The Truth About Storage Auctions: More Trash, Less Treasure Attention Storage Wars fans: The odds of you striking it rich at a storage auction are as remote as those of mortal enemies Darrell Sheets (pictured) and Dave Hester dancing the cha-cha cheek-to-cheek, or fashion maven Barry Weiss wearing beige.

Though the hit cable-TV show does give viewers an idea of what goes on at the auctions, it doesn't give the entire picture. Buying and selling merchandise based on a cursory inspection of an abandoned storage locker is not an easy way to make a living. Indeed, what gets viewers hooked on Storage Wars is that the cast members don't always make a profit.

Anyone tempted to take a stab at being a "storage warrior" should be advised that lots of people are getting the same idea. Attendance at storage auctions has soared thanks to the cable show, and prices for lockers have followed suit.

"Yes, they are [up] big time," said Sheets, who calls himself "The Gambler," in an email. "A locker that would normally sell for $300 a few years ago now costs $1,000 and up."

Storage Wars
has worked the growing crowds at auctions into its plotlines. Weiss, a self-styled collector who buys auctions in the hopes of finding cool stuff, even befriended the rookies in one episode. Cast member Jarrod Schulz even urged people not to quit their jobs to buy lockers full-time. It's wise advice.

Don't Lose Your Shirt

A storage auction is a pretty straightforward affair, but those who don't know what they're doing can lose big by overpaying. Collectibles and secondhand goods are illiquid markets, meaning that finding a buyer willing to pay the price you want may be difficult.

People who don't pay their rent on lockers wind up losing their belongings after a 30-day to 60-day waiting period. Storage facilities hold auctions to recoup their losses. As on Storage Wars, auctioneers don't let buyers inspect the merchandise before bidding on it. According to Colorado auctioneer Rich Schur, that's for liability reasons, so that there are no potential worries about theft. In addition, buyers must pay for their locker purchases in cash.

Many storage buyers own secondhand stores (like Schulz and Brandi Passante on Storage Wars) or auction houses (like Hester) so they have room for their merchandise. Those who don't will need to find a place to haul and store their "hidden treasures," which can create problems for buyers who don't plan ahead.

"It's a big issue," says Schur, a board member of the National Auctioneers Association who regularly conducts storage locker sales.

The Slim Odds of Striking Gold

Cleveland auctioneer Neal Grossman says that buyers have 24 hours to dispose of their items -- and failure to move them quickly means some buyers are forced to rent the lockers that they purchased. Many buyers also have more trouble than they expect unloading their merchandise on eBay (EBAY) or Craigslist. "You have to be realistic," Grossman says, adding that many lockers contain household stuff "that no one wants."

Of course, there are often valuables in these lockers, such as diamonds or sports cards, which is why buyers are eager to embark on a treasure hunt. The odds of finding a "score" are better the more lockers someone buys, which is why seasoned buyers purchase numerous units. Even so, the chances of finding a "treasure" are remote. "It's hard work," says Schur. "This is not a get-rich-quick scheme."

Experts note that the values for merchandise that are discussed on Storage Wars are theoretical and may not be what the buyers eventually sell the items for. "Some items can be sold today," Sheets says. "Some that are collectible take awhile."

As with any business, storage buyers also have to pay their share of taxes. But for the lucky few, it can be a good living. Sheets estimates that about 80% of lockers are profitable "if you know what you're selling and how to sell it."

Jason Byrge of Cleveland, who buys about 20 storage lockers a month, disputes Sheets' figure. He estimates that about 20% of his auction purchases are profitable. "Maybe California is different, but it's pretty bad in Ohio," he says, adding that he has been a storage buyer for three years. Schur, though, defended Sheets, saying his figures sounded accurate to him. "It depends on your definition of profitability," he says. "Are you going to double or triple your money? Probably not."

Storage auctions happen all the time at the 50,000 or so self-storage facilities in the U.S. There are several Internet sites that list them. Schur even wrote a primer on them.

If you're still tempted to become a buyer, Schur advises you to go to an auction in person to see what they're like. If you still want to bid, make sure that you set a limit and stick to it, something that the cast of Storage Wars has difficulty doing.

An even safer bet is to leave storage auctions to the pros. New episodes of Storage Wars will air starting Nov. 15 on A&E at 10 p.m. Eastern.

Motley Fool contributing writer Jonathan Berr doesn't own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of eBay.

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Twenty years ago I made a good living buying storage lockers. The average locker sold for $100-$200 at the auctions I went to. I had a store in the flea market and did well. I sold TVs for $10 that you had to pay ten times that in a retail store. I sold tons of clothes which was my bread and butter and what you find the most of in storage lockers. I sold a ton of furniture and household items. I bought units Mon-Thurs and did the flea market on weekends and was clearing two grand a week pretty good for 1995. I did this for years but then this show and ones like it put me out of business. I have not bought a locker in three years. I stopped when the average locker costs 25% more than you can get for the contents. None of the old guys I used to see go any more either and all their stores closed as well. Now you get rich yuppies hunting for treasure and over paying and then filling the landfill with otherwise good stuff.

February 04 2015 at 9:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Only stupid asses think they can get rich on storage units. Get real your stupid...

May 21 2014 at 1:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rcrmon's comment

your stupid hahahahaha

September 27 2014 at 12:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have been doing the storage auction for about a year and i have never paid too much or got ripped. because i know what I'm doing. unlike others.

May 21 2014 at 1:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John Smith

After a year of bogus hunting breaking even with money my mom bought a trespassed unit for $1,450. It was made to look real good but instead had 100% garbage ghetto stuff. Just like real estate it turns out to be worthless and that the media has been putting on bogus show for ever a decade now with hype. I knew the vast majority lost by year 2002 during the worst ever inflation setting most back for decades to come. They want you to think that Oblamer did "it" for the rest of your life. Nothing but a fraud this entire land is. Only slave owners rave how great it is. It turns out per the psychology seminar brainwashing that "opportunity" is really you only thinking that your going to make money while it turns out that it is you that they make the money from from your foolish thoughts that they put there with their hype. Don't let them fool you into thinking that it may have started before late year 1999 or after year 2005. Worst ever inflation and American labor disempowerment. Nothing but hype

August 26 2013 at 7:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
RJ Adams

I recently bought a 10 x 10 storage locker in California containing what I thought were boxes full of "comic books", "toys", "figurines" , and "military gear." This is what was written on the boxes. After bidding and winning the locker (set me back $1100) I discovered some a$$hole had filled all these boxes with nothing but packing peanuts.
I hate my life.

December 11 2012 at 11:46 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

When I watch this show,I want and hope for all of these reality tee vee stars to LOSE their $ and then
suffer a stroke or heart arrack from STRESS!!! Why am I so bitter/manevolent? Because after losing my house in foreclosure in 2008, in 2010, I lost all my property/belongings in one of these auctions. What was so anguishing was that my 10'x10' storage unit (stuffed to the ceiling with the contents of my 1600sq,ft, house) sold for $30!!!
My vintage Delquist and old skool AR stereo speakers alone were worth more than $2500, my micro precision QC inspection tools were worth more than $1000,But what hurt me most was losing all of my 27 years worth of photos/slides/negatives which had no street value at all. I hate these auctions and those who
earn fast cash hawking the stuff they buy at them. These morons are frightfully stupid/naive about the crap they bid on!!! GO GET A REAL JOB...or come over and wash my hubcaps for couch change!

August 27 2012 at 2:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Shaven's comment

So, the moral to this story then is that you should mind your own debt load better, not overextend yourself, be prepared for bad times, and understand that having valuables stored in a storage locker when you know the hammer is coming down is NOT the way to do it.

tl;dr - You hate others because you bought more house than you could afford and didn't have a backup plan if times got tough.

October 24 2012 at 6:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I really enjoy the show, but I gotta ask one little poser here... Is Dave Hester REALLY that big of an a-hole, or is he really hamming it up for the camera? Things that make ya go hmmmm.....

July 12 2012 at 9:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mkillie1's comment

probably a little bit of both

February 04 2015 at 9:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Brittany Morris

This is so true! I've been in the business for 3 years and 99% of the time it is so much crap. But it's still fun, if anyone needs help finding an auctions check out

January 24 2012 at 11:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Just thought I would share my experiences so far. I've been attending storage auctions since July and went to about 10 auctions before I bought my first unit for $1050. It was a 10x30, so pretty big, and it ended up being full of old comics, sports cards (nearly 500,000 and all virtually worthless) and collectible toys (the big score). It was also about 10% trash and 10% that got donated. Up about $4000 in profit and have sold maybe 15% of what I've got (although we've sold 80% of the really good stuff). I also bought a small locker of "mystery boxes" for $185; it all ended up being old lady clothes and kitchen items, so I donated it all. The last locker I bought apparently used to belong to the former head coach of the Colorado Crush football team and it was full of typical household items and a ton of Crush promotional giveaway stuff (look up Colorado Crush on eBay and buy some :D), spent $500 and will probably make $200 profit if I'm lucky. Lots of personal family type stuff as well that was returned to management.

Obviously not expecting to get rich doing it, but still fun, regardless of what you think you know about the show or the industry. Do I think some storage managers go through lockers before auction? Or course I do, but there are some honest managers out there too. Expect to get a bunch of household items typically (imagine packing up your kitchen and your spare bedrooms, this is likely what you find in a storage locker). Expect big crowds (depending on the auction company) but usually you'll only see 3-5 actual bidders. Expect to end up with a lot stuff you don't know what to do with (luckily we've got a guy that will take anything we don't want, win-win). And unfortunately, expect to find some porn (2 for 3 so far). :D Good luck!

December 20 2011 at 5:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
big H

Why would you or anyone store your personal photos in a unit ????? You know the photos will ruin The moisture ruins all items..This show has no real anything to it. All the actors in the world and we do reality shows. got to love it..

December 14 2011 at 10:52 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to big H's comment

I have such items in a climate controlled unit in sealed containers so they are OK. It's the outdoor units one needs to be concerned about and one should understand the risks. Don't double up on your padlocks because would be crooks zero in on lockers with two locks since it is assumed the stuff inside must be more valuable. Use the round locks not regular padlocks as it is more difficult to get a bolt cutter in to cut the lock. If you are in a flood zone put your stuff on pallets or shelves. Use those little packets you find in electronics that suck up moisture. You can make your own by filling panty hose with instant dried rice an tying off the ends then spread them around inside the unit and boxes. I agree with your last sentence. These shows put me out of business when everyone started showing up at the auctions and forced prices so high there was no profit to be made.

February 04 2015 at 9:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply