The most common question we hear when friends ask about this business is, “How do you find them?” In our state (Wisconsin, USA), there is a law that in order for the owner of the storage unit business to clear out the unit for the next renter, it must be published that a sale will be held. The public notice needs to be made a certain amount of days ahead of the sale and will list the location, time, date, name of the facility, name and address of the person whose goods will be auctioned off. This gives reasonable time for the person or person’s family to show up and pay the bill before the sale.
The most common question we hear when friends ask about the abandoned storage unit business is, “How do you find them?”
It is very important to call the storage unit business the morning of the sale. There may be no auction that day, because everyone has come to pay the bill after being publicly embarrassed like that!
We find these notices in the local newspaper under “auctions” or “public notices” sections. You have to read very closely, it will definitely not say, “abandoned storage unit auction”. It will more likely say something like, “personal property being auctioned to settle a debt” or “a public sale will be held for the purpose of satisfying a landlord’s lien. The names and last known addresses, Storage Unit numbers and a brief description of the contents are as follows”.
You can also look them up on the Internet under “public notices” for your state. Some storage unit businesses will advertise on a storage unit website. These do charge you a fee per month to be on it and we do not find very many sales this way in our area, but that may be different for you. You can also contact the owner of each business and see if they have a mail, email, texting, or phone calling list to get on to be notified of future sales. This would be a good idea if the facility is in a small town, somewhat far away, that you do not subscribe to a newspaper in and that is not yet an online newspaper. Once you have found the auction, put it on your calendar.
Now it’s time to do some research. You have a name and address on your list of people who owe money on these units along with the unit number (if your state considers this public information, like ours in Wisconsin does). Get on the internet and look up any information you can about the name and address. Sometimes you can’t find anything, sometimes you can only find their age.
Recently, we learned that two different listings were for a pool and spa business. The owners have different names and addresses. Further research showed us there was more than one location to the same company and each was a branch manager. We made a mental note that if we decided to get one of these auctions, that we had better get the other as well. Many times, when we have only won one in a situation like this, we find half of the parts or half of the collection or half a dining room table set. It is often not in our best interest to get these because the price may go too high for the second one, out of our budget range, and we have a hard time selling half a set of something. We chose not to bid on the first one after seeing it anyways, but it was good to have that information.
Often, you will see the same name and address on multiple listings up for auction and it is very obvious that they go together. If you are going to bid, stay in your budget, but try to get them all so that you have all the pieces for resale. In our area, one storage unit business will only sell one of their client’s units per month at an auction in an effort to show them they are serious. This sometimes works and the person pays a lot of money to get back the remaining units. If it does not work, the business auctions a second one the next month and the third, etc. in future months. If we realize we have “half a unit” (this is what we call it, though it could be a third or fourth), we look for the same owner name in future months, if we have pieces we need the other half of to sell better.
Sometimes research shows us the unit renter is in jail and why. If is it drug possession, we don’t bid. Other people who have found drug or drug paraphernalia in a unit have had to relinquish it to the police; which is what we would do, and we heard that takes some time before you get your money or items back. We have found medical prescriptions in units and we have taken the potent ones to the recycling place. We don’t want those items to end up in the wrong hands, landfills or someone’s water supply.
Often research will show us the person died and when you read the obituary, they were preceded in death by everyone and had no survivors. Sometimes these are great units and have treasures to resell. Other times, the person really has nothing but clothing, broken wheelchairs and photographs they are storing. Rarely, you will see that the person lives in an expensive house, has a professional, high-paying job and you look forward to getting this unit. If you see one, often you find out they paid it right before the auction after being publicly embarrassed. The ones you can’t find any information on are usually good units with resell-able items, so don’t discount them, just be careful if you have the kids helping as you may find things you don’t want the kids to see.