Storage auctions have been popularized by hit television shows such as “Storage Wars.” But are the auctions really like how they’re portrayed on TV? To some extent, yes! If you want to get in on the fun and try to find some hidden treasure, there are a few things you should know that the shows don’t tell you.
After a storage unit has been abandoned or gone into lien, self storage facilities may schedule an auction to clear out items. An auctioneer is brought in, and the units are auctioned off to the highest bidder.
What You Should Know Prior to the Auction
Ahead of arriving at the storage auction, the storage facility in charge will most likely require you to pre-register. That could mean signing up online, signing up at the facility itself prior to the day of the auction, or sometimes signing up at the facility on the day of the event.
How signup and registration are handled is determined by the facility manager, so don’t hesitate to reach out to the facility.
Know The Storage Auction Rules
Storage auctions typically include a set of rules. Those rules are:
You bid on the entire unit, not just one item
The auction of each unit is open
The unit is sold to the highest bidder
The winning bid must be paid in cash upon winning
A deposit may be requested by the site at their discretion until the unit is cleaned out.
The winning buyer is typically given 24 to 48 hours to clean out the unit or rent it
Vehicles are typically sold for parts only due to the lack of a title
Any firearms in the storage unit must be turned over to local law enforcement.
In some cases, facilities may require you to turn over any personal items to give the owner a chance to pick them up. This includes documents and photos. This may not be enforced at every storage facility, but it is considered to be good manners to return personal items if/when you find them.
Won Units Are Paid for Immediately
Once a storage unit has been purchased via a winning bid, the top bidder must pay the balance right away. You can’t put it on hold or come back with the money later in the day. You have to have on you the moment you win the bid/
Paying off the balance of the unit helps to ensure that the self storage facility gets back any lost costs associated with the unit being auctioned off. Additionally, once the unit is paid for, you may be allowed to start getting items out if no other auctions are going on around it.
You’re Not Allowed To Enter the Unit
During a storage auction, one of the biggest thrills is not knowing what is inside. This isn’t just a way to increase suspension on television either — it’s a real rule. You cannot enter a unit that’s up for auction. You can look into it (we suggest bringing a flashlight), but you can’t enter, touch, or move anything around before you purchase it.
Use your other senses too, such as your nose, to determine the condition of the items in the unit. If you smell something rotting, it may be time to look for another unit. You may also be able to smell cigarette smoke, moth balls, or other times of interest that may help you determine what is in the unit.
Cigarette smell usually sticks to cloth and fabric, while mothballs are commonly used to deter pests from chewing into clothing and furniture. When in doubt, do your research and follow your nose!
Will There be Buried Treasure in the Units?
We can’t promise that every unit will have a hidden gem in it. It does happen every now and then, but it’s rare for people to store valuables away from their home. You may find antiques, old clothing, old kitchenware and appliances, furniture, and some things that will sell for a good price, or will be useful, but you won’t always strike gold like they do on TV.
Finally, Know What to do with the Contents
When you win a storage unit auction, you purchase everything inside the unit. That means you’ll need a plan (and fast!) for moving everything out. So come with a plan. Have a trailer ready, or a larger truck, and supplies such as gloves, face masks, and a pocket knife to dive in the unit right away.
You’ll want a plan for everything, including what to throw away, what to donate, what to get appraised, and what to sell. We recommend finding a system that works for you, so you don’t have to bring everything from the unit straight to your home.
Some facilities might let you rent the unit for a month and remove the items during that time. The sooner you clean out a unit, the more time you’ll have to evaluate—and then sell—what you find.
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