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Winning Storage Unit Auctions — Before and After the Bid

Garret Stembridge
Randy Faris/Fuse

Randy Faris/Fuse


Attendance at storage unit auctions has hit record highs since shows such as Storage WarsStorage Hunters and Auction Hunters hit the air. Convinced that abandoned storage units are concealing instantly profitable items behind stacks of particle board furniture and dusty rabbit-eared television sets, bidders began flocking to auctions by the hundreds. But instead of finding an easy win, most storage unit purchasers find that winning the bid is only the beginning of the profit process.

The truth is, there IS good money to be made in buying storage units, but it takes a lot of hard work, time, a fair amount of initial expenditures and a good sense of the value of items: not what they’re worth to you, but what people are willing to pay.

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Preparing for Storage Unit Bidding

Before participating in your first storage unit auction, it helps to do some research and preparation beforehand. If you can, attend an auction or two without bidding first, so you can get a better idea of the process as well as a general feel for the individual storage facilities and the crowd each one draws.

Have a working knowledge of the REAL value of items

This is one of the biggest selling points of storage unit shows. The characters run back to their purchased units and start digging around, calling out prices as their totals tally up on-screen. Some wildly overestimate values while others are more reasonable, but the truth is that you can’t know how much you’ll make until you have the money in hand. A good way to find out how much items are selling for would be to check out online auction sites and filter search results to only show completed sales. This will give you a much better idea of what people are willing to pay, rather than looking up the price that sellers are asking for.

Ask about payment options and removal times before arriving

While most storage unit auctions require winning bidders to pay in cash, there are some storage facilities that will take credit cards. Checking beforehand can give you an idea of how flexible you can be with your bid amounts. Additionally, you’ll want to find out how long you have to remove the entire contents of your locker. If you only have 24 hours, you’ll probably want to come prepared with a trailer or moving truck.

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Two items you should always bring to a storage unit auction:

A flashlight and a padlock. The flashlight will come in handy for viewing units in poorly lit corridors or for peering further into well-stuffed lockers. The padlock is for your purchased storage unit. When the unit is sold, the owner typically pays and takes possession immediately. And if a facility employee had to snip the former owner’s padlock to get it open, you should have a way of securing your property promptly.

Shining a Light on Storage Bidding Myths

There are a lot of myths out there concerning the best ways to identify winning storage units and most should be taken with a grain of salt…if not a whole bag.

Myth: Older lockers mean better stuff

Different states have different laws on how long a storage locker can be kept before being placed on the auction block. Some come up for bid after a month, others three months or longer. If a storage facility has space to spare, it might take them longer to get to auctioning off a unit. Just because a locker has been sitting around for a while doesn’t mean that the items inside are any better; just dustier.

Myth: You have to go to a storage unit facility to participate in an auction

A number of storage facilities conduct live online bidding by providing pictures of each storage unit and a time limit for each auction. While this spares you the long hours of standing and shuffling around in a crowd, however, it also limits your view of the locker to the provided pictures instead of seeing the contents in person. And you’ll still have to drive down and clear out the locker within the required timeframe.

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Myth: The storage facility makes a lot of money on storage unit auctions

Not true! The storage facility is simply trying to recoup the money owed from delinquent rent. Once that’s covered, the remaining funds are typically available to the tenant to claim up to a certain amount of time after the sale.

Myth: Clean, well-organized storage units have better stuff

While people tend to store valuable items with a little more care than those just looking for a place to stuff their stuff, treasures can still be found in the messiest of lockers. Who knows? Someone might have put all of grandma’s rare Wedgwood “junk” in a locker and forgotten about it. And neat storage units could just as easily be one person’s very meticulous collection of boxed recipe clippings. Neat doesn’t automatically mean treasure.

Myth: You can distract other bidders from a good locker by wearing goofy outfits

Well, it can’t hurt to try, right? But if you go for any verbal or physical shenanigans, the auctioneer will likely have you removed and banned from further auctions at that facility. Keeping it professional is always the best way to go.

Storage unit auctions can be a rare thrill. The careful evaluation, the glimpses of items that might be something incredible, the low bid win and the excited digging…it’s almost like a trip to Las Vegas without the travel. And as long as you go into the bidding with the knowledge that winning the locker is only the first step in the money making process, you’re ready to turn those educated gambles into real profit.

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

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