I am hooked on reality shows about everyday people. Maybe it's because I feel like I can relate to them, who knows. I've been checking out Tough Cookies on the Food Network, and of course you know I watched Extreme Couponing, but something else I watch weekly is Storage Wars on A&E. In case you have not heard of it, Storage Wars follows four professional buyers as they bid on auctions for delinquent storage units. My understanding is that if you do not pay for your unit for three months, then all the items you have left in there go up for auction. Well Storage Wars makes the storage auction trade seem a bit crazy. There's often heated bidding and the units sell for thousands. But wow, sometimes the payoff is amazing! One of the folks on the show, Darrell Sheets, once won a lot full of comic books that made him over $100,000! The whole concept of storage auctions seems like one big treasure hunt. This frugalista just had to check it out for herself!
My first step was of course, consulting Google. A simple search led me to a website called Auction Zip which has a complete calendar of all kinds of auctions near your zip code. I used the filter to search storage auctions only, and I found several of them. They were all at Uncle Bob's Public Storage Units, but in different locations throughout the city. The first stop wasn't too far from our house, and it was set to start at 9:30. So my husband & I headed out.
I live in Columbus, OH, so I knew going into this that I had a good chance of being able to actually afford some of the units up for auction here (the show is filmed in California and the cost of living there is much higher than here in the Midwest). We brought almost $300 with us just in case something caught our eye.
We arrived at the facility shortly before 9:30 and there was a small crowd, perhaps 20 people. We waited for a good 15 minutes until the auctioneer told everyone the "rules" of the auction. It was to be a cash only sale, and if you wanted to bid, you had to go inside and sign your name and get your driver's license copied. Then you were given a number.
As we waited, I was getting so excited! I looked around at the crowd which was full of all sorts of people. First-time auction-goers with small children. A tattoo artist. A couple who have done storage auctions before, and who mentioned a unit containing a Kirby vacuum on which they had doubled their investment. I looked around and found folks who were dopplegangers of Dave, Darrell, Jared, Brandi, & Barry (the cast of Storage Wars). I could hardly wait to hear the auctioneer's call in person!
Finally, nearly half an hour after the auction was supposed to start, it got started. Fortunately it was a lovely, sunny morning so the wait was bearable, although I wished I had grabbed my drink from the car! Everyone headed back into the facility, and the storage unit owner unlocked the first unit.
You cannot go inside the units or pick up anything they contain prior to winning. You can look at the door. Some folks brought their own flashlights so they could see what each unit contained a little better.
The first unit was a disappointment. All that it contained was a weird fuzzy stool and a box from Amazon.com. The auctioneer asked if anyone would offer him $5 or $10. No one did. I joked to my husband that I would pay a dollar just to see what was in that box. But it wasn't a risk I was going to take. The first unit didn't sell.
On to the second unit. It had a mattress, a cat tunnel toy, and some other random items. I should have thrown out a $5 bid, but I didn't. Unlike the folks on the show, we don't have hired help to lift things and it wouldn't have been worth our effort to clear any big items out. You have 24 hours to clean the unit and remove its contents or you can potentially get fined. Unit #2 did sell for $5 to Dave Hester's lookalike.
The next unit contained a television (not a flat screen!), a cheap looking entertainment center, and a computer chair. I thought I could make a profit off that chair but again, not worth my effort to lift everything. It did sell for $27.
That was it for this facility. We got into our cars and most of us followed the auctioneer to the next location about 10 minutes away. We again signed in, and went on. This facility had two units. The first unit had an old nightstand. It didn't sell, but again, I remarked to my husband, "I want to know what's in the drawer!" "A million dollars!" he retorted. We'll never know.
The second unit here was full of lots of items. Some Rocawear hoodies, shovels, a television, a china cabinet. If you had the muscles and space it had the potential to generate some revenue. We walked away, but as we were leaving the bids were up to $200.
So here are the tips I've learned from my experience.
- The storage auction scene is something that everyone of us thrifty folks can benefit from. Everything from clothing to furniture might be there. If you are moving to a new place, looking to expand your ebay store, or if you are into collectibles, you might find what you're looking for.
- It's not as expensive as other auctions. I don't go to auctions because I don't like expensive antiques. Well storage auctions aren't like that. They have everyday items.
- It's not ANYWHERE near as intimidating as it looks on TV! People there were friendly, talkative, and not at all pushy. The auctioneer explained the rules and the owner of the units said he'd be willing to help if anyone had any questions. I was worried I might feel like a fish out of water, but I was very comfortable.
Would I do it again?
Even though I walked away empty handed, the fever has hit me. I definitely plan on going again. It's the thrill of the hunt, not knowing what to expect. Possible treasures! Hearts racing as the door to the units gets lifted. As Darrell Sheets says, "it's the wow factor!"