on your operator and your management team,” Dave says. 

When you have someone who is going to be in charge of the investment, you want to make sure that this type of investment is something they have done. 

Your operator and management team should be so dedicated to self-storage that they are unconsciously competent. 

Like any investment … relationships matter. Find someone who knows more than you do and get educated. 

There’s always more to learn … and more money to be made. 


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Where We Are in the Cycle and What You Can Do About It

What goes up, must come down. 

It’s true in gravity … elevators … and the real estate market. 

The constant ups and downs can give investors anxiety. It’s hard to enjoy a boom when you’re always wondering … is it all about to come crashing back down?

The good news is that markets rise and fall in cyclical motion. 

History repeats itself … and there are signs and patterns to look for that signal when you need to move and when it is best to sit back and wait it out. 

Listen in as we discuss where we are in this infamous cycle … and what you can do about it.

In this episode of The Real Estate Guys™ show, hear from:

  • Your upstanding host, Robert Helms
  • His downright delightful co-host, Russell Gray 

Listen

 


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Broadcasting since 1997 with over 300 episodes on iTunes!

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Riding and driving the cycle

Real estate markets work in cycles … we’re either at the bottom, in the middle, or at the top. 

So, where are we at? And what can investors do about it?

First off, it’s important to remember that real estate isn’t an asset class itself … there are so many different categories. 

Each of those categories operates in its own market … and the cycles don’t always align. 

Office buildings could be up while residential is down … and agricultural could be sitting right in the middle … ALL AT THE SAME TIME. 

So, when you think about where you are in a cycle, you need to think of both macro and micro levels. 

Part of what’s going on will be influenced by the macro … like interest rates, what’s going on with the Fed, tax breaks, and Opportunity Zones. 

The other part deals with the micro … what’s going on in a particular industry and the demographics it serves.

The challenge for a real estate investor is that there is no one key indicator for where the market is heading. In fact, it’s so confusing that nobody gets it completely right. 

But there are things you can look for … and things you can do … to set yourself up for the best chance of success. 

Understanding the big picture

One of the big picture items to look for, understand, and act on is interest rates. 

When we talk about real estate investing, it’s really all a derivative of income … of cash flow. 

Someone can only afford to pay a price for a house based on their income and how much income that will mortgage into the purchase price of a house. 

If you take a look at the major inputs going into a mortgage, you’ll find interest rates and tax consequences. 

So, if you can lower interest rates and lower taxes … the same amount of income will buy more houses. 

With the new tax code and incentives like Opportunity Zones, there is a good chance that the upside of the cycle will be extended for a few more years … but is it sustainable?

Understand that every day we’re closer to the next market top. 

So, what can you do as we get near the top?

Don’t sit on the sidelines

What you don’t want to do is sit on the sidelines. You do need to act. 

If you take prudent moves to protect yourself in the case of a downturn … and there isn’t one … you aren’t any worse off. 

The good news is that real estate investors and markets move slowly … we’re not flash traders. 

Your tenants don’t look at the newspaper, see a headline, and move the next day. 

As investors, it’s a balance of being aware of those macro events and keeping specific trends in mind. 

Right now, mortgage rates are low, and the dollar is relatively strong. Interest rates are dropping in treasuries … and people are buying there looking for a safe place to ride out market dips. 

This gives real estate investors the opportunity to go into the market and lock that low pricing and low interest rate long term. It’s like having a sale on money. 

And if you buy a property that has good cash flow with that low interest locked in, you’re putting yourself in a great spot to hold through any downturn in the cycle. 

People who sit on the sidelines are guaranteed to make zero return. Instead, look at the idea of recession resistant price points. 

Recession resistant means you are renting to a clientele that is likely to always be there … and the price point is typically something just below the median home price. 

Many of these recession resistant price points work great in a good economy AND they’ll also be a little more protective in a down cycle. 

This is a time to be super prudent when it comes to underwriting … both the analysis of the market and the performance of the property. 

When it comes to the performance of the property, there are a couple of big picture things to keep in mind. 

You want to live in a landlord friendly state. If there’s a problem, you want laws that favor a landlord and can help you get a tenant out quickly. 

You’ll also want to talk to your property manager about rental trends. 

What have people been paying in rent recently? How many people are applying for leases now compared to other years? Have they had to change the kind of tenant they accept?

Another way you can make the most of the market cycle is to focus on top markets. 

There are lots of investment funds and real estate investment trusts that focus only on the top 50 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). 

These are the top cities in the U.S. where there is always real estate movement and a depth of demand. 

When you go into a market that has already proven itself with solid infrastructure, there’s a greater probability that in tough times people will gravitate there. 

Changing your strategy for success

We’re certainly proponents of continuing to invest through cycles … just change your strategy a bit. 

It makes a lot of sense to have some cash when you are nearing the top of a market cycle for a lot of reasons. 

If you end up having problems with properties that perform differently than you expect during a downturn, you want to be prepared for that. 

But downturns are also often where opportunities are … opportunities to buy. 

As real estate investors, we make our money when we buy … so it is good to keep some cash in reserves if the right opportunity presents itself to invest in a property with promise.

One last idea to consider when it comes to being at the top of the market is that there are certain demographics that don’t suffer as much in a downturn. 

Generally, this is affluent groups of people. When times get bad … they get bad for the middle and bottom part of the socioeconomic ladder. 

So, it’s always an interesting strategy to market to the affluent. One of the ways we love to market to this demographic is through residential assisted living. 

Remember, your customer is not the person staying in the facility. It’s the family members who look out for them and place them there. 

Another strategic investment is hospitality. In downturns … the rich still go on vacation. 

Many times in an economic slump, entertainment does well because people are trying to get away from the doom and gloom. 

If you believe we’re at the top of the market, there are proven things to think through. 

Analyze your portfolio and ask yourself, “What happens if pricing and demand were to go down?” Take a look at your financing. Are you getting the best, lowest rates?

If you take proven steps now, when the market cycle starts heading downward … you’ll be glad you did.

Tune in over the next several weeks as we dive into more strategies you can take to thrive even when the market isn’t doing the same.


More From The Real Estate Guys™…

The Real Estate Guys™ radio show and podcast provides real estate investing news, education, training, and resources to help real estate investors succeed.


Love the show?  Tell the world!  When you promote the show, you help us attract more great guests for your listening pleasure!