I immediately wished I had worn something grungier as we pulled up. I looked way too professional compared to the others.
It was our first storage auction and we had high hopes of finding a hidden safe stashed with someone’s long forgotten 1950 mint baseball card collection. Years of watching Storage Wars will do that to a person. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as easy as it looks on TV.
We checked in quickly, got our bidding number and waited for the auction to start. I guess I was expecting mass crowds, confusion, taunting, maybe even a fight?!
That wasn’t the case.
There were around twenty-five people, most dressed in grease stained clothes with 24 ounce Wawa coffees in hand… and they all seemed to be longtime friends.
I quietly stepped back and intently people-watched, curious to know each person’s reason for wanting to snag an abandoned storage unit.
For those of you who, unlike me, don’t watch A&E habitually, let me explain how buying an abandoned storage unit works. When you rent a storage unit, you pay a monthly fee (let’s call it rent for your belongings). If you fail to pay your rent for a certain period of time, the company will auction off the contents of your locker; frankly—they make room for a paying customer. Your belongings are sold online or live at an auction, but either way they’re gone. The companies give renters plenty of time to pay up, but if you only gave them an old email to contact you, you’re screwed. And if you think you can swing by the unit to grab some valuable items out of your locker before they auction it off, think again. Most companies require code access to enter their facility and will flag your account. Or they’ll replace your lock with theirs. Either way, you’re not getting your Beanie Baby collection unless you pay up.
My thoughts of finding hundred-dollar bills taped to the back of an old painting were distracted as a portly man drenched in sweat nervously called out that the auction would begin. We were quickly briefed on the rules which were simple enough: don’t touch anything, don’t go inside, look quickly, make sure your bidding number is visible and most importantly, have the cash.
The metal door rolled up and we got in a single file line to check out the goods. We immediately realized we were noticeably the rookies as everyone else took out heavy duty flashlights for their turn.
The best way to describe everything after that is an adrenaline rush—gambling style, which is exactly what you’re doing. Sure, you have a good idea of what’s inside a unit when you clearly see a matching sofa and love seat, but it’s what’s hidden inside those boxes and back corners that really gets you going. Not to mention if you’re going head to head with another bidder who sees the same treasures stashed amongst trash bags of clothes.
The auctioneer sounds just like you’d imagine. That quick-talking, HUMMANA-HUMMAN-A-THIRTYFIVE-DOIHEARFORTY-HUMMANA-HUMMANA, is called an “auction chant” and every auctioneer has their own style and pace. Trust me, if you want to bid, they won’t miss you.
A fact I found interesting is that the auctioneers and storage companies aren’t making a percentage off that $500 unit you just snagged. In reality, the profits are used to pay the debt from the original owner and after some minimal auction fees, the excess profit is sent back to the original owner. I can’t imagine that it always works out so smoothly, but I like to believe we live in a good America.
It took us awhile to physically raise our hands and bid on a unit. We were intimidated. These people were pros. They owned second hand stores, were wearing utility gloves and had moving trucks; we were out of our league. Our game plan was to see what the whole experience was like; I don’t think we thought we were actually going to win, or even bid for that matter. We didn’t even have a bottle of water! But by the fourth unit we couldn’t help ourselves.
So no one is going to bid ten dollars to take a stab in the dark that there’s something valuable in there? OK, why not, it’s only $10 right?!
Our meager bid was the big winner and we were the overly-excited owners of unit 6218.
When the auction was over, we were directed to a woman who took our cash payment along with the $100 cleaning fee they hold. She asked us to return any personal photos or important documents we found, and let us know that we had 48 hours to clean our unit out.
And no, you can’t use their dumpster.
I’ll cut to the chase and let you know that our messy 5’ x 10’ unit wasn’t sending my Daddy into retirement early. There was no diamond jewelry tucked away, no vintage collectibles or luxurious furs hidden in those bags. Honestly, it was mostly junk. A lot of kid’s clothes, some designer sneakers, old bills, toys and some less than desirable appliances. We did find a $50 Macys gift card which we counted as a big W, considering the circumstances.
It was much less glamorous than I had imagined. Those few boxes and bags seemed like so little from the outside looking in, but when you have to fit every bit of it into your medium-sized Volkswagen, in jeans and flip flops, it becomes much less fun.
I’m not complaining. We sold a bunch of the toys, clothes and shoes to a second-hand shop, video games to a neighborhood store, donated a ton to the local Good Will and trashed what we didn’t want to keep ourselves. Let’s not forget about the $50 gift card—our grand deluxe find of the day. Around $100 profit and an insanely cool experience.
We didn’t let that first auction crush our dreams. We’ve since bought more lockers and scored an awesome collection of sports memorabilia, sold an entire house worth of engineered oak flooring, and found a beautiful 1904 Singer treadle cabinet in amazing condition.
There is money to be made buying abandoned storage units and selling the contents. But it takes knowledge of what you’re buying and its worth, transportation and storage, manpower, and most importantly, the resources to sell your items. Yard sale anyone?
Oh, and a flashlight. You definitely need a flashlight.
Visit StorageTreasures.com to find storage auctions near you.