How to Bid on Abandoned Storage Units (and Why You Might Want To)

In the U.S., something like 20% of the population is paying rent on a storage unit of some sort. People keep all sorts of stuff in storage units, from furniture that doesn’t fit in their current home to collectibles, personal items, and stuff that other people might categorize as “junk.”A storage unit is rented property, though, and if you fail to pay your rent, the facility typically has the right to put your stuff up for auction when they’re closing out the unit. This saves them the time and trouble of cleaning the unit out and brings in some extra revenue. Storage unit auctions are actually a bit of a booming side gig for storage facilities—with an estimated 155,000 auctions per year, storage companies rake in about $65 million from auctions.If you’ve ever seen Storage Wars or similar shows on television, you know that anyone can bid on an abandoned storage unit. It’s a lot easier than you think, and there are a lot of reasons why you might want to.Why you might want to bid on a storage unitWhy would you spend time and money bidding on someone’s left-behind junk? There are a lot of reasons:Bargains. If you’re looking to furnish an apartment for cheap, or need specific things, a storage unit can be a cheap way to get them. Because it’s a bidding process, it’s possible to win the contents of a unit for incredibly small sums—as low as $10—which makes anything you find in there a bargain. There are other costs involved (more on that below), but it’s possible to nail some amazing deals.Profit. Folks make some real money buying abandoned storage units and reselling their contents. It’s not necessarily an easy gig (cleaning out storage units is a lot of work) and there’s no guarantee every (or even most) storage unit you bid on will be worth much, but if you’re diligent about it, you can make a tidy profit.Discovery. Every abandoned storage unit represents a mystery. Some will have boring junk, some will have valuable items—and some will contain some really bizarre, interesting things that make this an ideal side hustle for anyone seeking a bit of mystery and adventure in their lives.One caveat: Not all abandoned storage units are left behind due to someone’s passing; sometimes folks fall behind on their rent due to financial struggles. Keep in mind you might be bidding on stuff because of someone else’s misfortune—and you might be actively bidding against the owner. There’s nothing wrong with that, but maybe think twice before you do a victory dance.How storage unit bidding worksIt’s actually really easy to bid on abandoned storage units. Usually you can bid on them in person or online, though some facilities only do one or the other. The process is basically the same, but online auctions tend to take longer. Here’s how to do it:Register. Your first step is to register as a bidder with a website that handles online auctions (like Storage Treasures or Bid13). You just need to supply some basic information and a method of payment, and you’re in.Identify abandoned units. You can search sites like Storage Treasures for unit auctions near you, or contact a storage facility in your area directly. You’ll want to keep it local, because you have to make arrangements to cart everything away. Aside from seeing auctions from more than one location, the advantage to searching online is keyword searching: If you’re looking for specific things, you can sometimes narrow the list of auctions down by searching for those items.Browse. In most areas, no one can legally enter the storage unit until it’s been sold (even the facility manager or owner won’t go inside). In person, you can view the storage unit from the outside, but you won’t be allowed to touch anything. Online, you’ll typically get a photo and a description of what can be seen from outside the unit—so you have some idea what’s in there. But if everything’s in boxes or the unit is packed tight, you won’t know what you’re getting until you take possession.Bid. When the auction starts, you can place your bids. It’s a good idea to have a maximum bid in mind before you get swept up in the action—and make sure you can pay your bid, because it will be due immediately if you win the auction. Online auctions will simply charge the card you have on file with them, but in-person auctions sometimes require cash.Pay. If you win an auction, it’s time to pay up. The unit owner has the right to claim their property right up until the moment you pay, so don’t delay. You’ll wind up paying more than your bid: There will be sales tax in some areas, often there’s a bidding fee of 10% to 15% of the price, and there may be a cleaning deposit (that may or may not be refundable—make sure you know the terms when you sign up). Plus, you’ll have to make arrangements to travel to the location and cart everything away, so if you need to rent a truck or hire some help, those will be added expenses.Collect. Once you win, show up and claim your treasures. It’s a good idea to bring safety and cleaning equipment—you have no idea what you’ll find in that unit, so you’ll be glad to have a face mask and some gloves.Other things to keep in mind: You’ll usually get 1-2 days to clean the unit out, so be ready with your arrangements before you start bidding. And even if you win the auction, there are some items you won’t be allowed to keep:Any personal legal documents (like birth certificates) must be returned to the former unit owner (or their heirs).Vehicles that don’t have a title associated with them can only be sold for parts.If you find firearms, you usually have to turn them in to the police.There may be other restrictions or variations on these three—check the facility’s policies and the laws in your area to make sure you know what you’re dealing with.

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