Thanks to the “Storage Wars” craze, most of America now knows that if you don’t pay your self-storage rent, the facility operator can auction off the contents of your unit to the highest bidder.

That’s what starts most storage auctions. But did you ever wonder what might stop one?

We asked three storage auctioneers what it would take to force them to immediately roll down those roll-up storage doors before accepting a single bid. Remember that for liability reasons, auctioneers don’t usually enter the units they’re selling.

Our panel comprises:

  • Sherri Brunk, a veteran auctioneer in Cadet, MO.
  • Chris Rosa, managing partner of Legacy Auction Services in Coral Springs, FL.
  • Rich Schur, owner of Schur Success Auctions & Appraisal in Colorado Springs, CO.

What will halt an auction before it even begins? The auctioneers’ answers might surprise and even shock you.

To learn about common mistakes made at storage auctions, visit http://blog.sparefoot.com/7396-storage-auctions-mistakes.

Odor

smelly

Auction fans may crave the sweet smell of success, but what they’re more likely to encounter are some of the nastiest odors on earth.

Sherri Brunk once allowed a longtime bidder to enter a unit with just three appliances for a peek inside the refrigerator. Big mistake.

“It had leftover food in it. The odor about knocked us down. You could smell it all the way to the front,” she said with a chuckle.

Rich Schur’s stinkiest reveal involved a large dead animal in a summer-baked exterior unit.

“We plugged our noses and ran,” he recalled. “Odor makes for a really, really poor auction.”

Live Critters

tarantula

Chris Rosa’s most memorable storage surprise walked on eight legs.

“Someone was storing a live tarantula in a terrarium,” he recalled. “To me, it was pet abuse. Unfortunately, animal control won’t take anything they consider insects, including arachnids.”

Brunk had a similar experience: “Inside, in stacked pet carriers, were a 10-foot boa constrictor as big around as a football and an albino python about the same size.”

Storage Drums

Schur recalled a 10×30 unit filled with mechanic’s parts and tools that sold, only to have the deal collapse when the buyer discovered steel storage drums filled with oil hidden in back.

“When management called me and wanted to sue the buyer for not cleaning it out, I said, ‘You can’t. Why don’t you sue the renter for illegally storing it?’” he recalled. “This is hazardous material. They have to be disposed of legally. It wasn’t the buyer’s fault they came upon something they shouldn’t have encountered.”

Motor Vehicles

Motor vehicles pose a problem for auctioneers because in most states, they’re prohibited from selling them without first obtaining title—a process that can take weeks or even months. Some auctioneers won’t touch them.

“If it’s just an old car, we close up the unit and file the processes,” Schur said. “But if there’s a car and other stuff, do you sell the other stuff and trust the buyer to not strip the car? That’s always a challenge.”

To learn about car storage, visit sparefoot.com/car-storage.html.

Brunk learned firsthand the reason for those state regulations when she opened a unit that contained a lone brown minivan.

“It turns out the lady who owned it had rented the locker, put the van in it, then reported it stolen,” she recalled. “When she collected the insurance money, she quit paying on the unit. The police ended up confiscating it as stolen property, and the manager lost out altogether.”

Medical Equipment

medical equipment

When Rosa encounters a unit with medical equipment, the auction’s off.

“I won’t sell it because that’s illegal. You need a license to sell medical supplies,” he said.

He makes an exception for oxygen tanks: “There are many other uses for oxygen tanks besides medical.”

Personal Records

tax return

Similarly, Schur pulls the plug when a unit is filled with marked medical or financial records.

“When all you see are files, stop. Don’t conduct an auction,” he said. “If it’s truly records and you can’t find the renter, suck it up, bring out a mobile shredding truck and shred the documents. It has no value, you can’t sell it, and you don’t want the liability if it gets left out in the public for people to misuse.”

Questionable Ownership

questions

When ownership of a unit’s contents is in question, auctioneers might advise postponing the auction until the situation is sorted out.

“What’s one unrentable unit for 30 days to avoid litigation?” Schur said. “That’s cheap insurance is what that is.”

Sneaky Tenants

suspicious man

Yes, it happens: The very tenant whose delinquent payments triggered the auction will sometimes sneak in to see whether they can recover their stuff on the cheap. While auctioneers are perfectly free to ignore the sneak, Schur said, savvy storage managers have figured out a better approach.

To find out more about storage auctions, visit blog.sparefoot.com/7024-guide-to-storage-auctions.

“The manager will open up the bidding at what they’re owed on the unit, so if the former tenant wants their stuff, they’re going to have to beat their bid,” he said.

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Jay MacDonald