How Can Seniors Get Deals on Storage Units?

According to curbed.com, there are more than 50,000 storage facilities in the U.S. To put that in perspective, there are about 14,000 Starbucks locations — and you see a Starbucks on every corner.

Seniors are especially likely to need storage space. By the time you enter your golden years, you realize that a lot more stuff has come into your home than gone out. This is a problem if you’re downsizing to a smaller home, transitioning to a retirement community, or tearing off in an RV to see North America.

Fortunately, those 50,000 storage sites are all vying for your business. As such, there are lots of ways to save if you do your homework.

Storage Facilities Are Not the Same

Before you start searching for a facility, take a careful inventory of the items you want to store.

Function is the first consideration. Are you storing a car? Do you have items that require a climate-controlled environment?

Next, calculate what size unit you need. Jot down the approximate dimensions of your furniture and appliances. Estimate the number of boxes you’ll need. Do you need wiggle room for rotating items in and out, or can they be tightly packed into the unit? Most self-storage websites have space-estimating tools to help you.

When you’ve determined function and size, shop around. Not all facilities are created equal, so keep a few things in mind:

  • Climate control: Sensitive electronics, musical instruments, furs, wine, family heirlooms, and antique furniture are all best stored in a climate-controlled environment.
  • Location: Consider how often you’ll want to access your things. If you don’t need access to it often, an out-of-the-way facility may cost less. Also, avoid any facility that’s in a high-crime area.
  • Security, lighting, and cleanliness: It’s hard to get a feel for these things from a picture on a website. Make sure to read plenty of online reviews.
  • Payment policies: Some facilities charge hefty late-payment fees or even reserve the right to auction off your possessions. So, read the fine print before you sign a contract.

Always Negotiate Price

If you can negotiate the price of a house or car, why can’t you haggle on a storage unit? Although some prices are etched in stone, it never hurts to ask. Facility owners are basically landlords, and they get nervous when there are empty units sitting around.

Research online to get a rough idea of going rates as that will give you a realistic starting point.

Negotiation is best done in person. If possible, start with independently owned businesses. They may have more leeway than the big chains.

Many facilities have special rates for first-time customers. Others give you the first month for free. At the very least, you might persuade the manager to throw in some moving boxes, a lock, or truck rental for an afternoon.

Most facilities rent on a month-to-month basis, but they’re more likely to work with you if you commit to a longer contract. If you need the unit for at least several months, ask for a contract with a discounted, locked-in rate. You could also get a break by paying for the first few months upfront.

Make sure, however, that you understand the cancellation policies. There may be a cancellation fee, and you could be held liable for the remaining rent on the lease. Again, go over the contract with a fine-tooth comb.

Group discounts could also save you a nice chunk of change.

Many businesses require off-premises storage. If you’re still employed by a company that maintains a unit, ask to sign up through your work for a discounted rate. Group rates may also be available through organizations that you belong to. Frequently check websites like Groupon for deals.

Ask around to find out if friends or family members need storage. If you round up enough folks and inquire together, you might negotiate a lower rate. Another alternative is to share a unit and split the cost.

Some facilities pay referral fees for any new business you send their way. These range anywhere from $25 to a free month’s rent, so it pays to ask. Military discounts are also common.

Check for Insurance and Security

Ask a lot of questions about a facility’s insurance. In fact, not all facilities take responsibility for damages and some require you to show proof of self-storage insurance, which may or may not be included in your policy if you still own a home. You can purchase insurance from the facility, but make sure you know what’s covered.

Don’t compromise your personal safety or put your belongings at risk. Look for ample lighting, a working security gate, adequate locks or keypads that require a code, 24-hour video surveillance, and individual unit alarms.

Give Yourself a Deadline

Self-storage should be thought of as a short-term necessity rather than a long-term solution. If you’re renting a unit just because you need more space at home, it’s time to get serious about disposing of things you can live without.

Ann Zanon is a certified professional organizer. In an article published on the AARP website, she tells the story of a client who paid more than $11,000 over three years to store belongings worth about $1,000. Don’t let this happen to you. Set a firm deadline for emptying the unit.

Additional Tips

The surest way to save money is to get the smallest unit possible. Here are some pointers:

  • Before you rent a unit, have a garage sale or donate items to charity.
  • Consider filling an album with photos of your favorite keepsakes rather than continuing to tote them around.
  • If you’ve forgotten all about those boxes in the basement, they probably don’t contain anything of value. Resist the urge to peek inside. Just toss them.
  • Save on moving boxes. Figure out what you can safely store inside large items in the unit like the car, refrigerator, or clothes dryer.
  • If you have old files and records digitized, shred the paper copies.
  • If you’re hanging on to things for your kids, make sure the kids love them as much as you do.
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