Storage Auctions Secrets: Mystery Units and the Fifty Dollar Rule

Sadly, many neophytes to self-storage auction hunting will go bidding berserk their firstMystery Machine week of auctions and retire early.  So anxious to get the ball rolling on their inventory boosting, they get swept up in a throng of experienced bidders and "win" a unit for twice as much as it is worth.


Doing so could easily  exhaust a beginner's auction start up capital and compel them to write the whole thing off, simply because they thought it was so easy a monkey (or super intelligent, talking dog) could do it.  Incorrect.  Staying power is one of the most key ingredients to seeing amazing profits and hard work paying off in this trade.

That’s why we have one strategy and one strategy only for starry eyed beginners: keep your first winning wager between $10-$60 on what is known as a "Mystery Unit."

Experience Before Profit

The first personal victory you need to score is not strictly profits, but hanging tough and performing the entire process, from bidding, to cleaning out, to selling.  Profits often do surprisingly add up from smaller units, anyway, at least in proportion to how little you paid.

There are so many reasons why keeping your first locker on the cheap-o level is essential to your development into a pro.  For starters, we are going to assume that you are in this business in the first place to supplement or replace an already unsatisfactory income.  We are going to assume that you have a basic, theoretical understanding of how unit buying and resale work and are ready to get your feet wet.

Even if you have read Storage Unit Auction List's blog or watched every illuminating resource on the trade, there is no replacement for getting in the mix of your first couple of bidding crowds.  If step one of the process is tarnished, “buying low and selling high,” then you are already playing from behind.

Even if you are at the intermediate storage hunting level, read on to learn a simple rule to stealing what are called “Mystery Units.”

Finding Mystery Units: Caravan Auctions/Multiple Auctions

scooby doo villains

In order to be able to exercise true patience on your first cheap locker, you need to pick an auction environment that is going to give you the greatest chance of meeting the Mystery Unit that others will pass on. does something very unique in that we specify which auctions on your list are “Caravan Auctions.”  We clump together and highlight in blue auctions where you will be following an auctioneer from one facility to the next within a nearby radius.

Caravan auctions can last two hours or half of a day.  It just depends.  Either way, what you are guaranteeing for yourself, as a beginner, is massive amounts of first hand exposure to a day at the auctions: the size and pressure of a bidding crowd, the chant of an auctioneer, and the first hand encounter with a locker that could potentially be yours.

Clues to the Mystery Unit

As top-tier storage guru Glendon Cameron says of this business, “patience is action.”  Even if this is not precisely your first auction, you may still feel a little green around the edges in the midst of grizzled, backwoodsey bidders, or maybe sharp, serious looking bidders.  They have been around long enough that they only bid on exactly what they wish to add to their collection and go after big units with staggering bids.

Your job is to let them all smirk at and pass on “The Mystery Unit,” then go for it.  You’ll know the Mystery Unit both by its appearance and by its slow bidding reception.

    1. Appearance/Size: It is a 5x5 unit or a 5x10 unit that is cluttered to the point where the contents cannot be read very well.  It may have tell-tell signs of danger, like two mattresses or stuffed garbage bags.  However, these things must be balanced out by the appearance of at least a few sealed boxes or Rubbermaid containers.  This is not a recommendation to spend 10 to 80 dollars on garbage.  Make sure there is at least one visible thing of value and at least a handful of invisible things of value.  The Mystery Unit is so called because it is a small, double edged sword that rookies and pros alike pass on, for opposite reasons.  If you see two or three things that have potential among one, get on your toes.


  1. Bidding Reception: From the starting bid throughout, the wagers are slow and unenthused.  The price may hike up to $30 or $40, then start to taper off.  Even better for you, it may even sit at ten measly dollars even as the countdown begins, which happens all of the time.

Closing the MysteryKISS scooby doo

If the wager is hovering around $10, bid $30 at the last moment.  If it is at $20, bid $50 at the last snippet of the countdown.  In storage speak, this is referred to as “sniping."  You get the idea.  The crowd has been lulled to sleep, and just when the highest bidder thinks it is a done deal, you casually outbid them.

If $50 is exceeded on a mystery unit, walk away from it.  It is just a pocket thinning bidding war waiting to happen.  Mystery Units can be a great investment to add a few key pieces to existing inventory for the recreational auction goer as well.  However, it is not recommended to go strictly after Mystery Units if your inventory or finances are running dangerously low.

Follow the $50 rule and you’ll rarely go wrong, provided that there are a handful of containers or visible items (like a brass standing lamp, say) that are going to obviously make it worth most of your investment.  Average bidders subconsciously do not pay more than $50 on a Mystery Unit, especially if there are a few more lockers to come.

You'll often get away it, even with those meddling kids...



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