By now, you’ve probably guessed that the reality shows like Storage Wars and Auction Hunters are exaggerated and fictionalized. The odds of coming across an incredibly rare artifact, signed one-of-a-kind memorabilia or historically significant document in a storage unit are pretty low, although such things do occasionally happen and tend to make headlines when they do. Just because you’re not likely to become a millionaire from the contents of a single storage unit, though, doesn’t mean it’s not worth attending an auction. Smaller items can and do add up, and storage units can be filled with a number of valuables if you know what to look for.
The type of items stored in a facility will depend in part on the neighborhood the unit is in. People store things for many reasons, and their reasons might affect what they’re keeping inside. For example, if the storage unit is in a common vacation town, it might belong to someone who summers there rather than living there full-time. If so, it might be filled with more sporting, fishing, hunting or other specialty equipment than housewares. Storage units in Hollywood do have a higher chance of holding celebrity memorabilia, although don’t get your hopes up too much.
Most of the time, the items you find will be more mundane. There are a few main reasons people get storage units:
-- They’re moving and need a place to keep things while they’re settling in.
-- They moved from a bigger house to a smaller one and need extra space.
-- They’re undergoing a divorce or other life change and need to keep their items tucked out of the way.
-- They simply have too much stuff to keep in their home.
Of course, for a storage unit to come up on auction, it must be abandoned. The tenant must have ceased paying rent; the auction can only proceed if no other method of settling the debt is available. Units are abandoned for several reasons:
-- The tenant passed away.
-- The tenant went to prison, was deployed or otherwise had to leave his belongings in the care of relatives, who forgot about them.
-- The tenant fell on hard times financially and couldn’t afford to make rent.
Most of the time, there are a few items you can count on being in some or all of your units: furniture, small appliances, electronics, household items and clothes. Antiques, artwork, office equipment and tools are also not uncommon. All of these can be resold if you’re patient. Some of the more valuable items can be sold individually on Craigslist or eBay; smaller items are better sold in bulk at a yard sale. Other common items, like tax records and family photos, pop up in most storage units. These can often be left with the facility manager to be returned to the tenant if he ever comes back looking for them.
The tenant’s circumstances will affect what type of things you’ll find in a unit. A unit rented by an elderly man with a lot of extra belongings and no heirs will look very different from one rented by college student who couldn’t afford her rent. This element of suspense is what makes this sort of modern treasure-hunting so exciting. So approach your first few auctions with an open mind and you might be surprised by the types of treasures you might find.
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I’ve gotten lucky a couple times at a storage auction. You have to really try to get a good look when they open the doors. Take a mental picture as fast as you can and try to determine what might be in it.
After owning my own storage company for 15 years, I am STILL amazed at what I might find in the units when others do not pay the bills.