So, now you’re chomping at the bit to find out where the auctions are. Sometimes you have to dig a little, but you’ll soon learn what the best sources for storage auctions in your area are. There are legal notices in newspapers, web sites and auctioneers who all provide schedules of self-storage auctions, but sometimes the storage facilities themselves are the best source.
AuctionZip is one good place to start. By directly serving the supply and demand chain for this industry, www.auctionzip.com has become the single most highly trafficked internet site for licensed auctioneers and auction buyers.
Both bidders and buyers use AuctionZip primarily to search for items of interest using the keyword search feature of the site. This allows you to see the upcoming auctions within your search vicinity. It’s a wealth of information about what a multitude of auctioneers are selling and when it is going up for auction.
The website is home to over 20,000 auctioneers whose contact information is directly searchable by name or location.
It also includes a variety of category pages for purchasers who gravitate toward a specific field of merchandise such as antiques, coins, restaurant equipment, automobiles and yes, storage auctions. These pages target sales that contain merchandise specific to the category.
So when you want to search for storage auctions in your area, simply fill out the search box at the top of the page with your zip code, desirable travel distance and then scroll down in the category section to storage auctions. Then click the “Search” button to generate a calendar with auctions that match the search criteria entered. A blue link with the number of sales occurring (“4 Auctions”) appears on each calendar day on which auctions containing the specific merchandise are scheduled to be held. Clicking this blue, numbered link will bring the user to a list of sale summaries that can then be browsed and investigated by the auction hunter.
You can also go straight to the category home pages that are found under the AuctionZip Live information on the home page and also near the bottom of the home page and click on “Storage Auctions” in these category listings.
Remember that most storage facility have to run a legal notice before a unit is auctioned off. They will usually run these in the local newspaper with the date and time of the auction.
This is another great source for you to find local storage auctions. Keep a calendar of the upcoming dates and locations.
The auction companies want you to know about their auctions because the more folks they have at an auction, the higher it will drive bids. So most of them will also list all upcoming auctions on the following websites where you can search by city and type of auction:
• National Auctioneers Association (NAA) at auctioneers.org
• State association websites like (IAA) at Indianaauctioneers.org
• National Auction List (NAL) at nationalauctionlist.com
As you begin to circulate ask the regulars, once you attend auctions regularly you will be in the loop. Also, get on as many email lists as you can. Most auctioneers will send out notices via email of all upcoming auctions. For example, my auction company, Strange Auction Services sends out several emails a month with storage auction listings. You can add yourself to our email list at strangeauctionservices.com.
In additional to all of the above sources, simply calling the different self-storage facilities might give you the highest results of all. You can look up a list of storage facilities on google.com or in the phone book if you still have one.
CHAPTER 4: WHAT TO EXPECT ON AUCTION DAY
Well, you’ve finally arrived. You’ve researched storage auctions and found the perfect one to start with. Now what?
BEFORE YOU GO
The morning of the scheduled auction call the auctioneer or storage facility to make sure the auction is still going to take place and how many units are being auctioned. It’s very common for storage auctions to be cancelled because the renters have finally paid up on their unit. Sometimes, they’re even advertised wrong, so it’s always good to double check before you head out.
Arrive at the auction 20 to 30 minutes early and bring a photo ID, so you can sign in as a bidder and read over any rules or terms that the auctioneers might have. The auctioneer will then usually gather all of the bidders to explain the procedure. This is your chance to ask any questions so as not to distract once the bidding begins.
Then you will walk as a group to the first unit. When the door to the first unit is opened, you will have a few minutes to look inside from the doorway entrance. There is no going inside, touching or opening boxes. You have to become a detective with the few clues you are given. After all interested participants have had a chance to view the contents, the bidding begins.
Most storage auctions are “live” and only a few are “sealed-bid.” In a live auction, the auctioneer will usually start the bidding by talking, looking and listening to the crowd to see who wants to bid. Then they will call out the first price and ask if they are any takers. Bids can start out as low as $1 and go up from there until the unit is sold to the highest bidder. Average units seem to sell for under $300 depending on the visible contents.
Remember at a storage auction, you are usually bidding on the entire contents of the unit – the trash as well as the treasure. Some auctioneers will sell it by the piece, but typically it’s the whole unit. If you are interested in the unit, gesture to the auctioneer. You can also call out a higher bid, if there’s a lot of action. Once the bidding tapers off, the auctioneer will typically call out “going once…going twice” and if there are no additional bids, “sold,” with the sale going to the highest bidder.
ONCE YOU WIN IT
If you win the unit, you must close the door and secure it with your own padlock. Then the auction moves as a group to the next unit. It may even take from morning to afternoon to auction off all of the units.
When all of the auctions are finished, whoever won bids goes to the office with auctioneer to pay and complete paperwork. Usually cash only! No leaving to go to the bank. There may be a buyer’s premium from the auction company that should be listed in the terms.
They may also make you pay a cleaning deposit that will be refunded after you empty and sweep out the unit. You are then given a receipt and a gate code to get in the storage facility for the next 24 hours.
Most facilities give you 24 hours to remove the entire contents of the unit. Sometimes, if you buy a large unit or several units, they will give you a little more time. If you’re crunched for time or for space, ask if you can rent the unit for an extra day or two. Build a relationship with the storage facility managers and it will pay off.
You are not allowed to use the dumpsters at the storage facility or leave anything behind. If you do, you risk being banned from future auctions. Be ready to haul off any trash or items that you don’t want. Return any personal papers or pictures that you might find to the storage facility. Most facilities do what they can to return them to the owner. Sometimes, a tenant will even attend the auction to try and buy back their belongings. Do what you can to be nice in those situations. I’ve even seen someone buy it and give it back to them before.
AUCTION DAY SURVIVAL KIT
1. Cash. Most auctions are cash only. So have cash on you because there’s no leaving to go to the bank. Occasionally, they will accept credit cards. Look at their terms on the listings.
2. Photo Identification. You’ll need it just to bid.
3. Resale License or Tax ID if you have one. Sales tax will be charged if the buyer cannot show a valid resale license and proper identification.
4. Rain Gear. Auctions take place rain or shine so dress for the weather so be prepared with an umbrella, boots and suntan lotion!
5. A Bright Flashlight. Since you can’t go past the doorway, you’ll need a really powerful flashlight to see into the unit. And, don’t forget the extra batteries.
6. Padlocks. Once you win a unit, you are responsible for locking it if you have to leave it. It helps to buy several locks that all use the same key so you only have to carry one key with you.
7. Transportation. If you win the unit, you’ll have to haul it all away within 24 hours. Make sure you have a decent size truck, van or trailer as well as a dolly, tie downs and moving blankets for moving furniture or larger items.
8. Manpower. Make sure you have enough people – either friends or hired help – to help you move the heavy items.
9. Cleaning / First Aid Kit. Because abandoned units are dirty and grimy, you’ll want dust masks, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, band-aids and a good broom.
10. Tool Kit. A complete toolbox is essential for disassembling things on the spot. Make sure it also includes work gloves and duct tape
11. Internet Capabilities. It’s a huge advantage to be able to research the value of items on the spot. If you have a laptop or cell phone with web capabilities, bring it with you.
12. Snacks & Water. You may be in for a long day so make sure you have plenty of snacks and water so you don’t have to leave the site.
Your “detective” mode should really begin even before the doors open. Weeks before you start going to auctions, educate yourself on the values of different items. Research furniture and antique prices, study prices on eBay, stop by yard sales. The internet is an incredible source to find out all kinds of prices on what just may be in your next unit. When the doors open to your first auction, you’ll be ready with some background knowledge of values.
WHAT YOU’LL FIND
Storage units are generally used to hold things that people aren’t using at the time, but don’t want to get rid of. Most of the time, you’ll find general household items like furniture, electronics, clothing and personal records. It could be someone’s whole household or business packed up. Occasionally you might find equipment, tools, machinery, appliances, guns, or toys. If you’re having a good day, you may find antiques, collectibles or jewelry and money. And, there’s always a fair share of “strange” items.
I was once at a storage auction in Tampa. When they opened the door, it was a 20’ x 20’ totally jammed full of all different sized boxes. I noticed that one of them had a label with a small explosive and the words “dragon farts.” Being the pyro that I am, I happened to know that dragon farts are a type of firework. So, I bid up to $500 and I won.
Talk about bang for your buck! It was stuffed full of fireworks. Turns out it was the entire inventory of a roadside fireworks stand that went out of business. Although I felt like I was driving an atom bomb through Tampa rush hour when I transported them, my friends and family had a Fourth of July of a lifetime that year. I even left a huge family pack of fireworks for my trash men for to thank them for picking up all of my extra junk. Once we had our fill of fireworks, I contacted a local dealer who was more than happy to pay my price for them and came to get them an hour after the call.
LOOKING FOR CLUES
You never know what you may find, but you will definitely see a lot of boxes. Some rooms are packed so solid that you can’t see behind the boxes blocking the entrance. That’s where the guessing game begins. You may be able to look for a few clues as to whether the items inside the boxes are of value. Are the boxes open or sealed with tape? Are they all one size? That might indicate a collection of something. Are they stacked neatly or haphazardly? Do the boxes look like they were bought specifically for storage? Are they marked with any information as to what they contain? Do they have a professional moving company tag on them?
No doubt you will do a lot of wondering…like what could be in those boxes and bags? Take a quick inventory on things you can see and do some research on the spot if you can.
It helps if you have internet access on your phone or a laptop. That way you can check the going rate for a certain type of furniture like a Jenny Lind bed or roll-top desk or you can see what certain toys are selling for on eBay. If any merchandise has names brands showing, you can research that as well.
It’s always nice when you see furniture because it’s easy to spot and you can generally get an idea of what kind of shape it’s in. Does it look like it’s from a complete household? Usually, furniture can be resold for profit especially if it is antique in nature. Sometime you can get a clue on furniture by the ornate legs on the tables and chairs. Once you learn the different styles of furniture, it is easier to research their value on the internet. Home appliances will often resell as well if they are in good, working condition. However, it’s hard to know from the outside of a storage unit if the microwave or dishwasher inside works.
You’ll often find children’s items like baby furniture, toys, books and clothes. If these are in good shape, they will resell at a yard sale, children’s consignment shop or eBay because they are items that people need and only use for a short period. Nostalgic toys also have a decent resale value if they are in good shape.
There are red flags that you will learn to look for like the smell of the unit and whether it’s dusty or not. If you listen and watch the regular bidders, they may also give you a clue. If there’s a lot of dust, it could mean that some of the items have been sitting in the unit for a number of years.
Some of the guessing game will come down to experience. The more times you bid and resell, the more you’ll know about what kind of profit you can make. You have to be consistent if you really want to make money with storage auctions. Not only will you gain more experience, you’ll have better odds of purchasing units. The more units you view, the better your percentage of making money.
As you look for clues, don’t forget to take into account the junk that comes with the treasure. Don’t forget that you will be required to dispose of everything in the unit, so if it looks like the dump fees are going to outweigh the resale fees, then walk away. It’s hard sometimes to walk away, but sometimes you are money ahead if you do. Add up the total dollar amount that you can see and subtract the total dollar amount that you will spend when you figure in your time, gas, labor and dump fees. Think like a detective and you’ll come out ahead.
CHAPTER 6: YOU GOT ONE…NOW WHAT?
No doubt it’s exciting when you bid and win a unit or two and you think they’re going to be good ones. Hopefully, you’ll already have a plan in place with what to do with all of the items. These steps will help.
HOW TO SORT
If you can, sort the large items in the storage unit on the spot so you know what you have before you load them up. You can always go through drawers or smaller boxes at home. But, there’s no need in transporting large items home just to have to take them to the dump later.
You’ve already done your research, so you have a good idea of what might be valuable. Now, you’ll want to make three piles. One is to get-rid-of, one is to sell and one is keep for your own use. Depending on their condition, you can either trash or donate the items in the get-rid-of pile. If there are items you are unsure of, keep them in the sell pile and you can research them further when you get home.
The sooner you sort the items at home, the sooner you can sell them and the less time they’ll be sitting around collecting dust and possibly losing value. At home, you can further sort the items by category like furniture, collectibles, household items, etc. Or, you may want to sort them by how they will be sold. For example, you may have one pile for eBay, one pile for the classified ads and one pile for yard sales.
HOW TO LOAD
You have your truck, trailer or van complete with tie downs and some old blankets. You may also want to carry some extra cartons or boxes for any breakable items that aren’t wrapped. Even though they made it into the unit undamaged to begin with, doesn’t necessarily mean that they were packed well or that they’ll make the next trip. And, you don’t want to risk losing any profits by moving damage.
Once you have your supplies in place, you’re ready to load. First, pack the treasures in the front of the vehicle and then leave the junk or trash at the back so you can go straight to the dumpster and get rid of it easily. There are also a few general moving rules that can apply. Place the heavier items on the bottom with lighter items on top. Take out any drawers from bureaus or desk to make them easier to move, but be sure to secure any items in these drawers so you can sort through them later.
Wrap any DVD, CD players and small appliances in old blankets or towels. Also, wrap mirrors or paintings or other breakable items. Remove bulbs in lamps and wrap the cords around the lamp. Place any computers or printers in protective cartons. Take extra care with and gas grills, lawn equipment or power tools that may have gas or fuel in them. Also, make sure to secure and unload any firearms before moving.
WHAT TO DO WITH PERSONAL ITEMS
As I mentioned before, if you come across personal items like photos or financial records, give them to the storage facility manager. The storage facilities can look up the records of the person who was renting the unit and try and return them.
WHAT TO DO WITH TRASH
Remember you will have lots of extra junk that comes with the treasure. If you can, make friends with the storage facility managers. Most of the time, they won’t allow you to use their dumpsters or leave anything behind at the storage site.
If you pack your truck right, your first stop should be at the dumpster with any large items you can’t resell like mattresses or broken appliances. Your next stop might be the Goodwill store or another charitable organization that might want any of the items that you don’t want to sell. If there’s anything you think can unload for free, try to. Not only is it a good way to help these organizations, it is tax deductible and it is less that you have to pay a landfill.
Be creative, but be legitimate. If you have friends with businesses, they might let you use their dumpsters if they’re not full, but don’t use a dumpster without permission. It’s like stealing the service that someone is paying for and there may be items with information that may be traced back to you.
It also pays to be nice to your local trash men. It’s amazing how far a cooler with ice cold drinks or a five-dollar tip goes. I think I had the best trash guys in the world. I would set a cooler with drinks out for them along with my tons of trash every week. They would take the cold drinks and every bit of trash and leave the cooler. During the holidays, I’d leave a few bucks or some gift cards in the cooler, too.
CHAPTER 7: WHERE AND HOW TO SELL
You’ve sorted through all of the items in the storage unit and have your piles of what you want to sell. Now, it’s time to sort through them one more time and decide how you want to sell them. One good way to start is to decide whether you want to sell them online or offline. Also, you’ll need to think about whether you want to sell them locally or are you willing to pack and ship them.
If you have a larger item that you don’t want to ship like an appliance or a couch, you’ll probably want to sell it locally. If you have smaller, special interest items like CDs or books, you might want to sell those online so you can get more money for them. For some people, it’s easier to try and sell their items locally first at a yard sale or flea market. Then, what they don’t sell there, they list online.
Make sure you do thorough research on the items you have. You never know when you might sell a collectible for $4 that is really worth $400. You can usually find a like item for comparison on eBay or Yahoo! If you can’t find a similar item on these sites, try a web ferret. You can search for free web ferrets to download on the internet. This software will use a multitude of search engines all at once to find the needed information.
The advantage to online selling is that you get a worldwide market and it’s pretty simple to do. You simply take a digital photo of the item, write a description and list it on a website like eBay or Amazon. The better the photo and description, the better response you will get. You may want to invest in a decent digital camera if you don’t have one. With online auctions, there is no bargaining like at a yard sale and no commission like a flea market. When the item sells, you simply pack it up and ship it.
You can sell just about everything on eBay from electronics to clothing and from office equipment to antiques. You can gather quite a bit of price knowledge from eBay, too. By looking at their completed sales, you’ll know what the selling price is on certain items. This will help you set your prices as well as help you gain further knowledge for future bidding on storage units. The more you know about the value of items, the more confidently you’ll be able to bid.
Also, eBay is the best place to sell higher value items and rare and unique items like collectibles. When you sign up on eBay, you’ll have to decide whether you want to sell your item as a fixed price listing or auction. If you are fairly sure of an item’s value, you should use a fixed-price listing. However, if you have an item that is a collectible or is very unique, you should choose the auction listing.
Then you name the starting price and the bidding will continue until it reaches its true market value.
As you do your research on eBay, you’ll notice that some items keep coming up again and again in the top searches. These are the most popular items that people search. If you can, keep a list of these popular items and the most searched brand names. Then, when you’re bidding on storage auctions, you’ll know what has resale value. Top searches like baseball cards, Disney memorabilia and Star Wars collectibles are often exactly what you’ll find in the storage units.
Also, try and remember clothing brand labels that are popular so you know what to throw out and what to keep as you sort. Popular brand names like Nike, Gap, Ralph Lauren and Gymboree are easier to resell. If you want to see what specific items that people are searching for go to eBay Pulse at www.pulse.eBay.com.
Other than a few restricted categories like jewelry and apparel, Amazon is a great place to sell your items and is gaining in shopper numbers over eBay. They also have a very loyal customer base and often their shoppers are willing to pay more for an item. Amazon only has fixed price selling and no auctions which some shoppers like. It is especially a good place to sell books, CDs, DVDs and other media items.
Amazon also offers the convenience of their Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) Program. Sellers can send their items to the Amazon warehouse. When an item is sold, Amazon will pack and ship that item to the buyer. There is a fee involved, but think about how much time this could save. You can find out more about this program and the advantages of selling on Amazon at sellingontheriver.com
Craigslist.com is an excellent site for local trading and there is no cost to list items for sale. It’s especially a good place to unload bigger items that aren’t practical to ship. You simply create a “post” and then people in your local area can contact you to buy the item and pick it up. It’s the best of both worlds because you can post your ad online, but finish the deal offline. Because there are no protections against bad checks, you might want to consider accepting cash only when you deal with these buyers.
If you want to have total control over the listing and selling of your items, you could create your own ecommerce website. You can either build a site through Amazon, Yahoo or many of the other on-line venues that guide you through the process. It becomes a bit more complicated than the other online options as you will have to find a web-service to host your site and you’ll have to have the time to maintain it.
The more diverse the selling options are, the more you’ll be able to sell. And, that means more profit for you. Since you won’t be able to sell everything online and the goal is to sell everything you can, you’ll probably want to do some combination of online and offline. There are a variety of ways you can sell your items offline.
If you want to have a venue to sell your items on a regular basis, you might want to rent a booth at your local flea market. You can also save up your items and sell them once a year at an annual flea market. Flea market shoppers will usually try to bargain with you on prices, but you will have final say on what price sells. You will probably need a resale ID number to sell at flea markets. You may need a tent, tables and credit card machine as well. Flea markets take quite a bit of time to man, but usually will have big crowds so you have better chances of selling your items. If you don’t want to man a booth, you might want to consider selling off your flea market items in bulk to other vendors.
YARD / GARAGE SALES
If you’re looking for a totally free way to sell your items, you can have a yard sale or a series of yard sales until everything sells. You don’t have to pay any rent or fees because you hold it on your own property so you make 100% of your profits.
However, most yard sale shoppers are also bargain shoppers so may not make as much on items as you would another way. Also, you will need to do some advertising either in your local newspaper or on craigslist if you want it to be a success.
Yard sales take a lot of work and organization, but they can also bring in a lot of cash. When we used to hold them in my area, they normally totaled over $2,000 in a weekend. We would sell everything from bundles of pens to couches and love seats. Sometimes, we would even make it look like a gigantic mess on purpose. We discovered that people love to dig for treasure – just like we did at the storage auctions! We would leave things piled up or totes full of items jammed under tables. Those were usually the first things that people would buy.
You might want to check around and see if your town has an auction house. Then, you simply take your items to them and they auction things off on a weekly basis for a small commission. Usually, you can make more money off of items this way versus a flea market or yard sale and it takes less of your time.
CONSIGNMENT / THRIFT STORES
Check around your town for different consignment or thrift stores. There are all kinds of these – some specializing in clothes or furniture or baby items.
I’ve even seen one that specialized in exercise equipment. Consignment and thrift stores are a great way to sell larger items like furniture and appliances. They are also a good place to sell more expensive items like jewelry. These stores will usually keep your item for a specified number of days and return it to you if it doesn’t sell. If it does sell, they will get a commission on the sale. You could even consider opening your own thrift store if you want a place to be able to sell your items all of time.
If you want to sell individual items, you can place an ad in your newspaper’s classified section. Classified ads are good place to sell electronics, appliances, and furniture. Classified ads usually aren’t too expensive and you can price items higher than at a yard sale.
Whether you sell online or offline, there are a few rules that will help your profitability. First of all, keep track of everything you sell and keep good business records. Not only will this help you at tax time, but it will also help you know what items sell best in which venues. Next, work on developing relationships with all of your contacts both offline like flea market vendors and consignment store owners and online. These relationships will help you in the long run. If you have a special interest item, you’ll know just where to go with it. Finally, whatever you can’t sell, try and unload for free by donating to a charitable organization or see if you can recycle it. That’s a win-win situation for everyone.
Now get out there and make some money!
GLOSSARY OF TERMS:
BID RIGGING: An arrangement among several bidders to eliminate the competition by making the bid go their way.
BID ROTATION: Bidders conspire to take turns being the winning bidder.
BID SUPPRESSION: Bidders covertly agree not to bid so that one of them can successfully win the unit.
BUYER’S PREMIUM: A charge by the auction house on top of what you bid.
COMPLIMENTARY BIDDING: Bidders bid an amount that they know is too low to be chosen or that has terms unacceptable to the purchaser.
LIVE AUCTION: The type of auction where participants openly bid against each other with the bids going higher and higher. An auctioneer calls out the prices and the auction ends when no one is willing to bid higher. The item goes to the highest bidder.
PROFILING: Researching the previous owner of the storage unit to find out background information like what type house or employment.
RESERVE PRICE: The least amount that the seller is willing to sell the item for.
SEALED BID (OR SILENT) AUCTION: The type of auction where participants submit sealed bids and the bidders cannot see the bids of the others. The item goes to the bidder with the highest sealed bid.
SUBCONTRACT BID RIGGING: Bidders conspire together to not submit bids or to submit bids that they know will not be successful in exchange for the winner bidder subcontracting to them.
1. National Auctioneers Association: Organization providing educational and designation programs for the auction industry. www.auctioneers.org
2. Indiana Auctioneers Association (or state associations): The organization for professional auctions in the state. www.indianaauctioneers.org
3. Reppert Auction School: Considered the “Business School” for auctioneering with an emphasis on marketing and technology techniques. Reppert’s focuses on developing sound auction business principles for their students. www.reppertschool.com
4. National Auction List: A collection of auctions around the nation organized by state and type of goods sold. www.nationalauctionlist.com
5. Strangeauctionservices.com: A source of information on all of our upcoming auctions and the latest auction news.
6. Auction Zip: Online source to locate self-storage auctions and other auctions in the United States and Canada. www.auctionzip.com