How UAE residents are using self-storage to save space and money

Demand for storage solutions is high as tenants in the UAE downsize to save on rent or homeowners stash away possessions while renovating

Most customers who use rented storage spaces are downsizing, renovating, in-between moves or have had a life-changing event. Getty
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When Susan Corkeron is expecting house guests, she transforms her gym into a functioning bedroom — and after they leave, the exercise equipment returns.

But the Dubai homeowner wouldn’t be able to do this without calling upon her regular rented storage space.

It’s a cost-effective solution that removes the inconvenience and expense of moving to a larger property when measured against the frequency she requires the extra bedroom, Ms Corkeron says.

The Australian corporate executive started using Easytruck Moving & Storage about six years ago, after moving from a large Al Barsha property into an Arabian Ranches villa she purchased.

“I had a couple of really nice pieces of furniture I couldn’t bear to part with and knew I would take with me when I retire to Portugal,” Ms Corkeron says.

“Since then, I have a study that I convert for different needs, depending on the season.

“In everyday use, it is a personal gym, meditation and yoga studio … in holiday times, I convert it to a guest bedroom with twin beds, half-wardrobe and a small chest of drawers, so I have extra room for friends and their kids.”

Ms Corkeron, 50, also adapts her downstairs study to function as a bedroom during her mother’s extended stays as stairs can be challenging.

“After my visitors and family have left, the guys at Easytruck come and whisk the furniture away and I have my gym and studio back,” she says.

A customer moves his personal belongings to a storage pod at Easytruck Moving & Storage. Furniture is the top storage item, while seasonal possessions such as ski gear and festive decorations are also common. Photo: Easytruck Moving & Storage

Easytruck customers typically store items for three to nine months in its two air-conditioned Dubai warehouses.

“While most store seasonally, essentially over the summer period, many use our facilities as a more permanent arrangement,” says chief executive Chris Humphrey, who launched Easytruck with wife Natalie in 2009.

“The majority of our customers are downsizing, renovating, in-between moves or have had a life-changing event.”

He cites furniture as the top storage item, as well as seasonal possessions such as ski gear and festive decorations. Cots and baby gear are also common.

“One thing is certain, as rents increase, demand for our storage services follows,” Mr Humphrey says.

“Over the past 13 years, we’ve seen the rental market fluctuate with some significant peaks and troughs and at both ends of the scale [there’s been] higher demand for our services.

“Rising rents and costs of living are forcing families to economise or downsize, while the property boom has created a glut of new homeowners who are now renovating and need furniture in storage until their new home is ready to move into.”

Prince Ufuoma Eshalomi, a senior client adviser at Powerhouse Real Estate, understands the financial dynamics of storing possessions and believes room sizes in some new developments are becoming smaller.

“I’ve experienced tenants renting but not getting enough space, so then placing their possessions into storage, and buyers are always looking for enough storage space or a garage for the overfill,” he says.

“For a tenant, I would say renting a property with an extra room or two is wasted capital … if you’re purchasing, then it’s always a positive to have additional rooms and storage.

“When it comes to renting or selling in the future, these attributes will increase the value of the property, so it is a good investment in the long run.”

Essentially, the storage space rental versus acquiring extra rooms equation is driven by individual circumstances, such as buying for the long term or renting temporarily.

Buyers and tenants can also diffuse the space issue, depending on where they choose to live, Mr Eshalomi says.

Dubai homeowner Susan Corkeron uses self storage to allow her more flexibility with the space in her home. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“I feel locations further away from the city [in Dubai] tend to be more cost-effective when you compare build quality with space — with the cost of a three-bed in Dubai Hills, you could have a four-bed in Town Square or Mira,” he says.

Some residents may be renting storage spaces and staying put as they wait to see how the housing market reacts post-Expo 2020 Dubai.

Mr Eshalomi believes the effects of the six-month world fair were short term, but advises against the “very risky” notion of trying to time the property market.

“According to the data, the prices we are seeing currently are 56 per cent of where they were in 2014 and will increase by another 44 per cent over the next two years,” he adds.

So, what are the potential cost savings for typical bedroom-sized storage measured against renting or buying a home for an extra room?

Thousands of dirhams, says Mr Humphrey, who suggests that downsizing from three to two bedrooms and storing some items could bring Dh50,000-plus savings a year — depending on the area.

Easytruck has 1,000-plus storage pods that are five cubic metres in size and designed to hold an average room’s worth of furniture, which it rents for Dh660 a month.

“If you were renting in the six Emaar towers in Dubai Marina, the average three-bedroom apartment [2,200 square feet] sits at Dh220,000 per annum, and two bedrooms [1,695 square feet] Dh160,000 per annum,” says Mr Humphrey, whose example slashes Dh60,000 off the rental cost when downsizing to a two bedroom flat and renting a storage pod that costs Dh7,920 annually, inclusive of packing and transportation.

“This creates a net annual saving of Dh52,080 — that’s enough to pay the school fees,” Mr Humphrey adds.

Wadih Haddad founded The Box in 2006 and describes it as the Middle East’s largest self-storage provider with more than 200,000 square feet of space in more than 30 locations — from 16-square-feet lockers to 1,000-square-feet mini warehouses favoured by start-ups.

UAE residents store everything from cars to jet skis to furniture, clothing, seasonal decor and memorabilia, he says.

“Some treat us as part of their lifestyle and an extension of their homes — switching out wardrobes according to season and travel plans, while others come to us at their time of need when downsizing, moving, growing and life events such as the arrival of a new baby,” says the chief executive of The Box.

“We have a mix of short-term and long-term customers, although the more prominent trend is to stay longer, taking bigger storage units over the period of their tenure once they experience the convenience of the added space.

Wadih Haddad, founder and chief executive of The Box, says some customers like to surf between Airbnb and hotel rooms, while leaving core belongings in their fitted out storage units. Photo: The Box

“We are also beginning to see an interesting trend among our audience who like to surf between Airbnb and hotel rooms, while leaving core belongings in their fitted out storage units.”

Dubai still leads for storage demand, although other emirates and regional territories are not far behind, Mr Haddad says.

“From the start, we have had customers looking to reorganise their spaces using storage as an extension to their homes.

“Our flagship facility next to Jumeirah Lakes Towers was opened in response to such lifestyle-related storage demands, offering easy and immediate access to areas like the Marina, Al Barsha, Palm and Jumeirah Beach Residence, bringing self-storage into residential areas and outside of industrial areas.”

“Typically, a studio apartment in JLT, Marina, JBR starts at Dh35,000 a year, while a storage unit that holds the contents of a studio apartment will cost Dh7,000 to Dh8,000,” Mr Haddad adds.

For removal and storage companies, there is potential for customer traffic regardless of how the economy is behaving.

Business increases when there is a mass departure of people from the UAE, such as in summer, and an influx of new arrivals. And, as interest rates rise along with rents and property prices, household budgets are also squeezed.

“Self-storage has long been a healthy business in a transient place like the UAE as people move into and exit the country or have periods when they are completing a home purchase or scaling up or down apartments or villas,” Easytruck’s Mr Humphrey says.

“The hotter it gets in the UAE, the busier we get, so our peak season has just begun. Driven mainly by the school year, many people travel or head to their home countries over the summer break.

“There’s lots of change going on around this time … rental agreements end, work contract and visa renewals, kids leave high school, it’s a prime time to renovate or move to a smaller place.”

Easytruck has moved 19,000-plus UAE homes and stored at least 30,000 cubic metres of belongings.

“There’s a story behind every storage rental unit,” Mr Humphrey adds.

When families grow, there is accommodation pressure to make way for more furniture and parents may not wish to part with sentimental items.

Alternatively, a ruthless clear-out can free up space, perhaps using professional services such as DeCluttr Me or even recouping initial expenditure through preloved goods sales platforms like dubizzle.

Ms Corkeron, who has dogs and cats but no children, recently changed her home interior and some furniture, so she has taken temporary additional storage space until she is ready to sell items or ship some to Sri Lanka for her maid’s family.

“I bought my villa, so don’t want to move [and] I want my visitors to stay with me because that’s half the fun,” she adds.

“As an expat, being away from family and friends means that when I do get them here, I want to enjoy our time together, not shuffle them off to hotels.

“My cost for the pod was [initially] only Dh350 per month … I couldn’t get a hotel for visitors for one night for that and the cost of moving is far more.”

Updated: June 09, 2022, 5:00 AM
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