Self-storage unit auctions have been getting increased attention to two new reality TV shows, Storage Wars and Auction Hunters. The premise is simple. If someone pays to have their stuff stored there, but stops paying the rent, the storage company won’t let you pick up your stuff until you pay up. If you still don’t pay your bills, they’ll auction off all your stuff in order to make the unit available again. I’ve always tried to avoid such places because I figured that just meant I had too much stuff!
The auction itself is quite a gamble. Bidders usually only get to see what is visible while standing outside the unit, and that’s it. So you could end up with valuable antiques, or a carefully-folded collection of used underwear. Want to participate in a live auction to see what it’s all about? Traditionally, you would be looking for the legally-required notices in your local newspaper. These days, the best site I could find for looking up self storage listings in your area is Sparefoot.com, a start-up that primarily does self-storage price comparisons. Bring cash, and verify the time and place by phone on the day of the auction.
A few added warnings. First, the new popularity means winning bids have doubled in some areas. Second, some shady places now actually scam people by making the unit look artificially valuable with things like (empty) brand-name boxes. Almost sounds like a Freakonomics topic.