February 19, 2018

Tips from a Storage Unit Auctioneer

Tips from a Storage Unit Auctioneer

I think there is a lot of knowledge shared by all of you in the comments. I think some people will go back and read comments weeks after they’ve read an article, but most will only read them at the time they read the article.

There was a comment in the storage unit article I wrote by a man who is an auctioneer at storage locker auctions. It had so much great info in it that I asked his permission to publish it as its own article and he agreed. I think buying storage lockers could be a good way to get any camping or other prepper gear that might be inside. But it could also be a great side business for anyone with a little extra cash and the time to resell the items.

The following is written by Old Alaskan:

Let me share my 20+ years as a Defaulted Storage Auctioneer and Buyer.
Security, yes the circle lock is one of the hardest locks for the average person to cut. We use an 18V DeWalt Angle grinder, but in a bug out situation an “us or them” then a sledgehammer would do. I have seen a locksmith open one of these in 15 seconds. Most facilities have electronic gates and an extended power outage would make these gates un-useable. They do have a manual over-ride but you cannot count on it being activated so small bolt cutters to cut the chain link fence, If it has one, will be necessary.

Location, some of the storage companies are located close to high density housing, apartment complexes, and low income housing so plane on your location. It is widely known that you can find all manner of good stuff in storage units, thank you Storage Wars, so you might find your unit already looted, if not then you might need an armed guard while loading out and don’t forget the possibility of an ambush on your way out. The gate or hole you made in the fence will be a great ambush site.
Large rollup doors are nice for ease in loading and unloading the unit but think of this a door that swings open with a dirty mattress right behind it. I have seen several units like this and behind the mattress was a treasure trove. I bought some like this cheap because all the other bidders saw was a dirty mattress. So build a wall of junk to discourage theft if your unit is broken into. Most break-ins are grab and dash.

Now let’s look at the flip-side of BUYING defaulted storage units.

It’s strange how when you have your day planed out an incident or phone call changes your whole day and sometimes the next two days. This is why people should be preppers, not to prepare for disasters but to be prepared for what life and God throws at us. So it was Wednesday April 30 when I answered my phone, the person at the other end said Chuck we’re having a storage auction at 11 AM and I’m calling you to make sure you will be there. I replied sure I’ll be there if I can. I debated in my mind do I REALLY need to go I have a full day of work and enough junk in my life but curiosity won out over logic besides it’s a beautiful sunny day who wants to work indoors.

This is unusual for me since my auction company does most of the storage auctions in our area. Some of the questions I receive at my storage auctions are: how do I find out about these auctions? Well, all but 2 states have “Storage Lien Laws” Vermont and Alaska are the exceptions. These auctions must be posted in a public area. Most of the time this means the Legal Notices in your local newspaper BUT don’t just rely on this, any paper of general circulation will meet the requirements. In Indianapolis, IN. the Court Reporter publication meets this criteria. When all else fails get out the yellow pages and call storage companies and ask where they post defaulted storage auction notices and do they notify potential bidders? Or call the local auctioneers and ask if they do storage and notify bidders.
Once you find a notice then what? Well, the notice must have Date, Time, Location, Name and sometimes unit number. This is supposed to be for the tenant to be notified that they are about to lose their belongings if they don’t pay their storage bill but you can use this to your advantage. You have a name do a computer search of that person what can you learn about that person and attach it to the unit number when you show up. DON’T share this information its part of your arsenal. Remember the tenant has up to the day of the auction to pay what is owed so units may be missing from the auction notice.

On the day of the auction it’s pretty much like on TV but a lot of time without the drama. If possible don’t buy a unit the first day unless it absolutely jumps out at you. Watch, listen, and observe who the major bidders are, what do they bid on, what trash and smack is being said by the big hitters about the unit and what do they do after they say it. If there are any more auctions that day tag along and when the last unit is sold quietly ask around if anyone needs help loading their units and you are willing to help with maybe some barter for your labor. This is a good way to see what was in the unit and get a feel for some of the things in the units. Personal Items, Birth Certificates, Family photos (Picture frames are NOT personal Items) the cremated remains of Granny or Grand pop, all should be given back to the storage company to be returned to the tenant. What to watch out for, there are unscrupulous Auctioneers and Storage Companies so here are some things to watch for.

As an auctioneer I have it in my contract with the storage companies that the “working auction company personal” cannot bid at these auctions.

Shill bidding, Puffing, Ghost Bidders, bouncing bids are all unethical and in many cases illegal. Research the uniform commercial code 2-328 “Sale by Auction” All but one state has adopted this code as a state statute, Louisiana is the exception. If you suspect the auctioneer of doing this don’t bid and leave and let your feelings be known to the storage owner but sometimes they are in on it also so just don’t attend their auctions.

Staged Units, here is where the owner, manager or auctioneer will go through the unit and pull good items out to entice you to bid more or to hide garbage behind the boxes. An auctioneer here where I live puts his personal junk into units and then puts empty gun cases or empty Makita tool boxes in the units to entice people to bid more. After a while you will be able to spot a staged unit remember DUST is your friend. If the boxes are taped and the tape peeling with a layer of dust on top of them then you have a good indication of an OLD non-staged unit.

Cherry Picking, If you see disturbed dust on boxes, boxes with the tape cut open, empty gun or tool cases, items tossed about these are all clues to a cherry picked unit where the owner, manager or auctioneer took items from the unit and if the auctioneer has similar items at his weekly or monthly auction house auctions then it’s a good bet he cherry picks the units.

Firearms, every state has a different law on firearms so I will just mention what the BATF has to say about firearms in storage ………………………………………………….. and that is what BATF has to say about firearms in storage auctions. Check on your area what are your states firearms laws. There is an auctioneer here that says it’s a federal law and if you find a firearm in a unit you must give it back to the auctioneer. BULL PUCKYS there is NO federal law that says this. He resells it and keeps the money. The lying thieving scumbag.

This is what I do, when we open the unit I look for firearms or signs of firearms I do not enter the unit unless I see a sign of a firearm and if any are found I clear them, then let the people who are inclined, fondle them, then sell them. You pay for the firearms after the auction and then we go to The Auction House and fill out the paperwork and for the NICS background check, if you pass you get the firearm if not you DO NOT get a refund and we resell it at our next auction house auction and you hope for a profit. But what if the gun was used in a crime? I almost always get this question now let’s reason this through, Abby from NCIS doesn’t work at every crime lab in the country and police departments wont test if the firearm was used to murder someone it’s just too expensive, NEXT what if it was used in a robbery, what robber will stand there and say “this is a hold up give me all your money and by the way this is a Smith & Wesson .357 revolver it’s serial number is XXXCCCC it’s a model XY.” But what if it’s been stolen, well most home owners haven’t wrote down on a paper the make, model, Serial Number, caliber of their firearms so there is no way to know if the firearm is stolen. Then if the home owner’s insurance policy paid off on the theft the home owner must reimburse the insurance company the money paid. Most could not do this since they spent the money. What happens then is the police keep the firearm and either destroy it, or sell it at auction and use the money to buy more equipment and bullets. There is a saying “if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there does it make a noise?” Keep your mouth shut.

Bidding strategies, well there really aren’t too many, jump bids sometimes they work and most times they don’t, I hate to say this but watch some of the strategies on “Storage Wars & Storage Wars Texas. The other shows are heavily staged.

After a while in about a year or two you will get a feel for these units and you will feel more comfortable in buying them. I know several people who make a good full time living buying storage and operating a thrift store. But the more money you lose the quicker you will learn. I know a person who only buys $50.00 or less units and has a very good side income.

Bidder fees, some auctioneers are greedy and charge a registration fee to sign in skip them this in my opinion is the first warning sign of an unethical auctioneer.

Buyer’s Premium, a 10% premium on top of your bid is not unreasonable any more than this is greed. So if you bid $100.00 you final bill will be $160.00. What that doesn’t compute I forgot a cash only $50.00 cleaning deposit which you get back when you clean the unit out.

Now that you bought a unit what do you do now? You usually have 24 or 48 hours to clean it out but what do I do with all the stuff? Let’s see there is Craig’s list and people who don’t show up for appointments to see something, Yard Sale and tie up a weekend you could be out at storage auctions, open a thrift store or http://www.maxanet.com. You can set up your own E-bay style auction site, do timed auctions and move a lot of merchandise from your garage or shed this way. You will need a digital camera and a lap top a website from Go Daddy and the fees to set up the site. Everything can be done for $500.00 or less.

What will you find in a storage unit? Well look around your house, anything and everything, Kitchen, Bath, Bedroom, Garage, Shed Anything & Everything.
In some parts of the country you will find things that you won’t find in another part of the country. In Indianapolis there are a lot of antiques, glassware & Pottery, here where I live we have two military bases and a huge outdoor sport population so besides the normal household items we also find camping, fishing, hunting and yes guns & ammo, also military items but not much in antiques.
So depending on your local area you could find lots or limited items for prepping but you will always find some things.

What should I bring Well dress for the weather we do auctions year round here even in winter when the temperature is 20 below zero, a flashlight, padlocks, cash in 5’s, 10’s, 20’s 50’s and 100’s change is sometimes at a premium with the auctioneer, and be ready to wait while everyone looks into the unit.
As for the phone call that ruined my Wednesday. I showed up about 20 minutes early and signed in which is normal and talked with the owner and manager, I’m well known in certain circles because of my auctions. It’s a good tactic to get to know the managers, Donuts or cookies or candies at Christmas time goes a long way. Many storage companies need weekend managers but don’t go that route as you will be working during the auctions.

Only four people showed up for this auction. The storage company didn’t advertise to hard so this is normal for this location. It was me, my oldest son and two regulars at my auctions. They showed us one unit an 8 X 30 and they said that they would be coming back and auction it later and we went to another unit an 8 X 20 with two doors. I looked into the first door and a large stainless steel propane smoker literally jumped out at me and I wanted one of these to smoke salmon this summer. This is dangerous don’t fall in love with a unit. I saw two tube TV’s definite dumpster junk, 3 dirty mattresses 3 mountain bikes of low level value, a propane tank for the BBQ, 2 LARGE white coolers (hmmm camper, fisherman goes through my mind, harps are playing) in the next door a red sofa & love seat, cheap pack frames (Kids) tents, darn I’m falling in love, Miter saw and as I went back to the first door my son said Dad did you see the crossbow on top of the mattresses????? I look up and there are harps and angels singing and flowers and hearts I’m in love.

This is a very dangerous frame of mind you can lose a LOT of money in this state of mind. The owner asks for a bid and no one says anything so I open at 100 thinking a strong opening might scare them away it doesn’t another says 50 I say 200 he says 50 I say 300 well it didn’t go this fast there is posturing and dancing with heads down really all the signs that you want it but you are trying to portray that you are indifferent to the unit. It stops at $300.00 I guess he’s thinking if I ever want to get a unit at my auction he should back out WELL I DON’T operate like that but I get the unit. We go to the other unit we saw earlier and my son says $25.00 there are no other bids and he gets it for $25.00. I go to the office and there is a $100.00 cash only cleaning deposit and I have less than 6 hours to clean it out and I promised the wife to take out for lunch oh crap.

After lunch my wife drops me off at The Auction House and I get our truck and meet her at the storage yard. My son comes from his unit and crawls into mine and hands me a VIPER COPPERHEAD crossbow and 8 arrows (bolts). He then spreads the mattresses and says here dad, a gun boot for a 4 wheeler with a Mossberg 500 in it that no one saw comes from between the mattresses. This is always a good hiding spot for rifles, mirrors, glass table tops so always check these carefully before moving them, 3 propane tanks, 4 tents, 2 cheap aluminum pack frames, about 20 fishing rods and several boxes of lures. We still have to unpack the boxes but if I sold what I got now I would more than quadruple my price but I could use a 150 pound crossbow, smoker, propane tanks and another Mossberg 500. I can still sell the rest and still triple my bid. As for my son his unit was a Hawaiian unit and will clear at least $1,000.00 or more. There is Tappa Cloth and other interesting things in it.
Not every unit is a home run I have had my share of stinkers and if anyone asks me what I got on Wednesday well it was all busted trash in the unit and went to the dump. NEVER let on to anyone what you find then the prices will go up unless you are the auctioneer who works on a commission then everything in the unit is great stuff.

I have 3 regular bidders at our storage auctions who have full-time thrift stores. The wife of one confided in me that she doesn’t have to buy laundry detergent, Bath soap, TP, and many other items and their food bill is almost nill. The find all kinds of useable personal items in the units they buy. One store owner has 3 full-time employees; another is him and his wife as is another. They all do this full time and seem to be making a go of it since they have been coming to my auctions for several years.
Storage auctions are like gold mining you must move tons of dirt to find a nugget.
Happy Hunting

The feedback from an auction that I conducted on May 3, 2014 was one unit had some silver coins, another gold jewelry, another Alaskan Native items, 2 others firearms (Ruger 10/22, S&W .45 pistol) Shelving material, Stainless Steel racks on wheels and lots of stuff. You just never know.

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