Deciding Between a Portable Storage Unit and a Self-Storage Unit

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Posted on June 19, 2019

If you’re like one out of every eleven households in San Diego, you’ll find yourself, either currently or at some point in the near future, in need of a storage unit rental. A quick Google search for a storage solution will present a vast number of options available to address your space shortage needs. Aside from the possibility of squeezing your spare items into a friend’s garage, you’ll find that the options can generally be categorized into one of two industry sectors: portable storage and self-storage. Let’s take a closer look at the some of the details of each one:

Portable Storage

For those unfamiliar with the term, portable storage (sometimes also referred to as mobile storage or containerized storage) is a service in which a storage container is delivered to the customer’s home or business address. The customer is then able to load the container as and when they see fit. Once the loading process has been completed, they then have the choice – they can either store the container onsite at their address or they can opt to have the portable storage company return to pick up the container for storing at the company’s San Diego facility. In some cases, such as that offered by Big Box Storage, the facility provides for inside storing. In other cases, the company may just offer a parcel of land (such as a parking lot) on which to store the container outdoors.  For those storing their container at the company’s facility, they should inquire as to whether the container will be stored inside or outdoors and they should also ask if they will be able to access their container.  While most portable storage companies allow customers to access, some require advance notice from as much as two days prior to as little as two hours.

Portable storage facilities typically are seldom as visible as self-storage ones.  Most are located in industrial (i.e. warehouse) areas. While the number of portable storage companies isn’t as extensive as that of self-storage companies, portable storage companies are able to service a much wider radius from their facilities. In San Diego, the list of portable storage providers includes Pack Rat, PODs, Units, and Big Box Storage. Three of the noted companies are franchises, serviced via national phone call centers, with the exception being Big Box Storage which is a local (San Diego) family owned business. 

Self-Storage

You don’t have to travel far in San Diego to come across a self-storage facility.  The U.S. as a whole isn’t much different. In fact, according to the Huffington Post, there are more self-storage facilities in the country than there are Starbucks and McDonalds combined. Crazy, isn’t it.  The list of some of the notable self-storage companies are Extra Space Storage, Public Storage, Cubesmart, and A-1 Storage. Most are national companies with a local San Diego presence.

Renting a self-storage unit in San Diego typically involves renting a truck (unless you already own one or can borrow one), loading it with the contents destined for storage, and then driving to the facility. Once there, the truck is unloaded and the various items are placed into the rented unit. Once completed, the truck is then returned to the truck rental agency. Once the point is reached when the storage unit is no longer needed, the process is repeated in reverse.  You’ll need to drive to the truck rental company, rent the truck, drive to self-storage facility, load the truck, drive to your home (or your destination address), unload the truck, drive back to truck rental company, and finally return the truck.

On a side note, some self-storage companies in San Diego do offer free use of a truck to transport your items when renting a unit from them. This would obviously save the time and cost of having to rent a truck. Note that in such situations, with the vast majority of these companies, the truck is not available for those looking to vacate their unit and transport their items back to their home (or elsewhere). Basically, it’s only available for the move-in process.

Cost differences

Although the rental amount is obviously the defining cost when renting a storage unit, it’s certainly not the only one. You’ll also need to consider the costs, including time, associated with the transport of your items to and from the storage facility, any administrative costs (many companies have a $15 or $20 “move-in” fee), as well as the value of your time involved with loading/unloading your unit.

Most portable storage companies in San Diego charge a delivery fee for the initial delivery and pickup of the storage container. With some company, they split the fee so that there is a separate cost for the delivery and then an additional one for the corresponding container pickup. They then charge a set monthly rental rate. Finally, a re-delivery fee is applied when the container is delivered back to the customer at the conclusion of their storage stay. Again, this re-delivery fee may, with some companies, be split between the delivery and the pickup.

With self-storage, delivery fees are obviously not applicable. However, as mentioned above, an ever-growing number of self-storage companies now charge a one-time fee (some call it an administrative fee, some call it a “move-in fee, others have alternate names for it) generally ranging from $15 to $30 at the time of the move-in to the unit. The vast majority of self-storage companies now charge this fee. Most portable storage do not charge such a fee.

Beyond the move-in fee, the primary fee with self-storage companies is the monthly rental fee. The fee varies depending on the size of the unit, the location of the unit in the facility (e.g. a drive-up unit will usually cost far more than an interior unit on the third floor), and the location of the facility. While rents vary significantly across the United States, there are also wide differences between self-storage units in San Diego County. For example, Public Storage on Kearney Mesa Rd in 92126 (Mira Mesa) is currently offering an 8’ x 5’ unit (outside, drive-up) for $116 per month.  Meanwhile, A-1 Storage in El Cajon is offering the same size ground-level unit (8’ x 5’) for $99. As a further comparison towards the portable storage side, Big Box Storage offers 8’ x 5’ units for $74 per month (reduce to $64 with a twelve-month minimum stay).

The renter will also need to purchase a padlock for their unit (regardless of whether they’re renting a portable storage container or a self-storage unit). Such locks often range in price from $7 to $15.  While this fee isn’t necessarily mandatory, it’s essential that the contents of any unit be sufficiently secured. A padlock should certainly be viewed as an important part of that process.

With both situations, the customer needs to be conscious of any delinquency fees that could be applied in the event their account was to become overdue. Generally, these fees include a late fee and, as it gets later into the delinquency process, a preliminary lien fee, followed by a lien fee.  For San Diego storage companies, these fees are overseen by the state of California.

Although not actually a cost, it should be mentioned as a side note that some companies (more so self-storage companies than portable storage companies) charge a cleaning deposit. Typically ranging from $25 to $100, the deposit is paid at the time of move-in and is then returned in full at the time the unit is vacated provided that the unit is left “broom swept clean” and that there is no balance otherwise owing on the account.

A final word on costs – some companies in San Diego offer a low-price guarantee on their rates. Don’t be afraid to challenge them on that guarantee. Shop around and find the best rate. If you find a rate that’s lower for a comparable unit, present it to the company offering the guarantee to ensure that the guarantee is indeed credible.

Security Differences

It’s been determined that the majority of thefts and security breaches at self-storage facilities have been connected (directly or indirectly) to another customer of that facility. For example, maybe a customer is walking down a deserted hallway and sees an unlocked unit and decides to take steal the contents. Whatever the situation, self-storage facilities do encounter more thefts than that of portable storage facilities.

When deciding upon a storage solution, make sure to check with the particular company to see exactly what security measures are enabled at their facility. The list of possible security measures includes exterior gates, motion sensors, onsite staffing, perimeter alarms, and motion lights. The previously mentioned padlocks should be mentioned here as well.

When speaking to a storage company representative, inquire as to whether they’ve experienced any thefts or burglaries in the past. If so, what were the details surrounding those incidents.

Convenience Differences

While the different processes have been detailed above, portable storage is undeniably the more convenient option in almost all instances. The only situation in which self-storage might possibly prove to be more convenient is for those renters that are seeking to access their unit on a regular basis and don’t happen to live within a close proximity to the portable storage facility.

Even if the situation provides for the self-storage company offering the renter a free truck for use during the move-in, opting for a portable storage would still allow the renter to avoid having to drive to the self-storage facility to pick up the truck, drive back to their residence, load the truck, drive back to the self-storage company, and then drive back home.  The driving time alone would likely be a couple of hours or more unless the renter happens to live very close to the self-storage facility.  As such, being able to load the storage unit right at your home (or business) instead of having to go to a storage facility, clearly makes for a convenient move-in. Unloading a portable storage unit at the conclusion of your storage rental period is just as convenient as the unit is redelivered back to your address where you can unload it at your leisure

So the choice is yours.  Do your homework – make a short list, call the selected companies, ask questions, and visit their facilities. As mentioned, you have numerous options available to you throughout San Diego County. Whatever you decide – happy storing.