Storage Auctions: what are they and how do you find them?

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Close up of gavel for UK storage auction

Thanks to popular reality TV shows like Storage Hunters and Storage Wars, the fascination with storage auctions has grown in recent years. But, what are they? And how do they work? We offer some insights and share our top tips if you’re looking to invest, or you’re simply intrigued about how they work. 

What is a storage auction?

Very rarely, a storage unit is left or a customer defaults on paying their bills. After every effort is made to rectify the situation the unit is offered to the highest bidder via the form of a storage auction. Unlike the exciting scenes seen on US TV shows, UK storage auctions aren’t carried out with a visit to multiple storage lockers. Instead, unused storage units are usually auctioned off online or via email. 

How do I find a storage auction? 

These days, most storage companies will use eBay to sell units, and will often give some details as to their size and contents. Similarly, some companies will conduct their own private auctions with closed bids, while others will employ auction houses on their behalf. 

If you’re interested in finding out about upcoming auctions, get in touch with any storage companies in your local area, many will have a list or will notify you when they’re open to bids. 

How does a storage auction work?

The inside of a storage unit up for sale via a storage auction.

Before an auction begins, bidders can usually see a photograph of the storage unit being auctioned, which is usually taken from the doorway. Bidders aren’t able to access the unit or take a closer look at the contents before making an offer. Potential buyers are not allowed to bid on individual items within the unit, and can only bid on its entire contents. 

Online storage auctions are a convenient and stress-free way to bid on abandoned units. When bidding online, you can make more educated bids as you’re likely to have more information on the items inside the unit and longer to consider how much they’ll sell for. 

Once the auction has ended, the winner will have a certain amount of time to pay and will have to go directly to the unit and clear the contents themselves.

Top tips for first-time bidders

When it comes to bidding on storage auctions, it can be easy to get carried away with the possibility of uncovering valuable treasures to resell, especially if you’ve just been introduced to the world of online auctions. 

However, bidding on storage auctions is a huge gamble, as buyers often pay more than the contents are worth. When assessing the value of a storage facility, there are a few things to consider.

  1. Set yourself a price limit: before bidding opens, set yourself a maximum price or number of units you’re going to purchase, and don’t exceed it. This will prevent you from making any last-minute decisions or bidding on too many units at once and becoming overwhelmed.
  2. Pay attention to the contents: even if you only have access to a photograph of the unit, take note of the type of box or storage within it, and if there are any larger items visible. If everything is packaged more securely, or in matching or sealed boxes, chances are the items have been taken care of, and may even be of a higher value, while anything large and valuable can easily be sold.
  3. Only bid on units that are conveniently located: the contents of a unit will only be yours once you arrive to collect them and you’ll also need to consider transport, as you’ll only have a certain number of days to empty the contents.

What to do when you visit your storage facility

A lock on a self storage container.

If you’ve just won a storage auction, you’ll only have a certain amount of time to clear the unit of its contents. Here’s what you need to remember:

  • A lock: If you’re making multiple trips, or are leaving the unit in-between collections, you’ll need a padlock to secure the contents.
  • Boxes: the items within the unit may not be boxed up properly, and so you’ll need to invest in boxes and packaging to help make moving easier.
  • Transport: depending on the size or contents of a unit, you might need to hire a van or enlist your friends or family’s’ help to move out. 

The most valuable self storage auction finds

Fans of Storage Hunters and Storage Wars will be familiar with the exciting prospect of hidden treasures lurking in abandoned units. And, while most storage units up for auction contain common household items such as furniture, clothing or paperwork, there have been some valuable finds at storage auctions across the world. 

  • In 2011, a man in California paid $1,000 for a unit to find a box of rare 16th-century Spanish gold and silver inside, which was worth over $500,000.
  • A pristine copy of Action Comics No. 1 featuring the first appearance of Superman, was stolen from actor Nicholas Cage’s house in 2000 and later found in a unit won in an auction in 2011. 
  • Back in 2000, a radio station in Florida spent $300 on a storage locker that had been abandoned and found a collection of Beach Boys memorabilia, including handwritten lyrics, photographs, contracts and cheques.
Beach boys memorabilia found in a storage locker at an auction

Want to find out when our next storage auction is? Why not follow us on eBay? We have previously sold units for as little as £20, so you may be able to grab a bargain for a small price. 

We have strict policies in place to ensure we do everything we can to protect our customers’ belongings, and would like to assure all customers that storage auctions only take place once all other avenues have been explored. If you have any concerns or worries, please take a look at our terms and conditions page or get in touch with a member of our team now.