After watching shows like Storage Wars and Auction Hunters – where people bid on abandoned self-storage lockers in an attempt to turn a profit – I always wondered if it could be done here.
In the shows thousands of dollars are made each episode off of storage lockers that usually get sold for only a couple of hundred dollars.
It turns out that these types of auctions happen right here in Ottawa and across Ontario, and the possibility of making a profit is very real.
I took the time to put together this little guide to help you get started in the storage auction game.
How to get started
The first step in making money the storage locker way is to locate some auctions. Thanks to the Internet this has become much easier. MacLean and Associates is a local auctioneering company that has a pretty good website. They keep it updated with information on upcoming storage auctions and they hold auctions for some of the Ottawa area self-storage facilities periodically.
“There are not that many storage auctions in Ottawa,” said Lennon Hale, a self-proclaimed auction hunter and thrift store co-owner. “And the ones that do happen are getting pretty crowded these days.”
That being said, Hale has had plenty of luck finding valuable items in abandoned storage lockers. He recently bought an abandoned locker for $450 and it had an antique hutch that was appraised for $1700 and a hand carved chest that he sold for $400; there was also about another $400 worth of stuff in that locker. One of his biggest finds to date is a comic book collection worth about $10,000.
“It’s getting harder and harder to find good lockers,” says Hale. “In Ottawa there used to be 10 or 20 people show, now there is as many as 100 and it drives the price of the lockers up.”
Now according to Hale the best lockers he finds are in other areas of Ontario, mostly around Toronto. He said that they only happen in Ottawa every month or so, but if you look you can find them all over Ontario, basically wherever there are self-storage centres.
Gregory D’Atri is president of Storwell Self Storage, which owns and operates three self-storage centres and the website www.storwell.com. Storwell has found a fairly unique way of auctioning off storage units – they do it totally online.
People can visit their website to look at a short video clip showing the contents of the locker and then bid on them.
D’Atri said that storage auctions might be ideal for students because often they contain whole apartment sets with beds, tables, dressers, TV’s and other household items.
“For a couple of hundred bucks you can get the basics for an apartment,” said D’Atri.
Be prepared for competition. When Storwell started doing online auctions they would usually get 1,000 visitors to their site, but after the explosion in popularity of the shows his site now sees about 20,000 hits each month.
It is also important to call ahead the day before the auction because people have up until the day of the auction to pay off their debt.
What to look for
Antiques, collectables and electronics are obviously all hot ticket items, but at storage locker auctions the way something has been stored is almost as important as the item itself.
Looking for something bubble wrapped or that has been put away with care is a good indication it has value said Lucas Tomaro, an antiques appraiser at A Fine Thing in Ottawa.
“Look for furniture or antiques that has a patina built up on it,” said Tomaro.
Patina is sort of a texture and look that antiques build up over time and can be a good indicator of how old something is.
Tomaro also said that knowing your wood types and the difference between mahogany, ebony and just Ikea particle board could come in handy.
What not to buy
According to Hale you should avoid lockers with garbage in them and never buy more than you can take away in a short amount of time, because you usually only have a couple of days to empty out the locker.
He said he only bids on what he can see, and that he is prepared to risk breaking even but not losing money.“Basically I look for pride of ownership, if everything is just thrown about, I probably won’t bid on it,” said Hale.
“In my experience if the locker looks like junk it ends up being garbage 90 per cent of the time.”
Hale also said he usually avoids the outside storage locker units because it costs more money to store things inside and therefore the things inside are probably more valuable.
Auctioneer Gilles Dupéré said you have to know what’s valuable or you may end up buying more landfill.