The Art of Buying Lockers: How a Storage Auction Really Works

What Storage Auctions are Really LikeBack in 2012 J & I were hooked on Storage Wars (full disclosure: we still are). We started to wonder if these auctions existed where we live, and it turned out they did – a quick Craigslist search revealed an upcoming auction a short drive away, so we went to check it out.

It was a vault auction (that means big plywood units stored in a large warehouse) and the crowd was huge. It took most of the day to sell 13 units with about a hundred people oohing and aahing over what treasures might be inside. We had no intentions to buy, only to observe the shenanigans. But there was something about that last locker of the day. J couldn’t help himself, threw out a few bids and snagged the last unit for $230.

What we found inside is a story for another day, but our accidentally-on-purpose purchase was the first of many lessons we learned about the art of buying storage units. Yes, in most ways it’s just like the show. There’s drama. There are characters. There are team-ups. People really do bid with their eyebrows, and yes, they say “YUUUUP!”

But if you’re wondering how the process happens in real life, here are a few things you can expect when you attend a storage locker auction:

  1. There’s a small group of people who buy almost everything, and they all know each other. Yes, just like on Storage Wars, it’s generally a small part of the crowd who does all the buying, and it’s always the same people. That’s one part of Storage Wars a lot of people are sceptical of, but it’s absolutely true.
  2. Most of the time you do need a bidding strategy. You should change it up depending on your competition. If you’re known as that guy who never spends more than $100, then everyone knows how to play you. At the same time, if you have a reputation as an aggressive bidder who raises the price unnecessarily, people will start dropping units on you at high prices and you’ll never make much money.
  3. Bid on what you see. A lot of people get caught up with the promise of “mystery bins”. 90% of the time it’s clothing or fricking CDs or other useless, worthless junk. But if you can see five items in the unit that you think you can get $300 for, it’s usually smart to cap your bidding at $300. Then you know it’s not a loss.
  4. Be nice to the auctioneer. A good auctioneer doesn’t play favorites, but if you’re a jerk, you might not be welcomed back to the next auction. It’s a little community and it’s better to be part of it than excluded from it. They say there are “no friends at an auction”, but friendly competition keeps it fun and profitable.
  5. Don’t expect to get rich. Almost four years into this game we can still count on our combined twenty fingers the number of $1,000 or more items we’ve found. It’s exceedingly rare to hit it huge on one item. But the odds are still a lot higher than winning the lottery, and you can’t win if you don’t play…so might as well keep trying!

As this blog continues to grow, we’ll share a lot of secrets, stories and tips on how storage auctions work in real life, and what we’ve learned about the business, about people, and about the real value of “stuff”.

When you acquire so much stuff that other people have abandoned, your attitude towards owning “things” changes. A lot. We can teach you how to declutter, organize, spend less on storage, and even have a better life by changing your perspective on “stuff” and showing you how to make money at the same time.

We really hope you’ll hang out with us here on the blog, on Twitter, and on our Facebook page.

And right now we’d love for you to leave a comment below and answer this question: what do you most want to know about the storage auction business?

We’ll answer your questions in future posts! See you again really soon!

JJ
The Storage Warriors