My Storage Auction Adventure

by Alex on April 28, 2012

storage unit auctionToday I’d like to take a break from Google and SEO stuff and talk about one of my offline money making methods. If you’ve ever watched Storage Wars on A&E you probably know all about storage unit auctions and how they work. If not, here is a quick summary…

What is a Storage Unit Auction?

If someone is late on paying their monthly rental fees for a storage unit, the storage company has the right to auction off the contents of that locker. The company must announce the auction to the general public and you can find the listings for these auctions in your local newspaper or online at a site called Auction Zip. At the auction bidders can only look inside the unit, no searching through boxes or rummaging around to see what exactly is in there. The bidders have to look in the unit and use their best judgement on what is in there and how much it could be worth. In a way it is sort of a gamble, but if you have experience selling stuff on eBay and Craigslist the odds can be in your favor. Most companies will require you pay in cash and usually charge a $50-100 cleaning fee on top of the final auction value.

How I Got Started With Storage Auctions

When I got out of the Navy back in 2010 I had been watching a lot of shows about storage auctions and figured I’d take a shot at it since they made it look so easy. I had some money saved up and a lot of free time since I was waiting to start school in the spring. I began looking around and found the Auction Zip website and was surprised to find that their were dozens of storage auctions every week in my area. For about a month straight I would go to 5-10 auctions per week and see how the process worked and after going a few times I started bidding on the units. I would say out of the 50+ auctions I went to I only saw maybe five units that were worth bidding on. The TV shows make it seem like every other unit is filled with valuables but in reality the majority of units that come up for auction are full of junk.

The $1,600 Storage Unit

stuff inside storage unitAfter about a month I finally got lucky and won a unit. This was one of the best units I had seen and although I would have liked to have gotten it for a cheaper price, I was pretty stoked when I won it. As you can see from the first picture, there were a lot of people at this auction. About 75 people showed up and when they opened the door for this locker everyone got excited. The unit was packed and in the back you could see two big toolboxes, a big Dewalt saw, a guitar, and a bunch of other tools. “Not too shabby” I thought to myself, I moved out of the way to let others check it out. The bidding started and the price quickly shot up to $1,000. Hold on now, was there something I had missed? I went back and looked and in the corner under a blanket I could see a handlebar sticking out…Oh SNAP! My hand shot up and before I knew it I had won my first storage unit, for a whooping $1,600! This was definitely one of the most expensive units I had seen auctioned off but I had a lot of the seasoned pros tell me that I got a good deal, and most of them hadn’t even seen the dirt bike handlebar sticking out.

After I had paid ($1,650 total including the auction fee) I went back to the unit and started to dig around. I took off the blanket and found a 2006 Suzuki DRZ 125 dirt bike, freaking awesome! This bike sold for $3,000 brand new. I kept digging and found a Fender guitar that was in great condition, a cool 8 ft. windmill, dozens of drills, saws, and the two toolboxes were packed with drill bits, sockets, every kind of tool you could imagine. I was pumped, but then I quickly realized I had a TON of junk. I called a friend to come help and we had to rent a big U-haul to get everything out (you normally only have about 1-3 days to completely clean out the unit). That cost me about $80 and since I live in an apartment I had to go rent another storage unit that was close to home to store all this stuff. That cost me $80 per month.

So I was already down about $2,000, how was I going to make a profit here? I called my cousin to come check some stuff out and he ended up buying $400 worth of tools. Then I began listing things on Craigslist and eBay and sold another $400-500 worth of stuff within a few weeks. After that things slowed down, I had a bunch of Christmas stuff and small items that were going to be hard to sell. I didn’t want to list them all one-by-one on eBay so I ended up holding on to them for a few months. Eventually I was able to offload the rest of the stuff at a neighborhood yard sale for about $600. In the end, I would guess that I got about $3000-$3500  for all of the items in the unit.

storage unit dirt bikestorage auction guitar

storage auction toolbox

 

drill bits and sockets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a breakdown of how much I sold the big items for:

  • Dirt bike: $425 (not running)
  • Toolbox: $400
  • Assorted Drills, Saws, Chainsaw: $400
  • Paint Sprayer: $125
  • Jeep Headlight: $100
  • Dewalt Saw: $150
  • Fender Guitar: $250
  • Windmill: $50
  • Mixer: $75
  • Yard Sale items: $600

I still have a few items that I’m either keeping or just haven’t gotten around to selling yet, including one of the toolboxes that is empty now, another Jeep headlight, a nice air compressor, and a nitro RC car. All things considered, I did pretty good and came out on top with a gross profit of about $1,500.

Would I do It Again?

Honestly, storage auctions are a lot more work than I had originally expected. They make it look so easy on TV but there are a lot of things that go on behind the scenes that they leave out. If you want to get started with storage auctions it is a lot of fun and can be very profitable, BUT there are a crucial things you need to get set up first.

1) A place to store all the junk! It may take weeks or even months to find the right buyer for all the stuff, so make sure you have an empty garage or shed where you can put everything while you wait.
2) A big van or truck to tote things around in. This one is pretty self-explanatory.
3) Somewhere to sell everything! If you or somebody you know runs a thrift store or pawn shop then it makes things a lot easier. Otherwise you will have to sell on eBay, Craigslist, yard sales, or even at flea markets.

If you can lock down all three of these steps then you are good to go. Like I said storage auctions are a lot of fun, but it’s not “easy money”. Right now, I just don’t have a big enough vehicle or anywhere to store things so I’ve taken a break from storage auctions.

I hope you enjoyed the story, and if you’re planning on trying this out yourself good luck and let me know if you have any questions. Thanks for stopping by!

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Austin April 29, 2012 at 5:02 am

really interesting post alex! I’ve always wanted to do one of these locally, but like you said… i’ve NEVER seen a good auction. Are you in a college town? I suspect I’ll have some nice stuff locally once my friends all graduate in the next couple weeks. Time to hit the storage areas!
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avatar Alex April 29, 2012 at 5:37 am

Hey bro, yea I live near Charlotte, NC so there are a lot of colleges around and it is a pretty huge city in general. If you live near a big city I’m sure you can find some good auctions, just check out that Auction Zip site. Good luck!

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avatar Nigel- The Biggest Newbie April 29, 2012 at 6:32 am

What a great case study Alex. You actually went out and did it. I seen the Storage Wars series on pay TV as I live in Australia. The inital impression I got from the show was it was easy judging from the profits they make. They then showed the unlocked storage wars shows (2 parts) where they disclose it’s hard work and you might find 4-5 units out of every 100 you buy that are winners. Good post.

Nigel

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avatar Marci April 29, 2012 at 1:58 pm

For those who live in big cities, it is always easier and more practical to find good auctions, is like investing money offline …

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avatar Glenn Whitten April 30, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Interesting adventure Alex. The valuations they give on Storage Wars are often way high in my opinion. From your itemized list it looks like you did OK. Congrats!
Thanks,
Glenn

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avatar Alex May 3, 2012 at 4:34 pm

Cool story, I never knew this even existed. Sounds like it could be pretty exciting… Who knows what you could get :O
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avatar Zobu implanti May 11, 2012 at 9:28 am

Damn , you are lucky, i wish these auctions would be in my country

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avatar Sean King May 14, 2012 at 6:42 pm

I’ve never even heard of this method of making money before. It was an awesome read but definitely sounds like way to much work! Regardless, I really enjoyed the post. Thanks Alex
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avatar Willox Perez June 6, 2012 at 9:26 pm

I really enjoyed the interview and the answers by Mr. X, extremely honest answers and to the point. I learned a lot from them and wish I would have came across this post before.

He is right on point in regards to adsense as they can get rid of your account in the blink of an eye. Right now aiming to take your same approach as flipping adsense sites as side income knowing though that it is not reliable in the long run.

I am going to take the advice on concentrating on doing a site on what I love and going from there building a list.

Google will not be my master! LOL

Awesome post Alex! will be following your blog closely from now on.

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avatar Mrs June 15, 2012 at 8:52 am

hi!! i’m from the charlotte, nc area. i need to get rid of the big stuff i have in storage. send me an email if you’re interested..

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avatar Anon October 23, 2012 at 5:41 pm

It’s interesting that how I was reading something on Warriorforum, saw your sig. and thought it would be some cool pics. Came here and ended up reading the whole article and have really enjoyed it. Have to stay focus next time :)

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avatar Penelope Riggs June 24, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Just thought I would share my experiences so far. I’ve been attending storage auctions since July and went to about 10 auctions before I bought my first unit for $1050. It was a 10×30, so pretty big, and it ended up being full of old comics, sports cards (nearly 500,000 and all virtually worthless) and collectible toys (the big score). It was also about 10% trash and 10% that got donated. Up about $4000 in profit and have sold maybe 15% of what I’ve got (although we’ve sold 80% of the really good stuff). I also bought a small locker of “mystery boxes” for $185; it all ended up being old lady clothes and kitchen items, so I donated it all. The last locker I bought apparently used to belong to the former head coach of the Colorado Crush football team and it was full of typical household items and a ton of Crush promotional giveaway stuff (look up Colorado Crush on eBay and buy some :D ), spent $500 and will probably make $200 profit if I’m lucky. Lots of personal family type stuff as well that was returned to management.Obviously not expecting to get rich doing it, but still fun, regardless of what you think you know about the show or the industry. Do I think some storage managers go through lockers before auction? Or course I do, but there are some honest managers out there too. Expect to get a bunch of household items typically (imagine packing up your kitchen and your spare bedrooms, this is likely what you find in a storage locker). Expect big crowds (depending on the auction company) but usually you’ll only see 3-5 actual bidders. Expect to end up with a lot stuff you don’t know what to do with (luckily we’ve got a guy that will take anything we don’t want, win-win). And unfortunately, expect to find some porn (2 for 3 so far). :D Good luck!
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