Big payoffs can be found, but are elusive
When a rookie shows up to bid on repossessed storage units at a local auction, the first thing they are told by seasoned buyers is not to believe everything they see on TV.
Of course they are referring to the numerous storage auction shows, such as A&E’s hit series “Storage Wars,” which follows four professional buyers and their teams as they scour repossessed storage units in search of a big payoff. The series often makes the purchase of these storage units seem glamorous, with many of the show’s stars apparently raking in a profit after almost every episode.
But that big payoff is as elusive as it gets for the local professional buyers who showed up at an auction at Boutte Mini Storage last Thursday. And while none of the buyers were shy about discussing the highs and lows of the storage auction business, none of them wanted their last names printed.
“Sometimes (the money is) there, but I can’t tell you how many (units) I’ve been burned on,” Fred said. “Not many people can say that they are on a first name basis with the guys who run the dump.”
“You can find anything at a storage auction – roaches, rats,” he said with a laugh.
The two men, who travel to storage auctions around the New Orleans area, delighted in telling tales of their worst buys. Determining the value of a storage unit is difficult because buyers are not allowed inside and can only glance at the items from a distance. Fred said that one unit that he bought had an urn with ashes inside.
“I walked right up to the front desk (of the storage company) and left it for them,” he said.
Another bad buy for Fred was the time he spent $800 on a unit because it was filled with several boxes labeled “fragile.” Inside each box were thousands of Styrofoam peanuts.
Eddie said he once spent $400 on a unit and made only $40 back. He also bought a unit that had 50 bags full of household garbage.
Why then do they keep coming back? Because there have also been some major scores.
Fred cited a unit that he paid $100 for and managed to turn into $16,000 due to the antiques and art inside. Eddie, who got into the business after getting laid off of his construction job, spent $55 on a unit and turned it into $1,800.
“You never know what another man thinks is valuable,” Fred said. “That’s why you keep coming back.”
Emma Rousse, the owner of Boutte Mini Storage, said that she hosts auctions two or three times a year. Every unit that is auctioned off is repossessed because the owner refused to pay the storage fee.
Rousse said that her company waits three months before confiscating the property inside.
“It costs anywhere from $52 to $140 a month to have a unit here, so we never make our money back at the auctions,” she said.
Fifteen people were on hand last week to bid on the 15 units. The most expensive storage unit went for $260 and was filled with furniture. The cheapest unit went for $20 and was also filled with furniture. It’s that ability to tell a good buy from a cheap buy that separates a good buyer from a bad one.
Overall, the average price for each unit was around $100 and the majority of the units were filled with old furniture and clothes – though a few washers, dryers, exercise bikes and guitars were also uncovered.
Another buyer, Drew, said that the auction at the Boutte Mini Storage was one of the last pure auctions left in the area.
“If you get those knuckleheads from the city down here then these units would be bid up to $400 or $500,” he said. “But you see the stuff that is in these units and it’s not worth that.”
Most of the buyers do travel around to numerous auctions though. One buyer, who did not want to be identified because of a pending sale, said he purchased a unit in Baton Rouge that held two headstones. One of the headstones was for an older couple that passed away, while the other was for their cat.
While the trip seemed like a bust, the buyer discovered artwork in another unit that he says is worth $15,000.
Rousse hopes stories like that will draw in more buyers to her next auction.
“Because of the show (“Storage Wars”) we do have a lot more people coming to our auctions than we used to,” she said. “More people means more competition.”
To find storage auctions in St. Charles Parish check the Herald-Guide legals.