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  • Patrick Scott Patterson

The Truth About Storage Auctions

My collectibles business sources from a lot of different places. Estate sales, yard sales, thrift stores, direct purchases and, yes, storage auctions.


That last one raises eyebrows sometimes, and not just because of the perceptions sparked by shows such as Storage Wars. There's simply a lot of misconceptions about these sorts of auctions and I'm going to use this space today to cover that.




The misconceptions out there is that all storage locker buyers are swooping in to take advantage of other people's misfortunes. It's a nasty reputation that simply isn't warranted.


The majority of storage lockers that make it into auction are abandoned. While there are cases where someone hits hard times and can't make the payments, most of those get settled up before the auction even takes place. The vast majority of the remaining lockers that go up are ones left behind when someone moved, or passed away with no next of kin, or that just decided to stop paying the bill.


Storage auctions are a means of last resort for the facility. They need to rent that space to people who pay once a month, so they auction off those contents to help ensure that can happen. There are a ton of legal hoops they have to jump through to legally hold the auction and lot of it can be time consuming.


And in the end, rarely does the hammer price cover what the facility has lost money-wise. And if it does, they don't get to keep the overage. That goes to the former tenant.


What the storage auction buyer is doing is basically bidding on the right to clean out abandoned property. For the facility, it's either that or they throw the contents away.


So what of the times where precious, irreplaceable personal photos and items are left in a locker? 90+ percent of storage auction buyers are happy to give it all back. This is normally done by taking it back to the office of the storage facility, who will contact the owner and set up a time for them to come get it all.


This is rarely instant. On the TV shows, they dig through a locker in 90 seconds, find the Cup of Christ and run off to profit. In real life, it takes days, even weeks or months to process through everything. But almost every buyer is happy to turn that stuff back over, especially if the facility asks them to. Patience is a virtue.


Best advice? Don't leave that stuff in there in the first place. Or if you do, contact the facility and ask them to ask the buyer to bring it back... if they haven't already.


Let's also not forget about donations. We donate thousand of pounds of clothing, jackets, blankets and children's toys every year to charity, all of it turned up from storage locker auctions. Keeps this stuff out of the landfill and into the hands of people who need it.


This is also not easy money. The potential return on investment is high but it's real work, folks. Sweaty, dirty, back breaking kind of work. But the real-life treasure hunt of it is worth it most of the time.


So what if you ARE at risk of losing a unit when you didn't want to? I'm happy to give some advice on that.


First, make sure your information with the facility is current. The sheer amount of times I've heard a storage manager tell me a locker could go up simply due to outdated information is shocking. The auto-pay card on file expires and the phone number, address, etc. all changed and they have no way to get hold of the tenant.


TALK to the storage facility. Almost every one of them will try to work with you, especially early on. Simply not paying and swooping in at the last minute asking for them to work something out is not the way to go. They are human beings, too... they will try to work things out if you try as well.


If you no longer want to pay and just want to abandon the property, tell the facility. Most states will allow you to sign a Letter of Abandonment, which basically turns the contents over to them to auction off ASAP. This way, they can move on from it quicker than they can waiting months for an auction, and YOU aren't left holding a bill or going into collections for unpaid rent that way.


I'm always happy to give advice to anyone in these types of situations. Just because I buy lockers at auction doesn't mean I'm not. None of us are monsters, we're simply seeking stuff to sell and collect and keep in circulation in the world.


Anyone who thinks otherwise is not up on the reality of these types of sales.


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