While watching a few episodes of Storage Wars: Texas, I was surfing around and found a site that lists upcoming storage unit auctions. I noticed there was an auction just up the road from me in just a few days and decided it would be a fun adventure to check it out. At the very least, it would be a good blog post.

The day arrived and I headed over to the storage company to get registered and see what sort of wheeling and dealing I could get into.  The rules are:

  1. you can walk by the unit after they open it and look in – no going in – no touching.
  2. you have 24-48  hours to empty and clean out the unit (or a cleaning fee will be charged)
  3. you put your own lock on the unit immediately after winning the bid.

I arrived early and had an opportunity to talk with the auctioneer ahead of time.  Here is a rundown of the questions and answers:

How long have you been doing this?

Full-time about 4 years but I have been doing it part-time for about 25 years.

I bet you’ve come across some pretty crazy stuff right?

There is literally nothing that would surprise me opening up a storage unit.  I had one that was full of cases and cases of beer. (Not really my idea of a dramatic surprise find)

You don’t really find the things they show on tv. No priceless antiques or diamond rings

How many people usually show up to bid?

Anywhere from 3 to maybe 15, but most the time it is not very many.  There have been times when nobody bid so I end up buying a unit for like $50.

This location had two units to auction off, one was 10×10 and the other was 10×30. While there were 12 people that showed up, most of them were couples so there were only 6 (including myself) registered to bid.

In the first unit (pictured above,) there were a couple tires, rims, a mattress set, an old TV and radio as well as a cheap piece of furniture – nothing too exciting.

The auctioneer started, “Ok, who will give me $50 to start off?” …silence

“$25?” …silence

“Who wants this unit for $5?” …a gentleman raised his hand

“Okay, now ten…” …a different man raised a hand

“$15 – who will go 15?”… silence

“$10 going once” …nothing “going twice” …silence “SOLD for $10!”

I am sure that the rims and tires will get him $50 at least and if the electronics work, maybe another $50. So after disposing of the rest of the garbage (I don’t know if mattresses sell, but they appeared clean) he cleared 10X his investment.

We walked across the facility to the next unit – the BIG ONE that seemed to have the bidders a lot more excited.  It too was very sparsely packed.  The picture doesn’t do a good job of showing it, but here is what I could see:

  • two tents in packages
  • an outdoor camp shower in package
  • a baby car seat
  • more mattresses
  • a golf bag filled with clubs
  • a furniture dolly
  • a single (but nice) chair
  • a couple paintings (they looked personal, not professional)
  • some boxes that you couldn’t see inside
  • several rubbermaid type containers filled with something

This unit sold for $125 and I’m thinking the golf clubs alone could net that – but then again, they could be worth about $20.  I just don’t know. The items that interested me were the tents and camping gear.  Those alone were worth far more than the cost of the unit.

The auctioneer then laid out the next five stops of the day and invited people to follow him to nearby cities as he continued to auction off things left in storage units.  A quick estimate of his mileage for the day looked to be about 150-200 miles split up among about five stops.

So what is the takeaway?  There is great money to be made doing this with the following caveats:

  • You need to be in the business of selling used things
  • You have to have a large enough storage area to house items until sold
  • You have to be able to haul things off, sort and list for sale quickly
  • You either ditch the lower margin stuff right away or you could get overwhelmed with inventory
  • The idea of cleaning out the garbage (finding a dumpster etc) makes the good finds a bit less valuable
  • You might be able to hang back, find the winner and just pick up a specific item or two directly from him/her

Like I said, it was an adventure.  It was a cool experience and while I don’t intend to quit my job and start bidding on storage auctions, it is good to know how it operates and see the margins. Hmm… maybe I’ll look into police or government auctions next?

What is your experience? Have you bought anything at a storage auction? Have you had a unit sold for back fees?

by Chris Doelle