I was curious to see what was behind the door at a storage unit auction and curious about the prices that the storage units were bid up to. I also found out I'm not the only one who has experienced the 'thrill' of an auction.

I was determined to find one nearby so I didn't waste gas if it was a bomb. I found a couple near my zip code when I went to the Auction Zip Locator; they have auctions for real estate, businesses, homes and storage units.

So what is a storage auction exactly?
"It's a Treasure Hunt!! Self-store facilities are all over the country. People store their possessions when they're moving or when they simply need more space. Businesses use self-store facilities as an alternative to renting warehouse space. Despite management's efforts to collect rent, some folks simply don't pay their bill and management must sell the contents of the unit to the highest bidder."

On this day I got to see 3 of the large storage units put up for sale. The ad said it started at 11am and I got there about 10 minutes early, already about 25 people were there waiting - Families, friends and single men and women - a nice variety of young and old. Once the auction was to start, we had a good 3 dozen people ready to take a peek at what was left behind in the storage units.

While waiting I noticed a few tools of the trade:
1. Wear old clothes - If you win, you will be taking home dusty, greasy and sticky items.
2. Carry a big light - The lights most people had were handheld spotlights to see into the back of the units
3. Have a truck - Most who were bidding drove up with their trucks or had pull behind flatbeds to take the stuff home immediately

While waiting I wandered around and eaves dropped on the stories and tips being told by the experienced buyers.

One young lady in a baseball cap told a friend of hers about buying a unit for $500 that had a bunch of boxes in it and very large, filled black trash bags what she found was kind of interesting and I will come back to that later.

An older gentleman told a couple new to the storage auction experience, a few tips- the smaller units usually go for a couple hundred and the larger ones can go into the thousands. He also said that you can tell a possible good find based on the type of boxes used (thick, sturdy ones) and the way things are stacked in the unit if they person has valuable items.

Dax, the auctioneer, walked us to the first storage unit and laid down the ground rules:
1. Must pay Cash after the auction (plus tax)
2. Must clean out the unit in 24 hours
3. Can not go into the unit, only look in and can't touch anything

After the rules were given out, they unlocked the unit and tossed open the door. Spotlights were clicked on and weaving and bobbing began as everyone peered into the unit to see as much as they could.

After a couple of minutes, auctioneer Dax, opened up the bidding at a low, but reasonable price.

Storage unit 1
This unit had a bed, box spring and mattress, a poker table, heavy plastic table and chairs and a washer and dryer in the back. The bidding started at $100 and we were off. Occasionally Dax had to stop and let people know they didn't want to bid against themselves or help need to explain where in price the bidding was, but it all went smoothly. The unit sold for $325.

Storage unit 2
When the door flew open on this unit, people oohed and ahhed, a couple guys walked away bummed telling their friends, "This is out of my price range." The unit had a 5 foot tall tool box, tools for woodworking, a gun safe was in the back, a couple of rifle cases sat beside it and stacked to the ceiling were boxes and boxes of thick, sturdy liquor boxes all neatly organized. This unit started off at $500 but jumped quickly to a couple thousand before the final two bidders fought over it, the storage unit was sold for $3600.

Storage unit 3
After the previous unit, people were excited to see the potential of the this unit. It wasn't as spectacular, but was probably about average. This unit had a lot of furniture, large pieces and small, mostly wood. A few lamps scattered here and there and a very dusty mountain bike at the entrance. The bidding again started at $100 and ended in the 300 range.

The half hour went quickly and the experience was an enjoyable one , Dax Gillium of the ShurSuccess Auction Services had a congenial style that put us all at ease, both newbies and experienced bidders. It was a free and fun way to pass the time that I wouldn't mind doing again.

I certainly don't have a few thousand lying around to buy up self storage units as either a hobby or a resell business, but it was neat to see what was behind the doors. Which brings me back to the young lady in the baseball cap and what her $500 bought her.

After she bought the unit full of boxes and garbage bags, she and a friend looked through the boxes and found they all contained Avon supplies, Avon collectibles and samples. And what was in the garbage bags? Trash, every garbage bag had crumpled up newspapers, peanuts and Styrofoam. From what I overheard, it sounded like a bust as she recouped only a couple hundred on what she bought the storage unit for. Sometimes you come out a winner with something good and sometimes you lose.

9 Comments

  1. Anonymous // Friday, April 10, 2009 1:23:00 PM  

    Interesting...

    but unless you're a junk dealer, i don't see the point of bidding for something you don't even know what it is.

  2. Dawn C // Friday, April 10, 2009 1:36:00 PM  

    @Anonymous
    Well you do get to see what you can and bid on that, who knows what is in the boxes. But you are correct, it does seem pointless unless you are looking for something specific - and large enough to NOT be in a box.

  3. Eero // Saturday, April 11, 2009 9:15:00 AM  

    What a good article---I've always wondered what the bidding is really about.

    I think it's a little like prospecting or treasure hunting: hoping to find that worthy item to keep or resell.

  4. Greener Pastures // Saturday, April 11, 2009 1:31:00 PM  

    What a great article. I sometimes wondered what happens to the abandoned storage unit contents. I can't help think that there must be a better way- where you could get to look at the stuff. I'd find that frustrating and irritating. It's not for me!

  5. Anonymous // Sunday, April 12, 2009 12:45:00 PM  

    i went to a storage unit sale,but it as a bit different. the items from unclaimed units are sold once a year in a yard sale type thing. i don't know if someone had bought the contents and has a sale on the storage premises, but i stuck GOLD!

    i found a box marked "stamps" that held a few office type rubber stamps and ink pads, and a couple of small boxes i thought would have more rubber stamps. my nieces love to play office, so for a dollar, this was a great treat for them.

    when i got home, the three boxes i thought more rubber stamps were actually postage stamps! there were 2packs each with 100 books of 10 .34 cent stamps- $680.00 worth of stamps! the third box was a new roll of 100 stamps and a partial roll of stamps! SCORE, over $700 worth of stamps plus the junk for my niece!

    i am almost out of stamps, 7years later! the only thing, it was a pain in the butt peeling off $38 worth of stamps to mail a box. but it was well worth it!

  6. Dawn C // Sunday, April 12, 2009 12:53:00 PM  

    @Eero
    It is a bit like prospecting, hope is what moves them from unit to unit.

    @Greener Pastures
    I would agree, seems there should be an easier way to do it.

    @Anon 2
    That is a much better to do it, lay it all out like a yard sale then you get only want you want. Cool beans for you!

  7. Pick Your Storage // Tuesday, December 15, 2009 8:04:00 AM  

    Also, there are companies out there that allow you to bid on your unit every time. You check it out if you're into saving.

  8. brunowfamily1 // Tuesday, February 23, 2010 8:00:00 AM  

    I know it seems like their could be a better way. Theres not but the fact is it works ou , not all sales are the same some are open bidding but some are sealed bid which means that all bidders must write down their bid
    and some times it's fun I prefer the sealed bid auctions. I have a better chance of a good deal it eliminates some of the big money people ( pawn shop brokers) from running the show.
    This is true you are bidding against pawnbrokers who really know what they are doing and have the money to shut you down quick on a good unit.

  9. Penny Auction Online // Thursday, June 10, 2010 3:53:00 AM  

    I am an auction lover. So every news related to the auction makes me very happy. Thanks for keeping us updated.