Interested in renting a storage unit? Knowing the ins and outs that come with that decision can be very helpful. Storage Wars, a show that has put the spotlight on storage, has provided, through the years, a wealth of information on the subject. The popularity of Storage Wars has inspired many to either be more likely to rent storage or to be on the lookout for storage auctions, drawn in by the exotic and often valuable finds at the auctions depicted in the show.

While Storage Wars is a TV show, and some of the scenarios there may be exaggerated, there are plenty of things you can actually learn from it as it is inspired by real cases and features real procedures. Getting this kind of knowledge will help inform your future decisions about whether renting a storage unit suits your lifestyle or not. Let’s dive into the specifics to find out more.

About the Show

Storage Wars is a reality television series airing on A&E that is based around auctions of storage units that have not been paid on time. The show features professional buyers on the lookout for storage facilities open to bidding. Here are two of the most well-known buyers on the show.

Dave Hester appeared on seasons 1-3 and from season 5 onward. He is known for having confrontations with Darrell and Brandon, the other two main buyers on the show. Whenever someone tried to buy a unit, he would usually raise bids. Hester’s catchphrase – “YUUUP!” – is imprinted on his T-shirts, hats and trucks. Hester was fired from the show in December 2012. After suing the show’s producers for wrongful termination, he rejoined the show in March 2014.

Mary Padian is another buyer featured on the show. After appearing on the spin-off series Storage Wars: Texas, she joined the cast in season 5, appearing in three episodes in January 2014. Mary became a main buyer beginning with season 6. She is the owner of Mary’s Finds, an antique and furniture restoration business. Mary often restores items originating in the units she has acquired on the show.

Is Storage Wars Real?

The continuous high stakes and the huge amount of valuable memorabilia found in the units auctioned has meant that many question the authenticity of the show. Since the show is a TV production, a certain amount of staging is expected for the benefit of the audience for logistical reasons, but taking too many creative liberties could be damaging to the show’s reputation in the long run.

Overall, the show’s portrayal of the storage auction process is accurate. Storage Wars showcases mostly exceptional or extreme cases that are generally encountered less often in reality.

Most Expensive Finds on Storage Wars

Some of the items found on the show are more than ordinary. For instance, after investing $3,600 in a storage locker, Darrell Sheets’ gamble paid off as the locker contained a large art collection by Frank Guttierez worth about $300,000.

Back in 2010, a stack of newspapers dating back to the day Elvis Presley passed away – August 16th, 1977 – was found. The newspapers were valued at $90,000. Another interesting treasure came to light in 2011, when Dan and Laura found Spanish gold “Pieces of Eight” within a locker they auctioned.

The Most Impressive Find so far is the Near-Mint Condition Copy of Action Comics #1, auctioned at a California storage location. Sold on the comic collector site for over two million dollars, the comic book used to belong to Nicholas Cage, who declared it stolen back in 2000.

The show has made storage unit and auctioning very popular. In real life, however, less valuable items are usually found inside a locker. Many people choose self-storage to store general household goods, tools, furniture, electronics. Additionally, clothing, jewelry, antiques and collectibles make their way into storage regularly. Generally, only about 20% of the merchandise found is considered profitable.

How it Starts: Going into Default

How does a storage auction take place? If you’ve been renting a storage unit for a while but have failed to keep up with your monthly payments, you should probably check the point of default listed in your lease. This is the maximum number of days that you can use the unit without any legal repercussions. The typical default period is 30 days. Once that timeframe has passed, your access to the unit will be restricted.

Notice Period

You should keep in mind that storage facilities are not on the lookout for auctions, because they are not profitable—it costs them money and resources that could be better spent on improving their services. Additionally, there are lien laws in place that list all the auction rules a facility manager must follow. Failure to comply with these requirements could result in time spent in a small claims court.

The law protects the customers against any kind of abuse. Rest assured, the law mandates that owners are required to provide you notice and also to provide proof of notice before any action is taken. They will contact you by mail, phone or e-mail. If their efforts to contact you and receive your debt fall through, that’s when they are allowed to auction the contents of the unit.

There is a 30-90 day period of time between default and going off to auction. You can avoid your belongings being auctioned if you can either make a payment before that time period is up or if you can set up a payment plan with the facility manager.

It’s Auction Time

However unpleasant, it is possible for your unit to go up for auction. In this case, it is important for you to know that the facility is required to make public the time and the location where it will take place. You will also receive a certified letter notifying you of the event. It is possible for the renter to show up prior to the beginning of the auction and to make a cash payment in order to stop the auction. If the renter doesn’t show up, the auction can start.

Before being allowed to attend, bidders must sign in prior to the start of the sale. Participants are allowed to view the contents of the locker through the entrance prior to the beginning of the auction. Entrance, however, is not permitted. Once the auction begins, the entire contents of the unit are sold to the highest bidder in an “as is” condition. This is why the initial viewing of the unit is important, because it allows bidders to roughly estimate the value of the items inside. They can then establish their own bidding budget.

self-storage auction

Winning a Unit

In order to secure the locker, the winner is required to pay within 24 hours. Failure to do so will result in them forfeiting their newly acquired ‘treasure.’ Each self-storage facility has its own rules, but most of them claim cash-only payment and a cleaning deposit. Additionally, the unit needs to be cleared within a 24-48 hour timeframe. Personal and legal documents need to be returned to the rental office in order to reach the tenant.

Additionally, there is a state-mandated sales tax that the bidder pays for the winning bid. If the bidder possesses a state-issued resale license, sales tax applies only when reselling the merchandise.

What Happens after the Auction?

If your storage unit auction hasn’t covered your debt, your credit score will be impacted. What does that mean for you? It will influence your chances of approval next time you rent an apartment, buy a home, apply for car insurance or even when you try to rent a storage unit. While you will still be granted access to these things, you can expect higher rates or required payment of an upfront deposit.

What Can You Do?

Work on your budgeting skills to keep your financial affairs in order. Based on your personal assessment of your finances, decide whether keeping your belongings in storage is the right choice for you. Also, be selective about the items you want to store or the type of self-storage that is right for you.

Climate-controlled units are generally more expensive so if the items you plan to store are not sensitive to humidity, you may choose a cheaper, non-climate-controlled unit. Once you’ve chosen a self-storage facility, take the time to read the fine print of the lease to avoid any misgivings.

Have you ever participated in an auction? Was there anything valuable inside? Let us know in the comments section.


Mirela is a real estate writer and lifestyle editor for Yardi. With an academic background in English and translation, Mirela now covers a range of topics including real estate trends, lifestyle and economy. Her previous experience in proofreading academic articles has inspired Mirela to choose a writing career path. In her free time, Mirela enjoys reading, but also hiking and creating art. You can contact Mirela via email.

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