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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Guest Blog #2: Our First Unit

From time to time, we allow contributions from auctioneers, fellow bidders, friends, and fans.  Here is the second of such blogs,  written by our friend Sean who has been following our blog for some time.   He and his wife Rachel decided recently to go to their first auction, and here is their tale.   Sean writes:

After months of watching Storage Wars and reading about Becca and Brian’s exploits here at Storage Heroes, I’ve been getting interested in at least going to observe a storage auction. After viewing a video posted on the Storage Heroes Facebook page, I decided I really wanted to give a shot at buying a unit or two.

The video gave some great tips/pointers for beginners. The main point that said I could at least attempt a locker purchase was that it’s a lot easier to do if you already have a space to store items. My wife and I recently bought a 4 bedroom house, and there’s one bedroom we have no use for yet. It’s the only bedroom we haven’t bothered to paint and is basically an oversized closet for knickknacks we hadn’t found good places for yet and some things we didn’t sell at our last garage sale. What I saw as the biggest starting obstacle was out of the way.

After watching the video, I talked to my wife (Rachel) about trying it. She wanted to do another garage sale in the spring and thought some more merchandise would be good, so she gave her blessing to try for a few small units. Our easy ground rules are that we aren’t going to buy anything that we can’t transport in my car and that this will be nothing more than a (hopefully) profitable hobby. Now my car can haul a good bit, but anything larger than a few dining room chairs or a small coffee table and it’s just not happening. So any units with a large item of furniture are out for is. Plus, no heavy lifting is fine with me!

I started to check the public announcements every day or so in the Advocate and found a few upcoming auctions that were marginally interesting. Then, one day, I saw an auction with 10 units. I figured that would have enough units to attract most of the local regulars. To make it even better, it was a day off work for Rachel, so she’d be there to help.

It’s probably good here to let you know that Baton Rouge auctions are apparently different from New Orleans auctions in that they give more detailed descriptions of what is in the units. A few of the units up for auction had only small items listed: “2 Lamps, Rug, Vases, Plastic Plants, Misc. Boxes & Bags” “Framed Pictures, Small Flat Screen TV, Vases, Lots of Misc. items” “Bags of clothing & shoes”. The others all listed lots of furniture and appliances. We’d be out on those, but there were a few I units I might actually be able to make some bids on!

A few days before auction, we started to put together a list of necessary items: flashlights, gloves, locks, hand sanitizer, snacks, bottled water, cash, a clean car for maximum hauling capacity (highly unusual for me). We already had everything except the clean car, so we were in pretty good shape.

Auction Day

We arrive at the facility about 45 minutes before the auction and look to be the second bidders there (there was a lot of fog that morning and I didn’t know how long it would take to get there). We chat with one of the managers (a husband/wife on-site team) and it seems to be a very relaxed atmosphere. The first small item unit and one of the big item units were paid off in time, but 8 units are still up for auction. I sign the rules agreement (bids in $5 increments, no stepping over the unit line, no use of the on-site dumpster… nothing that sounds odd) and we head in to wait. We have a good bit of time to kill, so we walk the units to get a feel for what size we think the units up for auction are.

About 15 minutes before the start time, others start rolling in. We see a good number of pickup trucks and trailers. That makes us feel good because it looks like the people showing up are here looking for furniture and appliances. They can have them!

The manager comes up and the group starts coalescing around him at a door to some of the indoor units. “Has everyone checked in at the office?” A group of several older couples that came in at the last minute of course chimes in with “You have to check in?” We quietly celebrate that we are not the most hopelessly new here.

About 5 minutes after the manager first came out to get things started, we head inside and he gives us the rules. Mainly, stay out the units, speak loud enough when you want to bid so that he hears you and no, he won’t be doing the high speed auctioneer talk. There’s about 25-30 people, so it’s not a ridiculously large crowd.

The first few units are large item units. We just peek in the units and otherwise watch and listen. The auctions start pretty low, with someone usually giving the manager an opening bid while still looking. He already knows many of the bidders by first name, so we can tell that there are regulars here. A few get pretty heavy bidding (but usually only growing $5 at a time) and we really get the impression that these furniture/appliance units are the ones all the regulars are after. There’s nothing breathtaking in the units, but the prices they go for aren’t breathtaking for the amount or quality of items either. We can see someone with the space to store or retail what they’re buying able to do pretty good with these units.

After a few units, we come to the “Framed Pictures, Small Flat Screen TV, Vases, Lots of Misc. items” unit. We’re excited because we might finally be able to bid. The door goes up and we see… some frames, a few vases, an 11” or 13” computer monitor, a lot of pavement and what the manager deems a “mystery bag.” We were a little bummed because we had been looking for a flat screen TV for ourselves. The frames look like they have some floral prints and to be general wall art. The “mystery bag” has a logo for a sports apparel and supplies company. By the size of it and how it’s standing, I figure its youth baseball bats or maybe some catchers gear. I try to shine a light in a hole in the side of the bag to see a reflection off a metal bat, but get nothing.

We move a bit away from the unit to discuss pricing, and are trying to remember how many frames there were, thinking we could get about $5 each at a garage sale. We avoid the allure of the “mystery bag.” As we come to the conclusion that $50 might be what we can get out of them at a garage sale, we hear the manager call out $70. That means no bidding for us. The bidding continues over $100 and some of the regulars that were down the hall near us and completely uninterested in the unit start murmuring and quietly laughing a bit. The unit goes for $150 after what looks like some bidding up by one of the regulars. Hopefully someone saw something we all missed or knew something about the “mystery bag” or art.

We go off to a few more large item units before coming to the “Bags of clothing & shoes” unit. The door goes up, and there’s a messy pile in one corner. I spot a few decent looking clothing items on top. Most of the regulars move on towards the last unit (a heavy furniture unit) completely uninterested in these little items. I guess they find enough of this kind of stuff buried under and behind furniture. We move down just a little, not wanting to miss our chance to at least get the thrill of the bid while the price is low. I ask Rachel what she thinks and she says “$70.” As I’m asking if she thinks we should pay that much or if that’s what she thinks we can make off of it, bidding opens with another bidder at $20. I bid $25 immediately as I still try to get Rachel’s opinion straight before its too late. The other bidder goes $30, I go $35, she goes $40, I go $45. She takes one last long look in and tells the manager that she’s done. We win! While I give my name to the manager, Rachel slaps our lock on and I’m in a bit of shock that we actually got one.

We just take a quick glance at the last unit for the fun of it and it goes fast. A few people compliment us on getting our unit so cheap. We head around the corner to the office to pay. A few minutes later, we’re back at our unit.

The door goes up and before anything, its picture time:

Yeah, it wasn’t much to look at. Gloves go on and its dig time. Just on the size of the pile and thinking we could get $0.50 to $1 for pretty much any piece of clothing at a garage sale at worst, we’re feeling good about at least not losing money on this. I start looking through a bag of random clothing and bed linens. Just a few minutes in, Rachel uncovers our first treasure:

That is mine. I decide that my long sleeve shirt is too hot for this dig, so the jersey replaces it. The dig continues and Rachel finds several children’s clothing sets still with tags. Almost everything else is women’s clothing and shoes, but there’s a lot of it and some of it still has tags too! I find a little piece of electronics we don’t recognize, but are really feeling good about this unit overall.

We dig a little further and find a Cajun seasoning gift basket from the City of Ville Platte with pretty much everything unopened. There’s also a bag of cleaning supplies (most still usable). Then at the bottom of the pile, we uncover an odd plastic mess… an air mattress! The weird electronic was an air pump. I didn’t see the inflate/deflate instructions printed on it. We’ve been wanting an air mattress for emergencies, but never got around to buying one. No need to now. We find only about a bag of stuff that we instantly know is trash and actually get the entire haul into the car. No return trip!

After lunch, Rachel does some final clearing of our extra bedroom before we unload the carload and I make a trip to the office to take care of a few things. When I get home, we unload everything into our den and start sorting. Rachel starts going through the opened envelopes. Early on, Rachel finds a collection of jailhouse love letters (yes, she found all the fun stuff) and, sadly, a jailhouse letter from the tenant’s son. I can’t help but read one of the love letters, a 5-page treatise. There’s not a lot that I’m going to repeat from this letter, but I can give you this quote: “Don’t forget to have some Cherrie’s, and Strawberry Perserve Jelly, with the Strawberries whole in the Jar.” All I can say is that he wasn’t giving her a recipe he picked up working in the jail lunchroom.

As I’m reading the combination of rap sheet and letter to Penthouse, Rachel checks a card and finds this:

We’ve already recovered almost half our cash in this locker before selling a thing! Our keepings aren’t looking too bad either:

Cajun Seasonings/Mixes (one small jar of Slap Ya Mama was unsealed and went in the trash). There’s Cajun BBQ sauce and a jar of roux base in there.

Cleaning Supplies (some partially used, but still good for cleaning)

Not shown are two spray bottles of hand sanitizer. A sign that we should keep going in the storage unit adventures?

The air mattress turned out to be a queen-sized Aero bed pillowtop and looks to be in great condition. Those are running $60+ on eBay, without a pump.

To make this unit even better for us, some of the clothes look to be my mom’s size and we’ll probably be giving her some of the newer clothes.

As for stuff to sell, we’ve filled a closet with clothing and have about 20 pairs of women’s shoes and lots of miscellaneous towels and bedding (some still with tags).

Overall, our first storage unit buy has been a good experience, thanks in large part to everything we’ve been able to glean from Becca and Brian’s blogging. Getting something very manageable cheap, and full of things we’ll actually use for our first try didn’t hurt either. The small starting unit has let us put some good practices in place (like cataloguing everything in a recently-retired laptop that’s now staying in the storage room purely for storage unit record keeping) and we’re ready to try for another unit or two. Rachel’s hoping to add some variety to our merchandise to get a wider crowd to our next garage sale.

If you’ve been wanting to go to an auction to try your hand, I’d say give it a try! But go in prepared and knowing your limits… time, space and dollars.

That's it for now!  Thanks so much to Sean and Rachel for providing all of us with a little taste of their experiences.    We welcome future contributions from any and all of you who may decide to try this out.  Sean reminded me of one of our older tips when he was talking about setting $70 as a bid or as a value to the unit.   So, here you go:

Storage Heroes Tip #25:   Set your limits on a unit BEFORE bidding begins, and not after, and stick to it.  It's easy to get out of control when you don't like the person who is bidding against you or you have too much pride to back down, etc.  If you set your limits before-hand based on what YOU want to do (and not what anyone else wants to do or wants you to do), it's a lot easier to know when to stop.  

And also,  Storage Heroes Tip #3:  Set your bids at 50% of what your perceived value of the unit is, based only on items you can see, and only on items that you can see.  It's not worth it to do all of the work for a profit margin of less than 50%. 

Until next time,

Storage Heroes


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