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The Truth About Self Storage Auctions

Self Storage Auctions
Unless you’ve been living under a rock – or refuse to turn on the television – you’ve most likely come across the widely popular reality shows surrounding self storage auctions. If you haven’t, you really need to check them out! The A&E series “Storage Wars” debuted in December 2010, and since then multiple spin-offs have taken flight. Because of the popularity of these shows, the interest level in actual storage auctions has risen to an all-time high.

A California poll revealed that storage facility operators began to see a steady rise in attendees for their auctions shortly after the debut of “Storage Wars”. On average, operators would have 15-20 sign-ins for an auction before the show first aired, but now they are reporting as many as 75 sign-ins for a single auction! That is impressive.

Because of watching these popular shows, many questions are left for the average Joe, such as:

  • What’s real about these storage auctions?
  • Are they just like the TV shows?
  • (And the most popular question by far is…) What’s the best thing found in a storage auction unit?

So, let’s discuss!

First of all, it’s very rare to have a large number of units sold at any one auction. Storage auctions typically only have 1-3 units per self storage facility each month. It’s important to remember that storage operators never want to auction a unit, as it only affects them negatively. You can read one of our previous blogs about How the Auction Process Works. Storage operators vary rarely recover the total debt owed during storage auctions.

In a single episode of one of these popular reality shows, viewers can see as many as 10 units which appear to be at the same facility for one auction on the same day. This is true Hollywood showing its face here. Producers of the popular series “Storage Wars” have admitted that over 400 hours of footage is shot for every one hour that makes it on screen. This can include anywhere from 150-300 units from multiple locations, over multiple days! Basically, they edit the show to look like one auction is much larger than it really is, and that it all takes place at one facility on one day.

Storage Auction AttendeesOne very REAL thing which these shows get completely right is that no attendees of the auction are allowed inside the units. This is a common sense thing because it eliminates the possibility for theft of or damage to the contents. Attendees can simply look into the unit and are not permitted to touch anything inside the unit. Basically they have to bid on what they see, and what they think may be inside of boxes and furniture or underneath visible items. And, just like the shows portray, all of the contents of a unit are sold to a single bidder as one transaction. Pennsylvania and Maryland require the contents of one unit to be sold as a lot – meaning if you win the bid, you now own everything inside that unit. There are only a few states, including Alabama and Kansas, which are required by law to sell items one at a time.

Looking to strike gold? Well, it is possible. You never know what’s stored away in gram’s old dresser. But there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • With the wide exposure of reality shows, there are more bidders, which means more competition.
  • Units are sold to the highest bidder. Its best to go in with a plan to avoid getting caught up in the excitement. Then comes the clean out of the unit. The larger the unit, the more help that’s needed to empty it out. In almost every auction, there will be garbage to dispose of from inside the unit, for which you as the new owner are now responsible.
  • So, keep in mind that your total cost for one unit includes the following: the bid for the unit, the labor to empty the unit, transportation to get the contents of the unit off site, and disposal of any refuse once you leave the facility.

Action Comics No 1Don’t get me wrong, there are many cases out there where buyers have profited largely from a storage auction. In April 2011, a storage unit went to auction in southern California which held a nearly pristine copy of “Action Comics No. 1” featuring the first appearance of Superman. This comic sold for a record $2.16 Million! Now that is a lot of money! Unfortunately, it was later discovered to be stolen from actor Nicolas Cage’s home in early 2000. And, a high-value find like that comic is quite rare.

Most people who benefit from a storage auction are those who own a second-hand store or refurbish furniture for resale. Furniture, appliances and clothing are typical items you will find inside almost every storage unit. And unless the buyer can resale the items (the ones in good shape anyway, because trust me many things are broken and damaged) for more than they paid at auction (minus disposal and labor costs) they could still lose money on it.

Despite this reality check, I do agree that storage auctions are all the rage right now. The TV shows make them look so fun and exciting. And, although not likely, there is always that small chance you could find the next $2 Million comic book! If you haven’t been to a storage auction yet, it is definitely worth a visit just to see it for yourself. You can check out one of our upcoming auctions to see what it’s all about. And hey, maybe you will find something you want to bid on – you never know!

If you have any questions about self storage auctions and the auction process, you can contact us at any time and one of our friendly property managers will be glad to answer any questions for you.