Before the bidding begins, read these tips so you don't waste time or money. We want to win the auction in a wise way so we won't be “in the hole” when all is said and done.
On auction morning, a few hours before the sale, call and confirm that the auction is still on and find out the address and number of the first unit to meet at. Arrive fifteen minutes early with your buddy, locks and keys, cash, light, gloves and garbage bags.
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When you arrive, park somewhere you will not block access to customers' units. Walk over to where the first unit will be auctioned and wait for the auctioneer or storage unit business owner/employee to open it.
If you have seen the show, Storage Wars, it looks like they cut the lock off at the sale. In our area, it does not happen that way. In fact, the storage unit owner or his/her employee cuts it off and puts their own lock on when the bill is overdue, which is weeks, months or years before the sale. For the renter to claim and reopen it, they have to pay all the back rent, plus the current months' rent and possibly late fees. Plus, they may have to get out of it the day it is opened as the owner of the unit business may not want to rent to them again.
If it is not a professional auctioneer, the auction is usually more relaxed and, he/she does not talk fast like an auctioneer. If it is a professional auctioneer, we have found there is often more competition because the auctioneer draws his/her own following and will advertise the sale on the auctioneer's website.
The storage unit employee will open the lock with a key and pull open the door to the unit. In our area, the auctioneer may be a paid professional or it may be the owner of the storage unit business or one of their employees. You may look inside, but not step into it or touch anything that is right by the door. It is permissible in our area to take a photo of it on your cell phone or to shine a flashlight in it.
Sometimes, the door is opened and the auction begins right away before you have much time to look in the unit.
Other times, they give you a little or a lot more time. If there are other potential buyers, do not linger at the doorway too long. It is proper etiquette to take a quick look, then step back and let others have a look. If you are interested, and it is not too crowded, you may step up and have another look. We like to get a photo on our cell phone for this reason. We can look at the photo and enlarge certain items to be able to read a name on a box, for example, when it is crowded, and we can't look in very well over the crowd.
While you are looking at the unit considering what to bid, look for items you know you can resell and estimate in your mind what you will realistically get for them. Next, count how many boxes or bags you see and guess at their value. For example, you might think $5 per box and $3 per bag. Estimate about how many there are and do the math and add that to the amount you will get for other items. That's how much income you might get. Also look to see if there is something your family needs in the unit. We have needed a washer and did not count it as income or expenses in a unit purchase as we planned to “earn it” for free by selling the other contents of the unit. We did end up paying $100 for the newer front-load high-efficiency washer, a desk, a couch, and other items we used in our home. We were thrilled!
Now consider expenses. Each vehicle load of garbage, depending on your disposal facility, could cost between $15 – $75 per vehicle load. There might be set prices on mattresses, televisions, microwaves, refrigerators and furniture if those items are damaged. Take the projected income minus expenses.
What can you earn? Now bid up to a third of that, but stay in your budgeted amount. You do what you want with your money, but here's an example of why it's a third. You may want to donate 10% of your profit, save 10%, 15% may go to pay taxes, 30% to buy your next unit, 15% to expenses and 20% to pay employees/helpers, including yourself. Hopefully, you will gain more than you expect to.
Learn all about the abandoned storage auction resale business in our book.
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