For a more realistic look into the world of storage auctions than the ones seen on TV, tune into a recent segment produced by NPR’s “This American Life.” The story examines the grittier and less-than-glamorous lives of a group of regular storage bidders in Northern California.
From the segment, called “Needle in a Crapstack”:
They crane their necks, contort their bodies or step up on little folding stools they brought for a better look into the nooks and corners.
“You got to get all up in there like a proctologist,” one guy explains.
The reporter described the crowd as regular bidders who earn a modest income selling the contents of other people’s storage units on eBay.com and at flea markets. Some have niches, like antiques or military items. Sometimes they get lucky, like the two hippies who bought a unit for $225 that held a stash of silver coins, or the guy who bought Paris Hilton’s storage unit in 2007. But a lot of the time, they end up with a bunch of, well, crap.
According to a bidder identified only as Christine, all you find is porn, mildewed clothes and dead rats.
The bidders shared various strategies for buying a good unit:
- Look for cobwebs. That’s a sign that the storage unit owner hasn’t been there to retrieve any valuable items before the auction.
- Units that have neatly stacked boxes and brand-name items are a good sign. (Except for the guy who paid more than $500 for a unit full of boxes marked “Crystal.” Turns out it was a bunch of junk that belonged to someone named Crystal.)
- Only bid on what’s visible, not on what you think might be inside boxes. A plasma TV box is pretty much guaranteed not to contain a plasma TV.
The NPR story ends with an auction for a storage unit that’s filled to the brim with stuff—so much that it comes spilling out when the unit is opened. The bidders speculated about what might be hidden in there.
“There could be motorcycles or jet skis, or a car. Or it could be nothing. We could have flushed $425 down the toilet,” the winning bidder said.
Check out the NPR story to find out what was found. It’s worth a listen.