Today 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
After 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.
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!