Tips for Successful Storage Unit Auction Buying

A very common question that new eBay sellers ask is, “Where can I get stuff to sell?” One of my favorite answers is, “Storage unit auctions.”

As you probably know storage units are the little warehouse units where people can store stuff they don’t want in their house, what was left over from Grandma’s house or even merchandise from a failed business. From time to time they forget to pay the rent or decide to just stop paying for the unit. Abandoning the units means that in most US jurisdictions that the owner of the facility gains ownership of the contents. Most of them will put this stuff up for public auction so that they can get their unit cleaned and ready for a new paying customer.

The dream is that you walk into one of these sales, make an easy purchase of things that will sell quickly on eBay, and then make a lot of money. However, it very rarely happens this way.

More often than not, here’s what happens. Experienced buyers will outbid and outmaneuver you. You end up spending a lot of money buying junk that you can’t even get rid of at local flea markets or your own garage sale, much less sell online. It can be quite frustrating but there are some things you can do to limit this.

Most of the time, these auctions are ‘winner take all’ for the contents of a unit and the sale price can be highly variable. You have to be quick and observant because in many auctions you won’t be allowed to view the contents of a unit until just before the bidding begins. The lock is cut off the unit, the door is raised, and bidding starts very quickly with you and the other bidders only getting a brief glance at the contents.

Sometimes you’ll run across auctions where they’ve taken the time to separate out items into lots of various sizes or, for high priced items, selling them individually. This is good and bad because it makes the process less risky but it also will increase the final selling price.

It is a good policy to call the company running the auction or the storage company itself ahead of time to check out their payment policy and to find out how the contents will be presented and if any inspections prior to the auction are permitted. Sometimes you might even get a preview of what will be sold.

Most of these auctions are cash only. You can’t write a check or use a credit card so you will need to have cash in pocket. Always check out the area where the storage units are located. You don’t want to be carrying several hundred dollars into a high crime area!

If you find out the units will be open to inspection from the outside, take a good flashlight with you. You can use it to look into dark areas of the unit. If you’re lucky, you might see something worth buying that others missed or notice things like rat or roach infested mattresses that you want to avoid.

If the contents look well organized and labeled, especially if there are boxes of similar size and are sealed, this often means that the renter was storing retail merchandise. This can be a gold mine but others know this as well and you may drive the price up too high on boxes of dollar store trinkets.

Likewise, boxes of different sizes and types and general disorganized placement usually means household goods. This can be a riskier purchase since it means you might be stuck with someone’s old clothes and mementos. If the contents have a lot of obvious dust this is a good indicator that it’s been there a long time. This is a good indicator of collectibles or maybe just old junk.

I recommend avoiding units that have a lot of old, worn, furniture and bedding unless you happen to spot something of value when you inspect it. Rarely have I seen anything valuable come out of these units although some people do specialize in selling old furniture like this. I’ve heard some tales from them about valuables being found in them.

Another thing to remember is that you will usually need to have a way to haul your purchases out of the storage unit property. Sometimes you may find yourself having to sign your own rental contract to store your purchases. This can eat into your profits so you want to avoid this situation if at all possible.

So far as finding these auctions, your local paper, particular those that print legal notices, are a good source. You can also just call around to storage units and ask them although some get rather rude about it. Sometimes just dropping by in person can yield better results. You can search online at AuctionZip for auctions in your area.


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1 Comment »

2008-08-12 21:39:04

Oh how I would love to come across a storage unit auction for a unit filled with sailboat parts and accessories! I have never participated in one of these auctions. It is interesting to think of the different surprises that greet the lucky or unlucky winner of one of these auctions.

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