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Going, Going, Gone: FAQs About Bidding on Storage Units Up for Auction

Do you like to watch shows such as Storage Wars or Auction Hunters? The suspense of a storage unit auction bidding war, the elation of finding on-of-a-kind memorabilia or valuable items, and even the schadenfreude of watching a cutthroat bidder end up with a unit full of useless junk all make for great TV. But can you really make money from a storage unit auction? How does it all work? Read on for the answers to some frequently asked questions.

What Is A Storage Unit Auction?

When a self-storage customer defaults on their monthly or yearly payment, the company has the right to auction off any belongings in the unit to help recoup their losses.

Unlike household auctions or those in the world of fine art and antiques, self-storage auctions offer up the entire contents of a unit as a lot. Whoever wins the auction for a particular storage unit is therefore responsible for removing its contents, whether they want all of the individual items or not.

How Can I Find Out About Upcoming Auctions?

Self-storage facilities are legally required to post notices about upcoming auctions in state and local newspapers, so that is a good starting place. Of course, a Google search will also return results. You may want to follow self-storage companies in your area on social media, and of course you can always telephone the companies directly to inquire about their auction schedule.

How Do Bidders Know What’s Inside the Unit?

They don’t. That’s part of the risk of bidding at a storage auction, and many people who pursue this pastime say that’s the fun part! The unit will be opened up, and you can peer inside to get an idea of what the contents look like – is it stacks of cardboard boxes or plastic storage bins? Bulky furniture covered in tarps? A mint-condition cherry-red 1964 convertible Mustang? (OK, it’s almost guaranteed not to be a mint-condition cherry-red 1964 convertible Mustang. But a bidder can dream!)

What Will Happen After I Win A Unit?

In almost all cases, you will need to pay and clean out the unit you’ve won immediately after the auction.

It’s important to bring plenty of cash with you to a storage unit auction. Most storage facilities do not accept credit or debit cards as payment. Moreover, you might not have time to hit up the ATM after placing a winning bid. There’s a very small window of time for making your payment, and if you delay, you might forfeit the unit to the next highest bidder.

Be advised that you will likely be asked to put down a deposit, to ensure that you don’t abandon a unit after finding out it holds nothing of value.

You’ll want to have transportation arranged prior to the auction, as well. Bring a truck, large van, or trailer to haul away your new treasures — a couple of helpers isn’t a bad idea, either!

Expect to spend at least a few hours cleaning out the unit and sorting the contents. Bring along some garbage bags, a few sturdy boxes in case the unit is filled with loose items or the previous owner’s boxes have rotted away, some cleaning supplies, a pair of work gloves, and a heavy-duty flashlight. Some units have overhead lights, but many do not.

Should I Feel Bad About Taking Someone’s Stuff?

No. The storage facility’s employees will already have done their due diligence in trying to make contact with the renter. The terms and conditions regarding non-payment are spelled right out the rental agreement, as well.

“Every possible attempt to get in touch with the renter is made,” explains Terry Drayton, founder and CEO of Livible, a company that rents storage units in Boston and elsewhere.

Once auctioned off, the contents of a storage unit are the legal property of the winning bidder.

Anything Else I Should Know?

It is wise to attend a few storage auctions with the intention of just watching and getting a feel for how the process works. Of course, it can be difficult not to get caught up in auction fever, so leave your wallet at home if you have an impulsive streak.

Even when you do bring money, set yourself some limits. As with any type of auction, things can get competitive quickly and if you’re not careful, you might end up bidding well over your budget just for the thrill of winning.

In short, self-storage auctions can be an entertaining and even lucrative pastime, but smart attendees go into them knowing that it’s a gamble. You might hit the jackpot with valuable antiques, collector’s items, or high-ticket electronics, or you might be stuck with someone’s old clothes, moldy books, and broken appliances. Having a sense of humor and being resourceful as you decide what to do with your newly acquired items will go a long way toward keeping the venture enjoyable.

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