My Recent Storage Auction Experience

Last Monday, I attended a storage unit auction in Carson, California. I arrived there early in anticipation of large crowds of newbies, thanks to the popularity of Storage Wars and Auction Hunters. Much to my surprise, only 30-35 people showed up for this event. The auctioneer was right on time, and the first unit went up for auction at 10 AM sharp. It was a 5×10 unit, which was neatly packed with similar size boxes. My impression was that there could be some very nice items in this unit since so much care went into packing, and placing the boxes neatly into the storage unit. The bidding went straight up from $50 to $300 almost immediately. I was willing to take the plunge, so I bid $350 and was quickly outbid when an older lady, who appeared to be in her late eighties, countered me with $375. I countered with $400. She upped it to $450. Then another person upped us both at $500. It was the beginning of a fierce bidding war. In a matter of a few more seconds, the bid was up to $750! I jumped in at $800, and just when there was a brief moment that I thought I was going to walk away with this unit, the the old lady countered with an $850 bid. The auctioneer was looking for the next bid, and it seemed like this lady was going to take this unit home with her. Then, out of nowhere, some guy dressed up in a nice suit who had been laying in wait bid $1000! I was tempted to get into this again, but I backed down. The auctioneer was looking for the next bid. Once, twice, sold! The man in the nice suit won the auction. He was a stealth warrior on a mission.

We promptly moved on to the next storage unit auction. This unit was a 10×30 unit. The auctioneer cut the lock off, opened the door, and immediately there were oohs and aahs from the people in the crowd. In this unit, obviously sitting for a very long time, was a 1940 Ford coupe. The tires were flat and there was about an inch of dust covering the car.  The body looked really nice, and it was apparent that this was an original, unrestored classic car. If it ran, it could be considered a good, daily driver, but it did need to be restored to bring it back to near new condition. The bidding went wild. $1000 right off the bat. Then $1500. I jumped in at $1600, but then I was quickly outbid by a man who brought the bid up to $2000. For the next 1-2 minutes, bids were going back and forth like a ping pong ball, and I was out of this game. When things settled down, a man who appeared to be in his late 40’s won the storage unit auction with a bid of $3900. I think he got a good deal on this car. I just didn’t want to stick my neck out with this unit, even though it was almost certain that money could be quickly made.

There were three more auctions scheduled for that day. The next unit was another 5×10. It was full of junk and it did not appear to contain anything of value. However, it went for $275 after the bidding ended. It seems like it would cost that much just to get everything out of the unit, then haul all of the junk to the dump! Amazing! The following unit was similar, a 5×10, and it went for $135. The last remaining storage unit of the day was a 10×10. The crowd had dwindled down to about 20 people at this point. When the auctioneer opened the locker door, a nice antique, Duncan Phyfe drop-leaf table was revealed. It came with 8 chairs as well. It appeared to be in really nice shape. I also noticed another piece of furniture that was mostly covered up, and it appeared to be an antique. There were three boxes in the storage unit labeled with felt pen “dishes”, “important papers”, and “Gramp’s Bedroom”. This had me quite interested. What was inside “Gramp’s Bedroom” box? Was it old coins? Silver? Gold? Jewelry? The first bid went out at $100. I bid $150. A man bid $175. I went back and forth with about 4 people who wanted this unit. After about 1-2 minutes, things settled down and I ended up winning this particular unit for $625. I knew I could make most, if not all, of my money back just on the Duncan Phyfe table alone. But I was curious as to what that other piece of furniture was, and what was inside the box  “Gramp’s Bedroom”. I put a lock on the door, then I promptly went to pay for my unit. I was quite eager to see what was inside.

Duncan-Phyfe-Drop-Leaf-Table
A photo of the Duncan Phyfe Drop Leaf Table after I brought it home in the folded down position.

When I returned to the storage locker, I first went to the partially covered piece of furniture to see what that was. I wanted to save “Gramp’s Bedroom” box for last. In my mind, this would give me good luck and I would find some real treasures inside of it. Grandpa was going to make me rich. The partially covered piece of furniture turned out to be a nice, Drexel sideboard for a dining room. It appeared to be made in the 1940’s, about the same time as the Duncan Phyfe table. These two pieces were probably part of a dining room set, most likely from “Gramp’s” dining room. The box containing “important papers” was just that. Important papers. The box labeled “dishes” contained your everyday, inexpensive dishes. I can probably sell these in a yard sale for a few bucks.

Duncan-Phyfe-Drop-Leaf-Table
Another photo of the Duncan Phyfe Drop Leaf Table with the extra leafs inserted, and 4 of the 8 chairs. You can get lucky and find some really nice things at storage unit auctions.

There was nothing else of value left inside of the locker. Just “Gramp’s Bedroom” box. I saved this box for last, and this was the moment I was waiting for. I just knew when I opened it that I was going to find something inside of real value. I cut the tape, then slowly opened up the flaps on the cardboard box. I was deprived of my immediate wealth by another sealed, cardboard box inside. What was in this other box? I was beginning to tremble with thoughts of instant wealth! I pulled the other box out, cut the tape and opened it up. Inside the box was nothing of value to me, but it was obvious that it was of value to “Gramps”. Inside this box was photos of Gramps taken of him and his band of brothers in World War II. Also inside were photos of him and “Grandma”. And photos of his family. These important mementos belonged to his family, not me. I took the boxes of important papers, and “Gramp’s Box”, to the storage unit office, and I asked the manager if she could contact the people who rented this unit, and return these family treasures to them. She said that she would be happy to call the people and return their documents and photos. So, I made out well with this storage auction, even though “Gramp’s Box” did not contain anything of real value to me. But, I am sure it contained things of value to “Gramp’s” family. It’s hard to know the story of why these storage units become abandoned. I estimate that I can make somewhere between $800-$1000 on this particular unit. Nothing to get rich on, but not bad for a few hours of work. I’ll write about my next storage unit adventure as soon as it happens. Please be sure to read the other articles on our site about how you can participate in, and hopefully make money on storage unit auctions in your area.

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