Self-Storage Investing 101

While multifamily apartments are what typically comes to mind for investors in commercial real estate, other asset classes such as self-storage have also proven to be recession-resilient. This is why we invest in self-storage and will continue to do so as a means to diversifying our real estate portfolio.


Self-storage is a unique asset class that has been around since the 1960s. In its early years, the industry was largely dominated by mom-and-pop operators and, even today, is still highly fragmented. Since then, this asset class has become more mainstream as REITs and private real estate companies have entered the market. It’s no secret why these institutions have entered this space as population growth and U.S. consumerism continue to drive demand for this asset class.

Here are some statistics on the scale of the self-storage industry in the U.S.

       According to IBIS world, annual self-storage revenue rose to $39.5 billion in 2019

       Number of self-storage facilities in the U.S: 44,061

       Amount of self-storage space per capita in the U.S.: 5.4 square feet per capita

       Percentage of U.S. households that rent a self-storage unit: 9% (About 1 in 11 Americans) 

Top 5 reasons you should consider self-storage in your portfolio

1) Increased demand

As mentioned above, population growth and U.S. consumerism have driven demand for self-storage. The business concept is fairly straightforward and simple to understand – people need a place to store their stuff, either permanently or temporarily.

The demand is met largely by residential tenants (~70%), whether it be baby boomers downsizing or millennials seeking storage as they are delaying home ownership and renting longer. Other groups include commercial/small businesses, students, or military.

2) Low turnover

Contrary to what one may think, self-storage lease terms have an average range of 12-25 months, providing stable returns to investors. Estimates are that one-third of users have stored their stuff in one of these units for over 3 years.

Self-storage leases are often month-to-month as opposed to a year (in apartments), so there is potential for higher turnover as well. However, this can actually be to the investors’ advantage as most tenants would not choose to go through the hassle and inconvenience of moving to another facility if the rent increased from $50 to $60 per month (increasing income by 20%!)

3) Low overhead expenses and breakeven occupancy

Self storage facilities are much less expensive to build, manage, and operate when compared to other commercial assets like multifamily, retail, and office buildings. That is because there are no tenants living there, no amenities to maintain or clean, and fewer personnel required for staffing.

Lower expenses and overhead mean that the asset can break even with lower occupancy (decreasing risk to investors). On average, the breakeven occupancy for self-storage facilities is around 40 to 45 percent.

4) Asset class returns

According to the National Association of REIT, the self-storage sector produced an average annual return of 16.73% from 1994 to 2019.  For comparison here are the returns from some other REIT sectors during that same time:

Office:                    12.89%

Retail:                     11.99%

Industrial                 14.11%

Residential:             13.69%

Apartments:            13.45%

Manufactured Homes: 14.58%

Healthcare:             13.43%

Mortgage:               11.05%

S&P 500:                  9.80%


5) Recession resistant

According to the NAREIT, the self-storage asset class also outperformed other sectors in the most recent recession.  From 2007-2009 the self-storage sector produced an average of -3.80%.  For comparison here are the returns from some other REIT sectors over that same time:

Office:                     -8.16%

Retail:                   -12.32%

Industrial:              -18.31%

Residential:             -6.43%

Apartments:            -6.72%

Manufactured Homes:   0.47%

Healthcare:               4.92%

Mortgage:             -16.34%

S&P 500:              -22.03%

Why was self-storage able to outperform almost every REIT sector during the most recent recession? When the economy is bad, then, unfortunately, people may need to downsize their dwellings and, therefore, need to rent a self-storage unit to store their extra “stuff”.  

Diversify your portfolio with self-storage syndication investments

As I mentioned above, the majority of self-storage facilities today are still run by “mom and pop” owners or private regional operators. As investors, you can take advantage of the recession-resilient nature of this asset class by participating in private syndications when sponsors identify value-add opportunities through management inefficiencies. You will be able to earn passive, predictable cash flow and enjoy the tax advantages that real estate offers. Invest with experienced and trusted sponsors in this asset class who have proven track records of success.

Cherry Chen is an internal medicine physician and founder of The Real Estate Physician, a resource focused on empowering busy professionals who are interested in investing for passive income through commercial real estate syndications. Cherry is the author of “The Physician’s Definitive Guide to Real Estate Syndications” and has been interviewed on multiple podcasts. She is an experienced passive real estate investor who vets sponsors and their deals and hopes she can bring value to fellow investors through the resources on her website.

Nothing on this website should be considered financial advice. Investing involves risks which you assume. It is your duty to do your own due diligence. Read all documents and agreements before signing or investing in anything. It is your duty to consult with your own legal, financial and tax advisors regarding any investment.

Chris Franckhauser

Vice President of Strategy & Growth, Advisory Partner

Chris Franckhauser, Vice President of Strategy & Growth, Advisory Partner for Left Field Investors, has been involved in real estate since 2008. He started with one single-family fix and flip, and he was hooked. He then scaled, completing five more over a brief period. While he enjoyed the journey and the financial tailwinds that came with each completed project, being an active investor with a W2 at the time, became too much to manage with a young and growing family. Seeing this was not easily scalable or sustainable long term, he searched for alternative ideas on where to invest. He explored other passive income streams but kept coming back to his two passions; real estate and time with his family. He discovered syndications after reconnecting with a former colleague and LFI Founder. He joined Left Field Investors in 2023 and has quickly immersed himself into the community and as a key member of our team.  

Chris earned a B.S. from The Ohio State University. After years in healthcare technology and medical devices, from startups to Fortune 15 companies, Chris shifted his efforts to consulting and owning a small apparel business when he is not working with LFI (Left Field Investors) or on his personal passive investments. A few years ago, Chris and his family left the cold life in Ohio for lake life in the Carolinas. Chris lives in Tega Cay, South Carolina with his wife and two kids. In his free time, he enjoys exploring all the things the Carolinas offer, from the beaches to the mountains and everywhere in between, volunteering at the school, coaching his kids’ sports teams and cheering on the Buckeyes from afar.  

Chris knows investing is a team sport. Being a strategic thinker and analytical by nature, the ability to collaborate with like-minded individuals in the Left Field Community and other communities is invaluable.  

Jim Pfeifer

President, Chief Executive Officer, Founder

Jim Pfeifer is one of the founders of Left Field Investors and the host of the Passive Investing from Left Field podcast. Left Field Investors is a group dedicated to educating and assisting like-minded investors negotiate the nuances of the passive investing landscape and world of syndications. Jim is a former financial advisor who became frustrated with the one-path-fits-all approach of the standard financial services industry. Jim now concentrates on investing in real assets that produce cash flow and is committed to sharing his knowledge with others who are interested in learning a different way to grow wealth.

Jim not only advises and helps people get started in passive real estate syndications, he also invests alongside them in small groups to allow for diversification among multiple investments and syndication sponsors. Jim believes the most important factor in a successful syndication is finding a sponsor that he knows, likes and trusts.

He has invested in over 100 passive syndications including apartments, mobile homes, self-storage, private lending and notes, ATM’s, commercial and industrial triple net leases, assisted living facilities and international coffee farms and cacao producers. Jim is constantly looking for new investment ideas that match his philosophy of real assets producing cash flow as well as looking for new sponsors with whom he can build quality, long-term relationships. Jim earned a degree in Finance & Marketing from the University of Oregon and a Master’s in Business Education from The Ohio State University. He has worked as a reinsurance underwriter, high school finance teacher, financial advisor and now works exclusively as a full-time passive investor. Jim lives in Dublin, Ohio with his wife, three kids and two dogs. In his free time, he loves to ski, play Ultimate frisbee and cheer on the Buckeyes.

Jim earned a degree in Finance & Marketing from the University of Oregon and a Master’s in Business Education from The Ohio State University. He has worked as a reinsurance underwriter, high school finance teacher, financial advisor and now works exclusively as a full-time passive investor. Jim lives in Dublin, Ohio with his wife, three kids and two dogs. In his free time, he loves to ski, play Ultimate frisbee and cheer on the Buckeyes.

Chad Ackerman

Chief Operating Officer, Founder

Chad is the Founder & Chief Operating Officer of Left Field Investors and the host of the LFI Spotlight podcast. Chad was in banking most of his career with a focus on data analytics, but in March of 2023 he left his W2 to become LFI’s second full time employee.

Chad always had a passion for real estate, so his analytics skills translated well into the deal analyzer side of the business. Through his training, education and networking Chad was able to align his passive investing to compliment his involvement with LFI while allowing him to grow his wealth and take steps towards financial freedom. He has appreciated the help he’s received from others along his journey which is why he is excited to host the LFI Spotlight podcast and share the experience of other investors and industry experts to assist those that are looking for education for their own journey.

Chad has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business with a Minor in Real Estate from the University of Cincinnati. He is working to educate his two teenagers in the passive investing world. In his spare time he likes to golf, kayak, and check out the local brewery scene.

Ryan Steig

Chief Financial Officer, Founder

Ryan Stieg started down the path of passive investing like many of us did, after he picked up a little purple book called Rich Dad, Poor Dad. The problem was that he did that in college and didn’t take action to start investing passively until many years later when that itch to invest passively crept back up.

Ryan became an accidental landlord after moving from Phoenix back to Montana in 2007, a rental he kept until 2016 when he started investing more intentionally. Since 2016, Ryan has focused (or should we say lack thereof) on all different kinds of investing, always returning to real estate and business as his mainstay. Ryan has a small portfolio of one-to-three-unit rentals across four different markets in the US. He has also invested in over fifty real estate syndication investments individually or with an investment group or tribe. Working to diversify in multiple asset classes, Ryan invests in multi-family, note funds, NNN industrial, retail, office, self-storage, online businesses, start-ups, and several other asset classes that further cement his self-diagnosis of “shiny object syndrome”.

However, with all of those reaches over the years, Ryan still believes in the long-term success and tenets of passive, cash-flow-focused investing with proven syndicators and shared knowledge in investing.

When he’s not working with LFI or on his personal passive investments, he recently opened a new Club Pilates franchise studio after an insurance career. Outside of that, he can be found with his wife watching whatever sport one of their two boys is involved in during that particular season.

Steve Suh

Chief Content Officer, Founder

Steve Suh, one of the founders of Left Field Investors and its Chief Content Officer, has been involved with real estate and alternative assets since 2005. Like many, he saw his net worth plummet during the two major stock market crashes in the early 2000s. Since then, he vowed to find other ways to invest his money. Reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad gave Steve the impetus to learn about real estate investing. He first became a landlord after purchasing his office condo. He then invested passively as a limited partner in oil and gas drilling syndications but quickly learned the importance of scrutinizing sponsors when he stopped getting returns after only a few months. Steve came back to real estate by buying a few small residential rentals. Seeing that this was not easily scalable, he searched for alternative ideas. After listening to hundreds of podcasts and attending numerous real estate investing meetings, he determined that passively investing in real estate syndications was the best avenue to get great, risk-adjusted returns. He has invested in dozens of syndications involving apartment buildings, self-storage facilities, resort properties, ATMs, Bitcoin mining funds, car washes, a coffee farm, and even a Broadway show.

When Steve is not vetting commercial real estate syndications in the evenings, he is stomping out eye diseases and improving vision during the day as an ophthalmologist. He enjoys playing in his tennis and pickleball leagues and rooting for his Buckeyes and Steelers football teams. In the past several years, he took up running and has completed three full marathons, including the New York City Marathon. He is always on a quest to find great pizza, BBQ brisket, and bourbon. He enjoys traveling with his wife and their three adult kids. They usually go on a medical mission trip once a year to southern Mexico to provide eye surgeries and glasses to the residents. Steve has enjoyed being a part of Left Field Investors to help others learn about the merits of passive, real asset investments.

Sean Donnelly

Chief Culture Officer, Founder

Sean holds a W2 job in the finance sector and began his real estate investing journey shortly after earning his MBA. Unfortunately, it could not have begun at a worse time … anyone remember 2007 … but even the recession provided worthy lessons. Sean stayed in the game continuing to find his place, progressing from flipping to owning single and multi-family rentals to now funding opportunities through syndications. While Sean is still heavily invested in the equities market and holds a small portfolio of rentals, he strongly believes passive investing is the best way to offset the cyclical nature of traditional investment vehicles as well as avoid the headaches of direct property ownership. Through consistent cash flow, long term yield and available tax benefits, the diversification offered with passive investing brings a welcomed balance to an otherwise turbulent investing scheme. What Sean likes most about the syndication space is that the investment opportunities are not “one size fits all” and the community of investors genuinely want to help.

He earned a B.S. in Finance from Iowa State University in 1995 and a MBA from Otterbein University in 2007. Sean has lived in eight states but has called Ohio home for the last 20+.  When not attending his children’s various school/sporting events, Sean can be found running, golfing, shooting or fly-fishing.

Patrick Wills

Chief Information Officer, Advisory Partner

An active real estate investor since 2017, Patrick Wills’ investing journey began like many others – after reading the “purple book” by Robert Kiyosaki. Patrick started with single family rentals, and while they performed well, he quickly realized their inability to scale efficiently while remaining passive. He discovered syndications via podcasts and local meetups and never looked back. He joined Left Field Investors in 2022 as a member and has quickly become an integral part of the team as Vice President of Technology.

An I.T. Systems Engineer by trade, he experienced the limitations of traditional Wall Street investing firsthand in his career and knew there had to be a better way to truly have financial freedom.

Unfortunately, that better way is inaccessible to those who need it most. His mission is to make alternative investments accessible to everyone who seeks to take control of their financial future and to pursue their passions in life.

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