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Ten ways to win at storage auctions

Who knows what's in these bins!
Who knows what's in these bins!
Walt Kolenda

Buying the remains of someones unclaimed life can be very profitable or very dangerous. The truth is you just don’t know what you’re in for when you buy the contents of a storage bin at auction. But there are some ways you can hedge your bets, here are my top ten.

  1. Consider continuing the rental on the space. I see so many storage buyers fret what they are going to do with the cumbersome contents of a storage space. Often they’ll go through a lot of extra, unnecessary expense to get the unit cleaned out by deadline. Why not consider renting the unit out for an extra month. In some cases, it may even be possible to buy an extra week or two from the storage company. For an extra $50 to $150 you can leave the item right where they are, and in many cases, re-sell the contents to another person. Market it on Craiglist or eBay etc.
  2. Pre-sell what you have. If you are a regular buyer of storage bins, or you always have a supply of merchandise for sale. Run a perpetual “items for sale” ad.
  3. Study the local of the auction. Generally speaking, auctions in wealthier areas will yield better lots, items in poor areas, not so much. This isn’t a foolproof method of course, but remember, we’re trying to work with odds here. The auction business is a statistics game. Rarely is a fortune made or lost in a single buy.
  4. RESEARCH your unusual finds. I can’t stress this enough. If you think you’ve found something rare, don’t just blow it out to keep liquid. Take a take some time to research the more rare items. (art, coins, precious metals, sports memorabilia and other categories often deserve a closer look)
  5. Keep liquid. This may seem to conflict with the point I’ve just noted, but it really applies to the items you have more knowledgable with. Don’t try to get the last buck out of anything. If you want to build a good customer base with dealers, (and you should because they buy a LOT more than retail customers) leave room for profit. When it’s prudent, selling fast will keep your cash flowing.
  6. Plan your time, plot the geography. If you’re familiar with the biz, you know that a lot of auctions get cancelled. With the high price of gas, it’s a good idea to have a backup plan in case you get there and all the auctions are cancelled, or you don’t get any units. Are there yard sales in the area? How about cruising Craigslist to see if there are any bulk buys being offered in the area?
  7. Don’t let other buyers influence your bidding. Period. Ever. Keep to this rule and you’ll see it’s wisdom in every buy. Buy the locker you want at the price you want (or less) regardless of what others are doing.
  8. Change your bidding strategy as often as possible. Bidding at auctions is a lot like poker, don’t show your cards.
  9. Learn the auctioneer’s style. Some auctioneers close the bidding quickly, others wait longer and give an obvious indication that they are closing. Learn their style and techniques. Often the auctioneers are much easier to read than your competition.
  10. Don’t bet the rent. Do NOT go to an auction if you don’t have the cash to gamble with. It’s likely going to take at least a few hundred dollars to win the bid on a unit. Although you can get a unity many times for less. Sometimes you can buy a locker as cheap as $5. But those cases are rare, and if you’re going to go out, make sure you can afford to lose the money you have. While an educated guess, can help you from losing money, there is always the possibility that it can cost you more to clean out the unit than it will bring, compounding the initial investment loss! Bidding with money that you can’t afford to spend also clouds the decision making/bidding process. Desperate bidders are often foolish bidders.

Keep those ten rules in mind and you should win a lot more than you lose. Be kind to other’s and remember, the fun is all in the hunt!

...oh and of course you'll need to find out where the storage auctions are. This custom Google Search can help!


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