With skyrocketing rents, a major increase in popularity, and many turning to their vehicle for housing, another shortage was felt across Teton Valley this summer.
The storage shortage seems to be an issue, much like wood prices, in that it became especially prevalent during the months after the major pandemic and lockdown measures were relaxed.
Jason O’Neill, an owner of Summit Storage, talked about how already-increased storage demand broke the floodgates after the pandemic.
“Demand has always been strong here, even pre-pandemic,” said O’Neill. “The pandemic definitely added to it, no doubt about that.”
O’Neill has seen both housing booms, first in ‘08 and then the current one, hit the valley.
He says this one, with building demand at similar levels to ‘08, is mostly different due to what he is seeing from homeowners and how homebuyers in the current boom have needed the storage market.
“That was all spec, spec builders and this is all end-users,” said O’Neill. “People coming to build houses were building houses for cash (in ‘08).”
With houses in our current boom actually being moved into (hence the term end-user), instead of being built just to be sold, O’Neill has seen the actual homeowners using his storage facilities to ease their move.
O’Neill also consults real estate experts and builders on the demand that they are seeing, so he can identify trends and adjust business needs accordingly.
“They are end-user baby boomers, baby boomer transplants from California, and we are seeing the same thing in storage,” said O’Neill.
According to O’Neill, the storage market is on the front lines of the valley’s housing demand and can be a good identifier of housing trends to come.
“When people are moving in, which we’ve had a lot of, that drives what we see,” said O’Neill.
The increased amount of people moving to the valley, and therefore the increased demand for storage units, have now resulted in full waitlists and a lack of available units.
With demand at an increased and consistent level, Summit will be increasing its inventory via new storage units in the valley.
“We’ve been running pretty near full since the pandemic for sure. It definitely put us in that position,” said O’Neill. “We’re operating at capacity and that’s why we’ve been building even more.”
The new inventory will be built at both Summit’s Victor and Driggs facilities, with covered RV lots, climate-controlled, and general self-storage units being constructed.
Residents and their toys, as evidenced by the increase in RV storage inventory, also play a big part in what fills up Summit’s storage units.
“People in the valley have a lot of toys and people moving here do too,” said O’Neill.
Those skis, boards, sleds, bikes, and other recreational toys traditionally live their lives during the off-season in the garage. However, when people want their garage space or don’t have one, storage units are the first alternatives to be looked at.
“They are buying houses or building houses, renting houses that don’t have storage, or they want to use the garage for their car,” said O’Neill. “They then look at how affordable self-storage can be compared to what they are paying in rent and then they can get their garage dock back.”
Thankfully, storage prices have not yet mirrored the rapid increases seen in the rental or real estate markets.
Landlords and real estate companies have aimed to capitalize on the high demand by drastically increasing prices, as seen in Teton Valley’s long-term rental market for example.
O’Neill, however, recognizes as a local that increasing prices to keep pace with the rest of the housing industry is not in the best interests of his business or his customers.
“What you’re seeing in the rental market is not happening in storage. Storage prices haven’t tripled in the last 12 months as rents have,” said O’Neill. “We’re not going to do that.”
Instead of relying strictly on the amount of demand to dictate prices, O’Neill and Summit have rules on price increases that benefit both their business and their customers.
“We have general rules on our pricing, we haven’t increased them any more by percentage than we have in past years,” said O’Neill. “We live here, we try and keep our prices increasing with inflation and our costs as they increase.”
Not only are Summit and O’Neill conscious of their customers, but they also consider their employees when setting prices, something they try to encourage to others.
“Obviously building costs are going up and employee wages are going up, which we fully support and try to promote,” said O’Neill.
Those prices also never changed during the height of the pandemic, something O’Neill is proud of.
“We never raised them during the actual pandemic because we knew that most people were struggling,” said O’Neill.