A Newbies Perspective: Attending My First Storage Auction

Over the weekend, I decided it was time fore me to get in on the auction action. I wanted to get a first hand experience of exactly what happens at each auction.

morning star mini storage poster

My research started a few days before the auction. I started by using the Storage Unit Auction List state by state database, and was able to quickly find an auction in our company's home city of Asheville, NC. On the day of the auction, I got up much earlier than I normally do on Saturdays and called to confirm that the auction was still taking place. After bundling up to attempt to beat the cold, I got to the auction at about 10:30. The auction was set to start at 11 AM.

Morningstar Mini-Storage offers units in the following sizes: 5x5, 5x10, 10x10, 10x15, 10x20. Along with more traditional units, they also offer heated and cooled spaces, wine storage, boat storage, and recreational vehicle/vehicle storage.


When I got to the facility, I spent some time talking with the auctioneer, Steven Cates of Elite Auctioneering Services.

Steven was kind enough to give us general information about that day's auctions and to provide us with a bit of information on the auctioneering certification process. He also talked a bit about his experience with storage auctions in and around the state.

Steven performs auctions for Estate, Business & Restaurant Liquidations, Household-Antiques & Collectibles, Farm Equipment, and Benefit & Storage Auctions. Elite Auctioneering Services operates in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.

storage auction

By 11:00 the facility had started to get crowded with participants. By my count there were around 50 people present. Not only did I see individuals and groups of people participating in the auction together, but many families came with their children. As we made our way around to each unit, I could overhear kids guessing at what would be inside of each unit and making deals with their parents. “If there is a remote control car, you'll bid right? RIGHT?”

Before the auction started we all gathered outside and were given our basic instructions. Anybody familiar with Storage Wars knows the drill. Cash only and everybody gets a chance to look in the locker. However, there were a few differences from Storage Wars. The first difference was that nobody could pay for their unit in the middle of the auction. Which means nobody could just leave the auction and start poking around their unit because the facility lock was still in place. Another important difference was that before we even got started, an announcement was made asking people to be kind and return personal items found in the lockers to the facility management. This way, if people are unable to pay for their units, they can still reclaim their pictures and other personal documents.

The Auction

The auction started and there were 6 units up for bidding. 5 of these were outside units, and the 6th unit was inside. It was announced that the last unit had been officially abandoned. Something I found out later rarely occurs.

At each unit, everybody lined up in a single file to take a look inside. For lockers where there was more interest this process took a few extra minutes. I noticed as the auction continued that the buyers interested in the units tended to gravitate toward the front of the pack once bidding began. But unlike Storage Wars there was very little pomp and circumstance. Each auction only took a few minutes and there were no kooky Barry characters or overly pushy Dave types.

storage unit

Instead, I noticed a sense of camaraderie among the buyers. Some seemed familiar with each other from other auctions and talked shop as we all stood in line to see inside each new unit. I heard people making guesses as the what would be inside, or after reviewing a unit, I heard bidders talking amongst themselves at what the best price on the unit was, or what they thought bidding would start or be capped at.

The least expensive unit of the day went for $125 and the most expensive unit sold for $625. All 6 units had pretty standard fare inside. The most interesting find of the day for me had to be Unit 6, which had an upright piano inside. The piano appeared to be in good condition and because the indoor units were temperature controlled it is safe to assume that it had been protected from the heat damage that would have more than likely ruined the instrument.

After the auction was over and everybody had “paid the lady,” I took some time to walk around and speak with as many buyers as possible.

I was able to talk to three of the winners. Everybody I spoke with used storage auctions to supplement other income. For everybody I spoke with, they seemed to view buying lockers as more of a hobby, some even buying that day for the first time. Nobody had been attending auctions for longer than two years and were selective on when they did bid. One person noted that he hadn't bought a locker in over 8 months until that day.

After The Auction

Later in the week, I got the chance to speak with the Property Manager, Angelica Bargman. We discussed the importance of the stringent North Carolina laws and guidelines the facility follows in order to safeguard themselves, and their renters. The detailed process takes several months. The NC Lien Sale Notice is mailed on the 52nd day of non-payment. Prior to this, the facility places several reminder calls and imposes several sets of late fees. Following the 52nd day, the facility continues to follow a protocol which includes sending out a certified Notice of Sale letter. The auction isn't held until the 81st day of non payment. Angelica explained that to give renters as much time as possible, and to ensure that they are always following the auction procedures to the letter of the law, the facility generally only holds auctions 4 times a year.

Angelica also explained the policy on returning personal belongings to previous renters whenever possible. She said that they ask their buyers to work on a honor system and that typically buyers do bring back personal affects. The facility keeps these items for several months, just in case.

Attending my first auction gave me great first hand exposure. There were defining characteristics to each portion of the auction and along the way, every person I spoke with was welcoming and open to sharing information with me about their involvement and what that entailed. It was an overall great learning experience and I look forward to the next auction I attend!

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