My Self Storage Unit Auction Experience

One of my favorite shows on cable right now is Storage Wars. The show makes bidding and buying storage units look pretty interesting so I decided to check out some storage auctions myself. The first auction I went to was during a weekday and in a lower-income part of town. I would guess there were about 25-30 people there but only about five people who actually bid on anything. Most of the units didn’t look to be worth much. It made me wonder why people would pay to store trash. I’d guess in most cases just a few months rent on the unit would be more than the items stored were worth. Most of these units went for less than $100 and there were a couple that nobody wanted. There was one unit that went for about $1000 but I didn’t see the value. I mainly wanted to spectate at this auction and didn’t buy anything but if there had been a super bargain I would have bid.

The second auction was on a Saturday and fairly close to where we live which is basically a suburb. There were at least a 100 people there. I heard one of the people comment that he had never seen more than twenty people show up to an auction before. It seems that the TV shows are making a lot more people interested in self storage auctions. This auction had much nicer units but they also sold for a lot more. One of the units was packed with Hot Wheels, old metal toy cars, Nascar collectibles, and other collectibles. It went for $2000 and I’m sure the stuff in it was worth more than that but it was more money than I was willing to risk. The only units that were in my price range didn’t look to be worth what people were bidding so I once again didn’t buy anything.

I think there is some money to be made buying self storage units at auction but their recent popularity is probably going to make it harder to find good deals. There are several things that kept me from bidding on any of the units. Many of the units had a lot of stuff that would just need to be thrown in the trash. You can’t just dump it in the storage facility’s trash bin, you have to haul it off. I don’t think my apartment manager would like me throwing a truck load of trash in the dumpster. Also most of the units have big items in them. I’d have to find someone to help me move them and I would need to borrow a truck. And once I had the stuff on the truck I’d have to find somewhere to store them because the stuff wouldn’t fit in our apartment. After I had the stuff moved I would still have to sort through it, figure out which stuff is valuable and where it can be sold. All of that would take a lot of time and effort and I’m doubtful the return would be worth the investment.

I might check out some more auctions just out of curiosity but unless there is a small unit with really valuable stuff going for really cheap I won’t be buying.

24 thoughts on “My Self Storage Unit Auction Experience”

  1. Interesting. I haven’t seen that show or heard much about it, but I suppose it probably has had quite an effect. I’m sure the storage rental places have to be happy as, while they don’t like people defaulting on their units, the increased auction prices have to be offsetting some of their losses in that regard.

  2. My husband loves that show. I know he wants to do it but I really don’t want him to – for all the reasons you stated. Several of the people on that show have stores, like pawn shop type stores. That I can see, you have a place to store it all. Otherwise, you end up selling it on ebay or craigslist and you are sitting on it for probably several weeks. To me it doesn’t seem really worth doing.

    And I think it would be better to wait until it’s not quite so popular anymore and then start. Like you said, right now it’s all the rage.

  3. haha – I actually watched this show for the first time the other day. I was hooked. Haven’t had a chance to make it out to an auction though. Be sure to write a follow-up post if you end up bidding on a unit.

  4. Hi Money Beagle,
    Just wanted to tell you a bit about that show. In California, storage content is sold by an auctioneer when rent is not paid for three months. The show follows professional buyers who purchase the contents based only on a five-minute inspection and what they can see only from the door when it is opened. After the bidding is over the winner inspects the items to see if he made a profit. The goal is to turn a profit on the merchandise. Hope this summary helps.

  5. Interesting… I just ran across this show myself in the past month. It is a good reminder of how many people have valuable assets in what might be considered an unusual place. Let us know what you find.

  6. I have been hearing a lot about the show lately so it sounds like I have to check it out. I am sure that the exposure on TV has made it something that everyone thinks they can do which will bid up the prices. You may have to wait a few years for the fad to disappear if you are really serious about this kind of thing.

  7. I didn’t realize storage units were in such high demand. Can’t be surprised though, seeing as how so many people (including us, at the moment) have way more stuff than they need.

  8. two thoughts:

    1.) I would think it would be interesting just to go and watch one of these auctions.

    2.) So, I wonder if I could go rent a storage unit, fill it with all the stuff I’d love to get rid of, and hold my own auction? :)

  9. I like that idea. You might get more of a turnout than a garage sale and you would get rid of everything in one swoop. You usually have to rent the storage units for a minimum number of months though so your stuff would have to sell for quite a bit to make it worthwhile.

  10. If you have access to a pickup truck and some spare time,
    post an Ad on Craigslist to do garage cleanouts.
    People will pay you to haul away their surplus stuff and you can
    sort through it and keep anything you find to be of value.

  11. If storage renter owes 500 and unit sels for 900 storage renter gets the difference after lien is paid or what was owned

  12. I have heard of that show! I’ve actually seen snippets of a few episodes, but I’ve never watched one all the way through due to time constraints, haha. I personally am glad that the demand for self-storage units are high, but I also wonder sometimes if maybe these auctions are popular mostly for the things inside the storage units rather than the units themselves. “Storage Wars” shows that these auctions are popular for both the units and the things left inside though. I do, however, find myself wishing sometimes that the show would put more emphasis on the convenience of having self-storage units.

  13. Caution: A Must Read on the Ugly Part of Storage Auctions:
    After watching the new storage auction shows for a few months, I like many others became addicted to the excitement of finding treasures and potentially making some money in this lousy economy. Bear in mind I do not in any way relish the though of benefitting from someone elses misfortune, however, if there were treasures abandoned or forgotten in storage units; why not benefit from the legitimate purchase of those items.
    I attended a few auctions in my area to check out the process, but did not see much worth bidding on. Then came the “Once in a Lifetime” unit in Fair Oaks, CA – an area with fairly mixed diversity as well as many upper-middle class and retirees with considerable assets. It was a 10′ x 30′ stuffed with over (80) sealed Home Depot moving boxes, wrapped flatscreen tv’s, Laptop Boxes, new Cordless Tool Cases, brand new stainless steel refrigerator, several clear plastic cases with 100’s of XBox360 & PlayStation3 Video Games, and CD’s/DVD’s. There was also a high-end Fly-Fishing Rod Holder, new snow shoes, and a freshly dry-cleaned Scout Leader Uniform by the front door.
    The entire auction croud was buzzing over the neatness of the unit, and how it must contain tens of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise, and several people were talking about combining resources since they knew it wouldn’t go cheap.
    As the bidding began it raced quickly into the thousands, and turned into a bidding war between myself a more seasoned auction buyer. Just as I was ready to bow-out in defeat, the other bidder stopped bidding and the unit was mine! What a crazy adrenaline-filled feeling that moment was. I can see how people get wrapped-up in it all.
    Turned out the unit was a complete setup. Almost everything was staged to decieve the potential bidders into thinking there was substantial value. Tool Boxes – empty. Video games cases – empty, CD’s/DVD cases – mostly empty. Flat screens were gutted shells wrapped with one open end pointing toward front door of unit. Laptop – nope. Fly Rod Case – empty. Stainless refrigerator was actually an old used piece of moldy junk painted to look like stainless steel, and was covered with shrink-wrap and cardboard corner protectors like it just came from the manufacturer. Over half of the new moving boxes were full of cut up scrap cardboard, smaller empty boxes and junk to add weight. Also found items from several different people/units packed into some of the new moving boxes.
    All complaints were largely unanswered. In this case, “As-is Where-is” is simply a recipe for easily scamming buyers. Was it the auctioneer, storage company?? If you think about it, they both benefit from successful auctions, and have units/items left over that nobody wanted. Also could have been another storage buyer making a profit out of getting rid of trash and unwanted items from other purchased units. In CA the original renter who defaulted on the unit rental receives any excess profit above and beyond the past due rental. No surprise that requests for the name of past unit renter went unanswered as well.
    The sad part is this whole storage unit auction craze has become a easy setup for scam artists and theives to steal your hard earned cash. Sure, I’m terribly embarrassed by the whole thing, but I wanted to let people know there is an extremely dark side to the wonderful sucess seen on TV Storage Auction shows. They definitely will not show this type of scam on TV, and it’s not likely that many will offer to talk about being ripped off.
    There is a positive side to my story: I was able to put together enough misc stuff from the unit to take to Goodwill and recover my expenses and then some via tax savings from charitable contributions. It was a lot of work to just break even.
    Take it from me – be extremely careful out there…. Do as much homework and due diligence as possible, and most of all; if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
    JD – Folsom CA

  14. I love that show, too! Yep, there’s a lot of good finds in storage auctions. Storage Wars is very thrilling, and what’s great about it is that you get to learn about stuff you didn’t even know exist. I saw this episode about ancient medical devices once, and boy, did I learn a lot how people from way, way back performed different kinds of operations.

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