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Self Storage Insight Blog

From a Firefighter to Storage Business Owner w/ Ian Horowitz

Welcome to the fascinating world of self-storage investments! Today, we dive deep into an insightful conversation with Ian Horowitz, a former firefighter who transitioned into a successful real estate investor specializing in self-storage. Ian shares his journey, the lessons learned, and the evolving dynamics of the self-storage market. If you're considering investing in self-storage or simply curious about this niche, this comprehensive guide will provide you with valuable insights.

The Journey Begins: From Firefighter to Investor

Ian’s Background and Early Career

Ian Horowitz's journey into the self-storage industry is as compelling as it is inspiring. Starting as a firefighter in Baltimore, Ian's entry into real estate began during the financial crisis. He and his business partner, both firefighters, saw an opportunity to invest in real estate as a means to secure their financial future. They began by building a portfolio of single-family homes and later expanded into multifamily properties.

The Shift to Self Storage

As the Baltimore real estate market became increasingly competitive, Ian and his partner sought diversification. They discovered self-storage in 2019, attracted by its potential for remote management and the opportunity to invest across the country. Their first investment in Little Rock, Arkansas, was the beginning of a journey that would see them amass nearly 700,000 square feet of self-storage space across 15 locations.

Lessons Learned from the First Deal to the Fifteenth

Operational Insights

Ian emphasizes that while the fundamentals of buying and operating commercial real estate remain consistent, the self-storage market has evolved significantly. The days of easily doubling rents and expecting tenants to accept these increases without pushback are over. Today, careful underwriting and realistic expectations about rental growth and occupancy rates are crucial.

Market Dynamics and Underwriting Changes

The market dynamics in the self-storage sector have shifted. Increased supply, changing demand patterns, and economic conditions have all impacted how deals are evaluated and executed. Ian notes that the underwriting process has become more cautious, emphasizing the need for conservative assumptions about future rental income and occupancy rates.

The Importance of Market Awareness

Adapting to Changing Conditions

Self-storage investors must stay attuned to market conditions. Ian highlights that the aggressive rent increases seen in past years are no longer sustainable. With increased competition and a more informed tenant base, maintaining high occupancy rates now requires a balanced approach to pricing.

Marketing Strategies in the Modern Era

Modern marketing strategies play a crucial role in maintaining occupancy rates. Ian discusses the importance of an effective online presence and the need for a user-friendly experience on digital platforms. As more tenants look to rent units online, the ease of the rental process can significantly impact occupancy rates.

Remote Management: Challenges and Solutions

Building a Remote Management System

Managing multiple self-storage facilities remotely presents unique challenges. Ian shares his experience in building a remote management system, including the creation of a call center and the use of technology to streamline operations. This approach allows his team to efficiently manage 15 locations from their base in Maryland.

Staffing and Operational Efficiency

Effective remote management requires a well-trained team. Ian details how his team manages operations, from handling tenant inquiries to overseeing auctions and maintenance. He emphasizes the importance of having reliable boots-on-the-ground personnel at each location, supported by a central management team.

Adapting to Technological Advances

The Role of Technology in Self Storage

Technology is transforming the self-storage industry. Ian discusses the importance of staying current with technological advancements, particularly in areas like online rentals and customer management systems. He highlights the need for a seamless online rental process, drawing parallels with e-commerce platforms like Amazon.

Future Trends and Innovations

Looking ahead, Ian is excited about the potential for further technological innovations in self-storage. He mentions the emergence of AI and advanced software solutions that could streamline operations and enhance the customer experience. Staying ahead of these trends will be crucial for maintaining a competitive edge.

Financial Strategies and Creative Financing

Navigating the Financing Landscape

In today’s economic climate, creative financing strategies are essential. Ian explains how he and his partner use a combination of life insurance loans, community bank loans, and equity from friends and family to finance their deals. This approach allows them to structure transactions that make financial sense even in challenging markets.

Partnering for Success

Ian’s investment model includes partnering with friends and family, particularly those from his firefighting background. This co-investment approach not only provides necessary capital but also allows his investors to share in the success of the ventures. It's a win-win strategy that leverages relationships and trust.

Networking and Building Relationships

The Power of Broker Relationships

Ian underscores the importance of building strong relationships with brokers. These connections are vital for sourcing off-market deals and staying informed about market trends. Ian's approach to networking involves regular communication and building long-term relationships based on trust and mutual benefit.

Leveraging Local Knowledge

Understanding local markets is crucial for self-storage investors. Ian discusses how leveraging local knowledge and maintaining relationships with local operators can provide valuable insights and opportunities. This local focus is a key component of his investment strategy.

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