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The Nitty Gritty On Storage Auctions

Written by Garret Stembridge on Wednesday, 23 April 2014 12:04 pm

Many people fantasize that the old bureau that's been catching dust in their attic for years is actually their ticket to early retirement. And with the popularity of television shows like Storage Wars, acquiring a rare gem for very little investment seems like a profitable gamble.

Whether you're interested in becoming a full-fledged "storage warrior" or just curious how storage auctions go down in the real world, here are some of the most common questions and tips from the pros to get you started.

1. Why are storage units' contents auctioned? When a unit occupant fails to pay their rent for a period of time, the facility owner can auction off the contents in order to legally recoup their losses. Details vary by state, but generally protocol is across the board.

2. What if the tenant wants their stuff back after an auction? The original tenant may request to give their contact information to the unnamed buyer. The buyer can then decide to sell items back. Buyers are sometimes required to return unsellable personal items, like legal records and photographs, to the original owner.

3. Who can be at an auction? Bidders must be 18 years old with a valid driver's license or government-issued ID.

4. What is the auction process like? All potential bidders register. After some ground rules are laid out, the group will move to the first unit. When the first door is opened, bidders have a few minutes to look into the unit. No one can enter or touch any items for safety and liability concerns.

Pro Tip: Bring a flashlight! You will be able to make a more informed bid. Cameras and recording devices are banned.

From there, the auction commences. Each unit and auction are opened and closed individually until all units are finished. Usually, this takes several hours, so remember to pace yourself.

Pro Tip: If you are not an experienced bidder, keep it simple by raising your hand. You don't want to miss out on a great unit because the auctioneer didn't notice you tugging on your ear.

5. What valuable items are commonly found in the storage units? Household items, appliances, furniture, tools, and electronics are the most useful common finds. The more obvious the valuable items -- such as cars -- the livelier the auction!

Pro Tip: Units that are neatly organized are more likely to have valuable items than units with its contents haphazardly thrown in. But, as is the essence of storage auctions, junk can be organized, and treasures can be hidden. Experienced warriors say that bidding on what you see instead of what may be hidden will yield better results.

6. What happens when I win? When yours is declared the winning bid, you will be required to pay cash onsite immediately.

You will most likely be given 24-48 hours to clean out the unit in its entirety -- treasures, junk, trash and all.

You'll also pay a $50-$100 cleaning deposit. This deposit will be returned after you've thoroughly removed all items and swept up. Adhere to this agreement, or you'll be banned from future auctions.

Pro tip: Have a plan and bring some friends to help, especially if one of them has a truck and hauler. If you plan on coming back later, bring a padlock to secure your purchases.

7. How likely am I to make a profit? Storage units go anywhere from $1 to $10,000. Because of other bidders, weather conditions, and any number of factors -- including luck -- there's really no way to predict your profit. One of the most exciting aspects of storage auctions is that the playing field is completely even: the auction is free, and newbies and professionals get an equal look at the units ahead of time.

8. What do I do with the junk? The best way to make money through a storage auction is to sell as many items as possible. Craigslist, eBay, and garage sales are great. If you end up with a lot of one type of item, selling them in bulk to a flea market vendor could be economical.

Consider donating gently used items to homeless shelters, rehab facilities, churches, or other local charities. Remember to keep all of your receipts!

9. Where can I find out about upcoming storage auctions? Keep a lookout for ads in your local paper, or do a web search for your area. Many sites are devoted to these schedules.

10. What other Pro Tips can you give on being a storage warrior? Decide what you are willing to spend and bring that amount with you in cash. It's good to set parameters when you're first starting out and can easily get caught up in the moment.

The auction will start on time, so check out the route beforehand and arrive early.

Don't invite your non-bidding companions to view the units. When there are too many extra people, the process gets held up. Move quickly and with purpose.

Questions are certainly welcome, but ask them before the auction begins. You will be held to your bid no matter what.

Greet the auctioneer and chat with fellow bidders before business starts. Being a part of the storage auction community can be the best part!

Garret Stembridge is part of the team at, a leading provider of self-storage facilities. Garret often writes about storage and organization topics for homes and for businesses.


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