Storage Wars is a popular reality TV show on A&E that premiered in December 2010. It is amusing to watch as the main "characters" try to outsmart and outbid each other for the potential of finding value and treasure in abandoned storage units.
The "California Self-Service Storage Facility Act" gives storage facility owners the right to auction off storage units that have gone unpaid for several months. Auction proceeds exceeding the cost of unpaid rent, penalties and auctioneer fees can be claimed by the previous owner of the property.
Storage units can contain pretty much anything, from the contents of a closed book store, an apartment, old furniture, mattresses, household items, a coin collection, you name it. While are convinced that episodes of the show are "staged" to include unbelievably unique and valuable items in some of the lockers, it is fun to watch and dream as the mystery of what is contained in these lockers unfolds.
The show's auctioneer is Dan Dotson of American Auctioneers, based in Riverside. Upcoming auctions are listed on his site at www.americanauctioneers.com/events.php. There was a Simi Valley storage unit auction highlighted on the show. There is a Simi Valley auction in July and plenty of auctions throughout Los Angeles County.
J. Michael's Auction, Inc. does a number of storage unit auctions here in Ventura County and other counties. If you're looking to participate in some real-life local storage wars, visit their site at www.jmichaelsauction.com.
The rules are, bring CASH to the auctions (checks, credit cards not accepted) and bid no more than what you have...they will NOT let you leave to visit the ATM. The auctioneer gives the crowd five minutes or so to view the contents of the unit. You may not step into the locker or touch anything inside. Then, the bidding begins. Winning bidders must bring their own lock to secure the unit. They give you a day or so to clear it out...no, you can't pick through the locker and take what you want....you must take everything. If you don't have a reseller certificate, plan to pay applicable sales taxes.
I experienced a storage unit auction at Hollywood Storage in Newbury Park. This is one spectacularly large, clean facility! J. Michael also had auctions in Simi Valley, Moorpark and Thousand Oaks that day. They give you estimated start times for each auction the day before, but timing varies as the auctioneer must complete each auction and drive to the next one. Often, the anticipated number of units varies, as I suppose owners come forward last minute to pay their past due rents.
There were 50 or 60 people at Hollywood Storage for a total of 5 units (10 originally anticipated). The first was an indoor unit that looked to have a bunch of household and miscellaneous items. I noticed there was a container with photos in it...I thought, if I bought that unit, I'd try to get those back to the owner. The unit went for about $600.
The 2nd unit was outdoors and contained old, junky wooden furniture. No hands went up. Finally, the auctioneer was able to get a $1 bid from a woman who quickly realized she'd have to get her son to lug the stuff out. The 3rd unit was filled with used power tools and other contruction items that someone nabbed for about $700.
The 4th unit was the double unit pictured above, which went for around $700. It contained what looked to be costumes and set materials for some production, plus a pile of what looked to be over 500 clothes hangers. The final unit appeared to be the hastily piled up contents of someone's house. Mostly a bunch of used junk worthy of a lawn sale, but the washer and dryer in the unit was easily worth about $250 or $300 to the winning bidder.