Storage Auctions: The New Fool’s Gold

The family tree of reality television continues to grow new branches, one of the newest focuses on storage auctions. The idea is simple, you bid on someone’s deliquent storage locker, you win, and inside this unit is untold riches. As someone who has a little experience in this activity I can tell you that you are being mislead by the glitz and glitter of showbiz magic. I am not saying that you can’t make money this way, but my experience has been nothing like what you see on television. 

I have probably been to 8 or 9 storage auctions and my observations of each of them has pretty much been the same. Here they are:

  • The TV shows have created a Gold Rush mentality-  Dozens of people, some times over 100 people, will show up to the auctions now. More people means more bidders, every person you see is just another guy/gal that can drive up the price. You don’t like them and they don’t like you. It makes for a miserable atmosphere.
  • Units are selling for much more then they are worth. Time after time I watch these cowboys bid 300, 400, 500+ dollars for a storage locker. To me this is just insane, and I can safely guess that many of them are losing  a lot of money. 
  • When you do win a unit you have to empty it out and store it. Have you ever helped a friend move? Yeah, its like that.
  • The people who work at the storage place pick through the lockers. I don’t have concrete evidence to support this, but one time I was talking to one of the managers of a storage facility and he seemed to know a awful lot about what was in each of the lockers. A lot of theses guys are weird, shifty characters, that are alone with this stuff. Stealing from delinquent lockers is a victimless crime to them.
My Experience: After going to several auctions and being outbid many times, I finally won a locker. I was elated. It was a 20×40 locker, it was half full, mostly with boxes and it had a “Mongoose Mountain Bike” that caught my eye. I paid 200 dollars for it and another 100 for a U-haul truck. It took me the better part of a day, but I managed to clean out the locker and drive its contents back to my garage. 
Do you know what was in all of those boxes? Used, beat up christmas decorations. Yup, worthless left over decorations from some guys office. I figured out his story as I sorted through his stuff. He was some type of construction worker, an immigrant, he got into  trouble and got deported. Once he was out of the country his girl friend put his office stuff in storage and tried to get him back into the country. She failed to do so and couldn’t afford to keep his stuff in storage.
I bought it and sorted through 30-40 boxes of worthless junk. Sure I found a few tools, and some metal filing cabinets that I sold for 18 bucks worth of scrap. The bike that looked so valuable was a cheap Chinese bike that I sold for 80 dollars. When all was said and done all of my hard work, time, and energy, cost me 100 dollars. I paid 100 dollars to empty out someone else’s storage unit. 
In the end if I could have paid less for the locker I would have made some money. That’s the trouble, with all of this new interest (myself included), the price of the lockers is being bid up so high that all of the profit is wiped out of them. Could I have won a locker with a jewelry box full of gold? Sure, but how often does that really happen. One in 10 times? One in 20? Are you willing to lose 2000 bucks to find out?
Perhaps when all of the hysteria around storage auctions goes away it might make economic sense to try them out again. If you can buy a locker for 50 dollars instead of 500 you might be able to make enough money for it to be worth it. Obviously this is just my experience, if you disagree please leave me a comment in the comment section. 

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