Everything You Need to Know About Bidding at Storage Auctions

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Do you enjoy going to yard and garage sales? Have you ever made a profit by selling one of your finds on eBay, Etsy, or Facebook Marketplace? Are you willing to roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, and work hard to put a little more cash in your wallet?

If you answered yes to these questions, chances are you would enjoy flipping storage units. This side hustle has been in the spotlight for several years now, thanks to reality TV shows like Storage Wars and Auction Hunters, but it can still be lucrative if you go about it with some shopping savvy and some common sense. Read on to learn the basics of buying and selling abandoned storage units!

How It Works

just about everyone needs a little extra space to store their stuff at some point in their lives. Just ask the folks at Livible, which provides storage in SF. It’s a handy way to hang onto items that you don’t use every day, but aren’t yet ready to get rid of.

When someone fails to pay the rent on a storage locker, the storage company is entitled to auction off its contents in order to recoup what they’re owed. At a storage unit auction, potential bidders can see inside the unit, but they aren’t allowed to enter it or rummage through what’s inside, so they must estimate the value of what they see and bid accordingly.

What’s Inside?

As you can imagine, the contents of these lockers run the gamut from junk mail to heirloom jewelry. You just never know what you might find, but be prepared to sift through a lot of worthless or worth-very-little stuff.

It helps to have reselling experience and an understanding of the various markets for secondhand goods, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Make no mistake — you will learn along the way as you develop your skills at this side hustle.

Some of the more common items that you might be able to turn a profit on include:

  • Furniture and home furnishings
  • Small kitchen appliances, dishware, and silverware
  • Vintage or name brand clothing, accessories, and shoes
  • Electronics like computers, gaming systems, or cell phones
  • Jewelry
  • Musical instruments
  • Camping gear
  • Bicycles
  • Exercise and sports equipment
  • Tools
  • Collectibles like comic books, baseball cards, or bobbleheads

You’ve Won the Auction. Now What?

After winning an auction, you will only have 48-72 hours to clean it out, or you will forfeit a cleaning deposit — not to mention the goods themselves! So your first step is to clear everything out. Don’t start digging into it yet.

When you do have the items moved into your house or garage, start sorting it into three piles: one of things to keep or sell, one of items to get rid of, and a third “maybe” pile.

A word to the wise: don’t get rid of anything unless it’s obviously worthless — broken dishes or stained, tattered clothing, for example — or until you’ve researched what it is and whether or not it might be worth something!

Time to Sell

Once you’ve determined which items you will try to sell, divvy them up based on how or where to market them. Some of the possibilities are:

  • eBay
  • Etsy
  • Craigslist
  • Facebook Marketplace
  • Online consignment outlets like ThredUp
  • Local consignment shops
  • Pawn shops
  • Antiques dealers
  • Flea markets

Which ones you choose depend on the items you have to sell, of course. They all have their pros and cons. Some avenues take more effort than others, but may yield more profit. Again, you’ll develop a knack for knowing what to sell, where to sell it, and how much money to ask for it.

What You Need to Get Started

One great thing about bidding on storage auctions is that it doesn’t take much capital to get started. You can start out small, then reinvest your profits. Or you can pursue it as a hobby rather than as a hustle.

In addition to having some ready cash on hand, there are a few tools of the trade that will be helpful. First, you will need a vehicle to haul your storage-unit spoils. A pickup truck is best, but you may be able to get away with a large SUV. If you bid on and win a unit with large, unwieldy items like furniture, it may be necessary to rent a trailer or moving truck.

Unless you plan on clearing out the storage unit immediately after winning it, you need to take a padlock to keep everything safe and sound. Carry a heavy-duty flashlight; it can be very dark in those units. A couple of pairs of disposable gloves will protect your hands from dirt and grime.

Lastly, it’s good to bring a supply of garbage bags. Even though you shouldn’t be sorting anything at this stage, there may be some messes to clean up right then and there.

Final Thoughts

Buying storage units can be a good way to bring in some extra cash, as well as a fun and addictive treasure hunt! As long as you set an upper limit for your bids, there’s not much risk, either. If it turns out this side hustle isn’t your speed, you haven’t lost anything.

Have you ever considered checking out storage auctions? If you’ve bid and won, what was in the unit and were you able to sell any of it? Let us know in the comments!

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