The Skinny on Storage Auctions

You have probably seen one of the several “reality” television shows that profile professional storage unit buyers. The shows makes it look as if treasure is just waiting to be found behind every storage unit door and that these “auction buyers” are turning a hefty profit.

As you may suspect, the reality of buying storage units is a lot less glamorous. The reality is that it can be dirty, labor intensive work that may or may not pay off. I admit that I’m fascinated by these shows. In fact, when I was visiting the Los Angeles area recently I made my family stop by the consignment store that one of the buyers on the show owns. Let’s just say this guy is a marketing genius. I had the same experience when I popped into a “reality show famous” pawn shop in Las Vegas a few years ago, let’s just say the opportunity to purchase souvenirs was plentiful.

I wanted to find out more about it and whether or not it could be a profitable endeavor. A buddy of mine, Tom, (a recovering alcoholic) has been going to these auctions for years.

He doesn’t resell the stuff, he just does it for fun and keeps, gives away or trades the stuff he finds. I’ve listened to him brag for years about all the cool finds he has uncovered. I kind of think he traded one addiction for the other, because he is a regular at these things and I made him take me with him so I could see first hand how it works.

Let me tell you, it was like walking into the Cheers bar with Norm. Everyone knew my buddy and because he just does it for fun, none of the other professional buyers viewed him or me as a threat so I think they were a little more forthcoming with information. If I had disclosed that I was planning to write an eBook about the subject I don’t think my reception would have been as warm.

Anyhow, I went to a number of auctions with Tom over the course of a few months and got quite an education. Here’s what I learned:

This niche is best geared towards those individuals that are interested in obtaining their merchandise to resell in a variety of venues. You never know what you might find. The haul from one storage unit could have you reselling its goods on Craigslist, at a flea market, a pawn shop, eBay, specialty dealer or auction house.

If you are a people person and enjoy networking and getting to know experts in various fields of industry then you may be well suited to buying storage units or lockers.

America is a nation of pack rats. Shopping is the national pastime in my opinion. We live in a disposal society and people just can’t get enough “stuff”, even if that means buying luxury items on credit cards and such.

Divorces, relocation, loss of job, illness and even death can cause a person to stop paying on a storage unit. It happens much more frequently than you’d think.

A storage unit can range in size from 25 to several 100 square feet.

I recommend prioritizing climate controlled storage facilities as they tend to have a better quality of merchandise. Look in the yellow pages and scout out some promising facilities in your area and give them a call. Ask when their next auction will be held.

Oftentimes they have a set day and time on a recurring basis for when they hold their auctions. Newspapers will often list public storage unit times as well; the storage facility is required by law to post an ad in the Classifieds under Public Notices prior to each sale.

In some States, the Public Notice is required to print the name and usually the last known address of the person or persons responsible for the unit. A Google search can sometimes turn up information or social network sites that the unit owners are registered on. This kind of information can be helpful when determining your maximum bid on a unit. It can give you insight into that person’s hobbies, interests and income status.

I’m usually a big supporter of local mom and pop enterprises, but in the case of storage unit auctions bigger corporations are sometimes better. The reasoning behind this is that the corporate structure behind the bigger (and often climate controlled) facilities is that they have stringent policies and procedures to follow when they auction off a unit.

It is not unheard of for locks to be broken on units, any “good” contents removed, and a new lock put in its place. The lucky “auction winner” has been royally screwed. Unless they have a personal relationship with the owners of the smaller facilities, many auction professionals stick with the corporate guys for this reason.

I recommend showing up a bit early to the auction. You must come prepared with cash to pay for any units you do buy and the means to haul away whatever goodies or garbage lay inside. This is where it pays off if you have a truck or other large vehicle. In most cases you will need to remove ALL contents from the unit the same day as the auction. Sometimes the facility will require you to give them a small deposit (usually $25) that will be returned to you when the storage unit is fully cleaned out.

The prices you see these units going for on television is not representative of reality. On average you can expect to pay between $25 to $500 for an average sized unit. Never pay more than 50% of the estimated value of an item. This is tough when you are a newbie. A trick that professionals use is to add up the estimated value in their head and cut it in half…this is their MAX bid.

Also, call the storage facility the morning of the auction to confirm it is still happening, especially if only one or two lockers are up for auction. Owners of these units have until the last minute to show up and pay their arrearage. With gas prices being as high as they are, you don’t want to waste precious time and fuel driving to an auction that has been cancelled.

Remember that you only get to briefly look at a unit from the exterior before the bidding begins. Unless you are absolutely certain that you saw a high value item, it’s wise to be conservative in your bidding. Bring a flashlight and your smartphone. If you see something you think is valuable or you see the name of a company on the side of a box you can quickly do a Google search and find out more about its value. It’s also important to bring a lock with you. After the storage facility cuts the lock they may or may not provide you with one. It’s best to have one on hand so the contents of your unit will be safe while you are collecting your vehicle, etc.

Before bidding, look at the quality of boxes in the unit. Boxes that bear a moving company’s logo are desirable. This means the unit’s owner paid to move the contents at some point in time, thus reasoning the contents have a good value. Boxes of any variety are preferable over trash bags. The people that stacked their unit carefully versus haphazardly often have more valuable contents inside.

Be conservative when bidding on unknown boxes. The magazine I used to work for had a huge storage unit filled with back issues. The magazine was eventually sold and is now defunct. Luckily, the owners did the right thing and closed the storage unit and recycled the old back issues. I often think how frustrated someone would have been to buy that unit (had it gone up for auction) only to find they needed to dispose of several hundred boxes of worthless old magazines.

Here’s another tip. Check everything! This means inside books, pockets, purses, etc. People tend to hide money in storage units and you never know where you’ll find it. Wear gloves and thoroughly inspect each item before you deem it trash!

The professionals I spoke with seem to agree that about 1 in 10 storage units is a legitimate win. Instead of gambling in the casinos, they gamble on storage units. The odds are a lot better.

You should realize that YOU are responsible for cleaning out every last inch of that unit. You’ll likely end up with three piles.

Trash: This is stuff you’ll have to haul to the dump and pay a fee to remove.

To Sell: This is all the other stuff that is in fair to excellent condition that you will need to possibly clean, place a value on and decide on a venue in which to resell it.

To Be Appraised: If you’re lucky you may come across items for which you need some research to determine a value and selling venue.

For more information about selling venues and other legitimate side-income opportunities, check out my latest eBook at

Jay Johnson is a debtor advocate and is in the process of launching WoodDuckEBooks which endeavors to publish outstanding E-Books that are useful, timely, motivational and relevant to Americans struggling in today’s economy.

Check his NEW EBook, Make Money Now, How Average Americans are Making Great Money Online and How YOU Can Too! at

What Storage Unit Auctions Are

Storage unit auctions are open to the general public with most bidders buying valuables for the purpose of reselling them for profit. These auctions are a great way to buy secondhand merchandise for pennies on the wholesale dollar. If you are someone who sells at flea markets, garage sales or on eBay, you will probably find storage auctions to be one of your best sources for merchandise.

If you want to get into this fantastic means of making easy money, come to a scheduled action at least 10-15 minutes before the auction starts. By doing so, you will know the bidding rules and mechanics. The self-storage facility or auctioneer will have participants fill a sign-in sheet and then read the company’s rules as well as the terms and conditions of the auction.

The terms and conditions will vary with each site. Most auctions are done verbally in contrast to sealed bids in other negotiated contracts in which documents are exchanged without a word. In storage unit auctions, cash is the only acceptable form of payment and sales tax will be charged if the buyer cannot show a valid resale license and proper identification.

Storage auctions are indeed very much different from most types of auctions. Here, you usually bid on the entire contents of a unit or lot. These units are viewed by bidders one after the other, which viewing is confined to the doorway entrance of the storage unit or container.

The bidding starts after all bidders have done their appraisal of the property. Bids sometimes start out as low as $1 and can go upwards depending on the property being sold and the interest of participants to place higher bids. Experience shows that the average price quotation for storage unit lots or units is $300. Once the highest bidder wins, he is expected to clean out all the content of the unit within the time specified by the self-storage facility.

You really never know what you will find in a unit. Most items are general household goods, furniture, electronic, clothing and personal records. Winning bidders sometimes find money, jewelry, antiques and collectibles at these auctions. It is not uncommon to find someone’s whole household or business in a unit, which means that you could end up with someone’s life collection. Remember, you are viewing the property from an open entrance into a storage unit or container such that boxes and plastics storage containers can yield almost anything. Some units are packed so tight that you won’t have the luxury of getting a view of the items.

You can find out through various sources where storage auctions take place. There are legal notices in newspapers, web sites and auctioneers who all provide very limited schedules of self storage auctions. By using all these sources it is impossible to find out when and where all these auctions will be conducted. Calling the different self-storage companies will give you the best results.

Gilbert Manabat is a storage unit auction expert. For more great information on storage unit for auction [], visit [].

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