If you go to a storage auction in your area, will the bidding resemble the storage battles you see on TV?

Generally speaking, it won’t, Arizona auctioneer Casey Jones said. Like most things, the “reality” you see on Storage Wars doesn’t match what takes place at real-life storage auctions.

Still, when understood correctly, storage auctions can be a worthwhile—and even entertaining—way to spend your time. “At our auctions, we have some banter back and forth,” Jones said.

How Self-Storage Unit Auctions Work

Self-storage unit auctions happen when storage tenants fail to pay their rent on time. After 30 days overdue, storage facilities can typically put a lien on the contents of the renter’s unpaid unit. Storage owners will also lock the renter out of the unit so they can’t take their stuff out without paying the past due amount.

Depending on state law, renters have between 30 and 90 days to pay the storage facility everything they owe and avoid an auction. During that time the storage operator will attempt o contact the renter and advertise the auction publicly. If the renters does not pay what’s due in time, the storage owner can proceed to auction off a unit’s contents to the highest bidder.

Storage locker auctions are typically conducted in one of two ways: live auctions or online. Online auctions have taken off in recent years, even more so since the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic kicked into full swing.  In both cases, the winning bidder must promptly pick up the unit’s contents and empty out the unit. Then, the winning bidder typically will attempt resale of the items from the unit and hope to turn a profit.

8 Common Myths About Self-Storage Auctions

Anyone can attend self storage auctions, and many come just to check out the action. For newcomers thinking about bidding on auctions for extra income, a good place to start is to attend and observe a couple of auctions before throwing out an opening bid.

There are many misconceptions about storage auctions out there. Before diving in, make sure you know the truth behind these eight storage auction myths.

1. Every unit contains valuable stuff.

Incredible finds are definitely a possibility when purchasing storage units, but “it just doesn’t happen quite as often as seen on TV,” said Travis Lane, founder of OnlineStorageAuctions.com.

To make the most of your experience, know where you can sell the items, Jones suggested. If you have an outlet in mind, you’ll be able to think through the value of goods, along with the profit to be made.

2. It’s impossible to tell what’s inside a storage unit.

While stepping foot into a storage locker isn’t allowed before an auction begins, you’ll be able to peer into it from the outside.

Bring a flashlight, Jones said, and “don’t forget to use your nose.” You might be able to spot collectible items that might fetch a nice price. You’ll also know, by smell, whether the previous owner smoked or whether some items should have been thrown in the trash.

3. Storage operators remove valuables before the auction.

“Like most conspiracy theories, this one is based upon the actions of a few bad apples,” Lane said.

In reality, auctioning off someone else’s belongings is a last resort, said James Grant, president and CEO of auction website StorageTreasures.com. By law, if a storage tenant stops paying for a unit, the facility must auction off the items inside to help cover the amount due.

However, you should keep an eye out for staged units. While rare, some operators have been caught faking auctions with worthless junk.

4. A credit card is all you need to buy a unit.

“Always bring cash,” Jones said.

In addition to the amount you bid, you’ll need to pay sales tax, unless you have a sales tax ID number.

You’ll also usually be required to pay a cleaning deposit. This amount, typically between $50 and $100, will be refunded as soon as you clear out the unit.

5. You must attend the auction.

Sites such as StorageTreasures.com and OnlineStorageAuctions.com allow you to bid on storage units from home. If you bid online, “you’re not dependent on the weather,” Grant said.

Furthermore, online auctions give you the chance to do a little research. For instance, if you spot a bike or a refrigerator, you can look online to see whether the item is selling for a certain price on eBay or another e-commerce site.

6. You can keep any memorabilia you find.

If you make the highest bid, you’re generally entitled to all of the contents inside a storage unit.

However, most facilities ask that you return personal items, such as photo albums, to the facility manager. “It’s just common courtesy,” Jones said.

7. Storage operators make a big profit from auctions.

By law, storage facilities can keep only the overdue amount of rent, as well as enough to cover the costs of the auction, such as lock-cutting fees. The remainder goes to the tenant.

Say a place has a delinquent tenant who owes $500, and a unit of the unit generates $1,000. The facility can keep just $500, plus enough money to cover auction fees. The rest is sent to the customer.

For storage facility owners, “it’s their last legal remedy to get back the storage unit to rent to someone else,” Grant said.

8. You can pick up everything at your convenience.

After buying a unit, you often have until the close of business the next day to clear out a unit, Jones said.

Some facilities might let you rent the unit for a month and remove the items during that time. The sooner you clean out a unit, the more time you’ll have to evaluate—and then sell—what you find.

Rachel Hartman


  1. That was so informative. I was just going to attend an auction in storage facility near my house. Thank you so much Rachel for posting this article.

  2. Nice basic info. However while you tell how your auctions are, many are not.
    — MOST storage facilities do NOT charge a cleaning deposit. Why? Because they want you to buy more units and $100 per unit deposit limits that.
    — Same goes for Buyer’s Premium. Most places do not charge one because it limits the amounts that people are able to spend. It is added to the “fair and reasonable” costs of the auction they can charge the tenant. The smaller the city or facility, the less likely they will tack on these nickle and dime charges to the buyer.
    — Many facilities DO accept plastic to pay for the units on site. Some do not. But I have never been to an on site auction that did not allow you to go to an ATM to get more.
    — Your references to “the law requires” should include a disclaimer. Not all states require an auction per se. Along with buying lockers, I also own some. I sell mine yard sale style — open the door and drag it out for the buyers to pick through. There are other ways to sell them as well.
    — The facilities do not want the personal items you find in lockers. They would have lockers of their own holding the items. While I have returned photos and awards and such to people when they ask, I cannot in any way hold on to those items in case someone comes back. If I knew where the people were, chances are I would not be selling / buying the locker to begin with. The same goes for the excess money. It is surrendered when requested, but it is not automatically returned as usually no one has a current address on the tenant.
    — My main point is that they are all different. Know the rules of the state and facility. Do your homework, or you will get held in during recess. 🙂

    1. Not in Colorado. They ALL charge a cleaning deposit. EVERY facility wants the personal item back right away. MOST do NOT accept plastic. Agree, Never had a buyers premium. But like you say it helps to know the rules of your state before you go. Last thing, DO NOT get caught up in the bidding! Put a limit on what you are going to bid and stick to it! or you will over pay and loose. Look at it like a lottery ticket. spend what you can lose and be happy if you do not lose. Have Fun!

  3. An art gallery put everything in storage after going out of buissness . I purchased the room and then put the items up for auction at a main street auction . An artist contacted the auction house and said that the paintings belonged to him and that he was trying to find out where they were . He says he feels they belong to him and were stolen . What is my position re these paintings by him can I sell them

      1. You misunderstood his message. The artist lends a piece to an art gallery. The art gallery goes out of business and stores his work, probably without the artists consent. Then, you buy the lot that is filled with property that the gallery did not own, but was only given permission to display. So I would try and communicate with the artist and get more background information. I believe that legally you are covered, but morally, perhaps it would be cool to find a solution that appeases both of you. For instance, after explaining your dilemma, having purchased this lot, he might be willing to buy his pieces from storage from you. Obviously he would not get the value you might have gotten selling them at auction, but you don’t take a loss and he gets something that has more sentimental value to him than anyone else. And, you still have the other art pieces included from the lot.

        1. The gallery is required to hold the items, but it is up to the artist to contact the gallery owner(s) to recover his work if the gallery goes out of business. Perhaps they contacted him because he owed them money for sales or display fees, and he refused to pay so they threw it in storage with other work. Whatever the circumstances, it is sure that the artist had time to recover the work before the auction. After all, it generally takes 3 months or more before an auction occurs. The storage unit was probably unpaid for 2 or 3 months, then there is the notification period and 30 day recover, then the time the auction was scheduled. When you add in the time it probably took the gallery to pack things up and announce they were closing and do whatever they needed to close up, including notifying the artist to come get his stuff or pay what he owed them. Figure this artist had a good 6 months or more to try to recover his work, and he now is upset? His inaction led to this, so he should pay you to recover the art.

    1. I bought a unit that had promotional materials and albums from a European rock band that had been operating an office locally. The materials were copyrighted by the group and their attorney so they would have been useless to most people that might buy them. I reached out searching for the principles and sent messages around to people and places that might have information for a week after purchasing it. I was contacted by their attorney who wanted to know how they could get it back. I negotiated a price they were willing to pay and made a huge profit for not doing anything at all except moving it to my storage unit after I bought it. The promotional materials had footage and images that could not be recreated and would be lost forever if they did not retrieve them from me. I had them pick up the items at my storage and I was done with it. You might want to contact the artist and see if he understands your position and is willing to pay a “recovery fee” or “reward” for the return of his work. After all, it is just like paying a royalty or commission to some gallery or reseller. Just think of it as frames and canvas rather than art.

    2. You are not responsible for the artist loss he or she needs to go after the galary/person they gave the paintings to, which isn’t you. When you bought the storage unit the contents ALL of the contents of that unit legally became yours.

  4. Actually, I have had to leave cleaning deposits at some auctions, but it was one deposit that covered all units I purchased. They have no problem handing the money back to you once you clean it out. I have also had to pay buyer’s premium at a majority of storage auctions around the state. Since people keep this 10% in mind when bidding, they usually bid accordingly. Those who don’t, just end up paying more than expected. I have had different experiences as far as payment accepted. It depends on the auctioneer. If it is the facility doing it, they often do take credit cards through their own system. Many auctioneers will only accept cash. Most will allow you to dash off to the ATM, but if you make this a habit, you will not be held in high favor because you cause a hiccup in their system. Most auctioneers want to get out of the facility ASAP because they schedule many auctions the same day and now you delay their arrival at the next facility. They do not like that. Some states, such as here in California, you are required to surrender personal identification and financial records such as taxes and account info. They often ask you to have the courtesy to return personal photos etc. They ask that you box them up, tape the box shut, and mark the box with the unit number and date. They will then mark it with the name and information to track the box, and hold it for 30 days as required. After the 30 days they will dispose of it or destroy it. Where this is not required, if you do not do it and the former owner suffers identity theft, you may be on the hook for it. It is best just to seal things up and turn them in. If the facility gets rid of it, you just need to have a record that you turned it in.

  5. Lost my storage bin and it was auctioned, any way to find out who the buyer was? Is there a site I can visit? Post info just incase someone sees my post they can contact me. Would like to know if personal belongings (pics, paperwork) that would not be of no value to the buyer can be purchased back. Just looking for some help. Its a long shot but I have to try

    1. The same thing happened to me. In fact, they just called to tell me mine is up for auction this morning. I am truly praying for grace and mercy with regard to the things of sentimental value. The lady aside she’d call me if they leave those sentimental items to her. So there is hope. Prayerfully someone will be gracious enough to leave what matters most so you can pick it up. Blessings.

  6. Some facilities require you bring your own locks at bidding to place on units you win before you can bid on any other unit, and some require a special lock, not just any kind of lock, so check with facility about there rules before even coming to bid

  7. Can you buy back your personal items once your public storage has been sold I live in Washington DC does something like that every happen

  8. Units in reality are often Cherry Picked by Facility Staff or owners prior to the Auction . Here in Calif the law states facility owners or their agents may enter units , inventory contents and transfer contents to another secure location if needed. I worked at a storage facility part time as a maintenance man and the facility owner/ manager and his wife went through every unit prior to auction and took all valuable jewelry , exspensive electronics , Exspensive tools and any other valuables they found. They referred to auction bidders as the dumbest people in the world because all they were doing was paying the owners to clean the trash and clean up the auctioned units for them .

  9. Public Storage just sent me to collections here in FL, and they want the total bill I owed prior to them auctioning all my home appliances, clothes, pictures, diplomas, power tools and so much more. The collections said they only received $10 for the unit. I think they are liars/thieves. Not received anything personal back and not one word as to whether I would. Just plain sickening!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *