Not so glamorous storage wars
12, 2012, 12:09 AM
hit ratings gold with its reality show "Storage Wars," most people
didn't know a thing about storage auctions or how they work.
after seeing the show, they aren't any better informed, according to local
storage facility owners.
reality is very different," said Jessica Wentz, storage manager at Buffalo
South Self Storage.
Each week, the
show's viewers watch as a colorful cast of characters bids on the contents of
abandoned storage lockers and, for the most part, makes big profits reselling
what they find.
tucked away amid boxes of worthless household items, bidders find valuable
antiques, priceless artwork and rare collectibles.
highly scripted show," said Shawn Weidmann, chief operating officer of
California-headquartered Public Storage, which has facilities throughout
Western New York. "They make it seem like it's a much more lucrative
endeavor than it is."
like "Storage Wars," "Auction Hunters" and "Storage
Hunters" make reselling abandoned storage items look like a fun way to
make easy money.
have searched lockers to find valuable Civil War relics, expensive jewelry,
even gold coins and cash. One auction hunter found a Marine officer's sword
that had belonged to Lt. Col. Oliver North.
But in reality,
storage auction bidders are more likely to find boxes of old clothes,
mismatched household items or worthless personal papers.
Lucky bidders who
do end up with things like cars and motorcycles tend to find the keys, the
title, sometimes even the engine, are missing.
rare you would find anything of value in a storage locker," Wentz said.
"It's usually junk."
One patron paid
$105 for a storage locker filled with nothing but newspaper clippings because
he thought there might be something hidden among them, Wentz said.
He ended up
hauling them all to the dump.
often-disappointing reality hasn't stopped bidders from showing up to try their
said attendance at auctions has doubled since "Storage Wars"
premiered in 2010, and the prices bidders are willing to pay have increased
wants to find that next big treasure," Wentz said.
the part of the business that storage facility owners don't like to talk about
and don't like to deal with. In fact, most owners were reluctant to be
interviewed or photographed for this story.
shows glamorize something that isn't glamorous," said Diane Piegza, a
spokeswoman for Amherst-based Sovran Self Storage. "Basically nobody wins.
It's a last resort."
But in order to
recoup part of the costs associated with delinquent renters and to get a
storage locker back into usable condition, auctions are a must. Facility owners
don't make a profit and usually don't even make enough to cover the delinquent
auctions typically help facility owners recoup just 25 percent of the money
they are owed by delinquent renters, according to the national Self-Storage
Association. In the Northeast, returns are worse: 31 percent of owners here
tend to recover just 10 percent of what they're owed.
expensive for us to go through auctions," Weidmann said. "We do it to
settle the debt and to get a storage locker back into circulation."
storage lockers sign a contract stating that if their bill goes unpaid, the
facility owner can lawfully auction their belongings.
As required by
state law, renters are notified by certified mail when an auction of their
property is scheduled.
give renters up to a six-month grace period or more before resorting to
auction, but state law requires a renter be delinquent for at least 56 days
before their property is considered forfeited and eligible for sale.
owners conduct their own auctions, many use third-party auctioneers. Upcoming
auctions are advertised in newspaper legal notices and on the popular national
Web site AuctionZip.com. Some large storage facility chains announce auction
dates on a special portion of their Web site.
are usually required to pay for their lot immediately, plus an additional
deposit that isn't returned until the storage locker is completely emptied.
known fact is that facility owners are not allowed to profit from selling a
delinquent renter's property.
collected at auction that exceeds the facility owner's expenses is
automatically paid to the delinquent renter, according to New York State lien
auction shows have become popular, though, at least one storage facility owner
said renters have found a way to exploit that part of the law, using a clever
but unscrupulous scam to make money.
They'll stage a
storage unit with, say, an empty box for a flat-screen TV or a large but empty
tool box in order to make the lot look more valuable than it is. They'll take
advantage of end-of-the-month rental promotions to get into a storage space at
a very low price, then let the account default.
Once the space
goes up for auction, bidders - who are usually allowed to analyze a locker's
contents only from a distance - price their offers high.
facility subtracts its take from the bid amount, the rest of the money is
turned over to the delinquent owner.
If all goes
according to the scammer's plan, the delinquent renter running the scam gets a
payday, while the bidder is out whatever he or she overpaid for the contents of
people, mostly men, showed up for the auction of a single storage unit in
Genesee County last week.
Though some of
the attendees were auction regulars, many in attendance were first-timers,
attending as much out of curiosity as anything else.
even know about storage auctions until the show came out," said Josh
McMartin of Corfu.
bidder was Mike Faro, who plans to sell most of the items at a second-hand
store he runs in Holland. He got the entire unit for $40.
dresser should make most of the money back. Everything else will be
profit," Faro said.
Brandenburg of Brockport helped Faro load the unit's contents into a large
truck, then delivered it to the store's back room where it could be sorted and
priced for sale.
"If we can
take something we got for $2 and price it for $10, it's worth it," he
of Corfu attended the same auction in search of antiques and coins, but left
without making a bid.
take my chances [on the right unit], but that was all junk," McMartin
said, proving that one man's treasure is another man's trash.
stacked among clothing and household goods in the full but messy locker was a
Luvs diapers box, open to reveal a jumble of papers, and a plastic bag
containing children's toy building blocks.
all in bags and just tossed in. The boxes were open, the TV was outdated, you
could tell there was nothing in there," he said. "Those are the
lockers they don't even bother showing on 'Storage Wars'."