Most auctioneers will give you only a few minutes to view the contents of a storage unit before commencing the sale. Often there may be many people present and you will be expected to spend even less time sizing-up a unit for which you may have an interest. For these reasons it’s quite important to develop a sense for quickly judging the worth of a unit’s contents prior to placing your bids.
Some “regulars” will tell you their bids are based only on what their eyes can see and that anything else they find is pure profit. I think that’s a smart and conservative approach if you absolutely cannot stand to take any risk on a given unit. However, some of the best units I’ve encountered were simply boxes or plastic tubs that were stacked as far as the eye could see. In that case, you’re risking money on the unknown; however, experience tells us many of these units can be profitable. Some are extremely profitable.
I’m not running a large commercial operation and tend to buy only a few storage units at auction each month. For this reason I rely more on quality of a given unit, rather than quantity of units acquired. Determining the quality of a dimly lit unit with often less than a minute to peer inside is not always an exact science. I’m generally looking for a unit to meet the following criteria when placing a bid:
- A clean and organized look; boxes stacked neatly and of similar size or type.
- Sturdy boxes made of thick cardboard; liquor boxes are known to often contain items of value.
- If furniture is visible, I’m checking to see if it’s of high-quality construction or an antique item.
- I have less interest if a lot of clothes, cheap furniture or old CRT TV sets or monitors are present.
While I am most interested in units that are neat in appearance, often you will come across the larger 10×20 (and above), outdoor storage lockers that are completely stuffed with odd items. It sometimes looks like whole houses have been stuffed into these one-car-garage-sized units, with loose items stacked on top of each other. Usually these units go for $500-$1,000 and up, and you can find thousands of dollars worth of tangible goods in them. One guy I know pulled a $10,000 Harley Davidson out of the back of such a unit. It was covered by so much stuff, none of the auction patrons could tell it was back there. He purchased that unit for around $1,000.
I have purchased a few expensive “duds” in my time; units that I thought looked great at first glance. Sometimes your instincts are wrong, and that costs you time and money. You may end up paying a lot for the “privilege” of cleaning out a unit for the storage facility holding the auction. You may get some tax relief by donating the contents of these units to a non-profit entity, but usually you will not recoup your costs of time and cash this way.
Don’t be too discouraged when you hit a bad unit. If you purchase enough units you will undoubtedly experience this at some point. Try to minimize your exposure by keeping your bids in check and applying what you’ve learned. Your experience and instinct will almost always pay off.
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