Every day, people are making money by selling the things they buy from storage unit auctions. In fact, there's an entire A&E TV series on it — "Storage Wars."
You get to attend auctions. Dive into bidding wars. Scavenge for the "gold" in people's former belongings. And then flip it for a profit.
Sounds exciting, right?
If storage auctions are something that interests you, stick around. We're showing you how to do it.
America Loves Its Stuff
So how are storage auctions even "a thing?"
Well, it started with the rise of capitalism in America. Products were mass-produced, and the people's buying power increased. Cue the spending frenzy.
This led to the accumulation of stuff.
Many Americans soon realized the stuff they accumulated exceeded the space they had for it. There was a need to store this "excess," and storage units met that demand.
Ryan Daniel Moran recently interviewed Dan Yvars, a fellow baseball fan who flips baseball cards, a common find in storage units. Here’s that interview:
How Storage Unit Auctions Work
But how does a storage unit owner get to auction off the items that belonged to other people?
Renter Defaults on Payment
The most common reason that leads to an auction is that the renter defaults on payment. Maybe the renter is experiencing financial hardship. Or perhaps the renter died, and nobody else was aware of the storage unit.
For whatever reason, rent is late. The storage unit owner is then entitled to auction off the contents to recoup their loss of income.
Storage Unit Owner Exercises Due Diligence
There are specific steps and time frames to meet before the owner can proceed to a storage unit auction. And these requirements may vary by state.
First, the owner must reach out to the renter. Usually, they will document any calls made and emails sent. Also, they should send certified mail reminding them that an auction will take place if they don't pay their bill.
Absent any response, the owner can now advertise the auction. The auction should be help at least two weeks out. That gives the renter another opportunity to make payment and reclaim their belongings.
If there is still no response during the advertising stage, the unit owner is within their right to auction off the contents of the storage unit.
On auction day, bidders get to see whatever is in plain view from the doorway. But they aren't permitted to go inside the unit.
This is why storage unit auctions are so exciting.
Inside, valuable jewelry might be awaiting you. Or you may end up with boxes of junk.
After the auction ends, the winner and auctioneer will discuss payment terms. Sometimes the winner has to pay a cleaning deposit. If you clean out the unit by a particular deadline – usually two business days — then you get your deposit back.
Time to Resell
Now you're the proud owner of somebody's junk or treasure.
It's time to sift through the stuff.
If you find anything valuable, it's an opportunity to flip it for a higher price. But if you're stuck with junk, you may end up having to dispose of it responsibly or donate it.
The possibilities of what you'll find in a storage unit auction are endless!
Will You Find Junk or Treasure?
What is there to find in a storage unit?
Honestly, it's a gamble.
Think of all the different reasons somebody might rent out a storage unit.
- Moving into a smaller space and have too much stuff
- Safely store personal keepsakes and belongings
- Store seasonal decor
- Store family heirlooms
You won't know the value of your bid until you win the auction.
Photo Credit TMZ
Imagine being the new owner of some valuable football memorabilia. That's what happened when one bidder won Vince Young's Maxwell Award and some of his helmets when the football player himself lost it in a storage auction.
Photo Credit TMZ
Or when another bidder got lucky when he snagged football player Terrell Owens' NFL memorabilia in one of the best storage unit auctions ever .
If you get serious about storage auctions, you just might catch your own lucky break.
Finding Storage Auctions
Is your imagination running wild with possibilities? You might be wondering where you can find a storage unit auction. Some places you can look include:
- Your local newspaper
- Local Facebook groups
- Contact your local storage facilities
Google, of course, is also a great way to find nearby storage auctions. You can use search terms like "abandoned storage units near me" to find auctions held within your area.
You can also include your location to refine your search results. Terms like "public storage auctions Florida" and "NJ storage unit auctions" can offer helpful information.
Also, searching online marketplaces using terms like "storage unit auctions eBay." Or, "storage unit auctions craigslist" might yield some success.
Storage Auction Bidding Tips
Here are a few tips for buying storage units at auction to maximize your chances of success.
Start by Observing
If you're at your first storage auction, you might be better off taking a step back and observing. The chances are that the people you meet at one storage auction will be present at the next. It can be worth learning their habits to know what you should do and what you can do better.
Observe what they're doing.
- How do they look at storage units when it's available for viewing?
- When do they decide to raise a bid?
- At what point do they stop bidding?
Have a Plan
You only have a few days — sometimes just two or three — to move the stuff out after you win the auction.
You'll need to have a game plan to empty the unit, store the contents, and clean it up within the required time.
When you're ready to move, have the right tools in place:
- People to help
- Step stool
- Notebook and pen (useful for itemizing the belongings)
- Padlock to relock the storage unit
- Bags and bins for sorting
- Gloves and sanitizer (it's surprising how dirty and dusty some units can get)
Have a Keen Eye
It may take some practice to sort between what's valuable and what's junk. If you plan to get active in storage auctions, grow your knowledge on antiques, collectibles, sports memorabilia, and more.
This knowledge will equip you with the discerning eye you need to spot value.
If you're just starting, you may want to bring a friend more knowledgeable than you. You can also visit antique stores to get a ballpark valuation on certain items.
Research Where You Can Resell
Winning the storage auction is just one victory to your ultimate goal of making a profit. You'll still need to secure the sale after winning the auction.
The internet is making it easier than ever to sell stuff online. But some places fare better than others for particular items.
Etsy, for example, is excellent for niche handmade items. If you stumble across some handwoven quilts or jewelry, Etsy may be your best bet. eBay is also great if you hit the jackpot on any valuable sports memorabilia.
In addition to that, you can sell to physical stores. Flea markets and consignment stores are still great places to make money.
Can You Make Money on Storage Auctions?
Can you make money on storage units?
Whether you're the storage owner or a bidder, there is profit to be made on auctions. However, there are some risks.
If you're the owner and are auctioning, you would need to accept a bid high enough to recoup the losses from the previous renter's failure to make payment.
If you're the bidder, you might submit a high bid only to end up with junk on your hands.
You may find that sometimes you make money, and sometimes you lose money. Experience will increase your chances of profiting.
Is it Worth Buying Storage Units?
You may want to be the storage owner and auction units instead of bidding for them. Is it worth buying a storage facility?
In many cases, owning a storage facility can be a profitable business venture. Extra space is a commodity many people will pay for. Also, it is a reliable recurring income should you attract enough business.
There are some critical factors, though, to consider:
- What's your area's current population? Is there a large enough market where a storage facility would make sense?
- Do you live in a city or rural setting? People in cities often have to cram their stuff into smaller apartments, which may necessitate renting a storage unit. People who live in rural areas tend to have large homes that can house more of their belongings.
- How about the competition? Is there already a storage facility in your area? If so, how long has it been in business? People who rent a storage unit tend only to need one or two. Even if you offer a better value, is the manual labor of relocating their stuff worth the extra savings by signing with you?
How Much Can You Make Owning a Storage Facility?
If you decide to open your own self-storage business, what's the bottom line you can expect? As you learned, the need for space is real. Self-storage is a $39 billion industry. According to Sparefoot, the average monthly cost for a self-storage unit is $87.89. You can do the math based on how large your storage facility is and how many renters you can expect to sign.
How Do I Auction a Storage Unit
The above section outlines the necessary steps you need to take. Be mindful of the due diligence stage. You must make a conscious effort to reach out to the storage renter. Failure to do so may land you in some legal hot water should the original owner return to their unit to find it empty.
Is Storage Wars TV Show Fake?
There are tons of criticism regarding the authenticity of Storage Wars. David Hester, one of the stars on Storage Wars, was fired. He claimed that the show "staged items inside the 'hidden treasure' storage lockers."
True or not, the reality is that there is a potential profit in live storage auctions.
Can I Leave My Stuff in My Storage Unit?
As you learned from this article, if you leave stuff in a storage unit you're renting and fail to make a payment, you risk losing all your stuff in an auction!
Storage Wars isn't just a TV show. It's a real and often exciting way to make money. With that said, will you get rich from storage auctions? Unless you stumble across a treasure trove of gold and diamonds, the more likely answer is no.
But it can absolutely be an exciting way for you to throw your bid into the ring and hopefully come out a little wealthier.
In The One Percent, we recently took a deep dive into the whole idea of “buying low, selling high” which is the ideal outcome for anyone buying storage units at auction. If you’d like to learn more, or are an entrepreneur looking for “your people” they’re right here.