Friday, October 14, 2011

Unit 17: A Soap Opera

Wow, long time no post! I plan to get a couple of posts in here over the next few days ... some good stories to tell.

First, about our last unit. Our pace lately has been 1 unit a month, towards the end of the month. The best auctions in our area are all clustered at month's end, so I make sure to get them on my schedule. We'd go more often, but frankly have run out of space for storing stuff so until we can move out some of the goods, we've got little space for new finds.

On September 23rd, there was the usual series of auctions for the day, with a new one added on at 8:30 in the small city of Marlboro, about 20 minutes from my house. I believe there were 14 units up for sale. My brother met me there. The first unit was "tossed," meaning it was clear the owner of the unit had come in, taken what he valued, and left the rest to be taken care of by someone else. There were lots of opened boxes in the front, tossed around, half empty or completely empty. A pass. I think it went for $50. The first unit we saw that was interesting had a washer/dryer combo, refrigerator, boxes and two tool holders like you see mechanics with at garages. It ended up going for about $100 more than our limit. So, we kept on going. Most of the units were being bought by a woman who I recalled chatting up about 6 months at another auction. She owns a second hand store in Rhode Island, so she was here picking up goods for the store.

Eventually, we came to a unit that was about 10 X 10 and pretty filled. I saw some furniture in the back that was interesting and a reel-to-reel tape deck and wanted it. I have fallen in love with older stereo equipment following the set of 1960 tube pieces we found a few units ago. My brother and I agreed on a limit and I only went $75 over that limit in order to get it. Here's what it looked like before we really got into the "dig,"

After buying this unit, we went on to the next auction and didn't buy anything. We skipped the rest because each had only 1 or 2 units up for sale and we thought our time would be better spent cleaning this unit out.

The boxes in this unit mostly contained records (as in 12" LPs) or papers. I've gone through just about every box and am amazed at the sheer magnitude of unpaid bills a family can accumulate. At the bottom of one box, I found a gold bracelet! That, and a few small boxes of other gold jewelry I found in another box comprise the first gold we've ever found in a unit. Woo hoo! The gold will more than pay for the unit, so everything else is profit.

And the everything else is turning out to be interesting. We found an old 44-key keyboard that we thought wouldn't have any value because it was clearly so old. Turns out it's from 1979 and is actually desirable and going for $300 - $500 on eBay. The tape deck is worth about $100. There's also a double cassette deck machine and a direct drive turntable. Some clothes can go into our booth for small dollars, primarily to pay the rent. The records are probably worth $1-$2 a piece and we have over 300. Yesterday, I found a kitschy 1950's green ceramic panther with a light bulb in the back. These used to sit on top of old-style console tv's, I believe. Should pull in some decent money as well.

There's also a steam cleaner, a weight bench and some other random stuff. Oddly, the furniture I was interested in that prompted me to buy the unit was all pretty junky and we took all off to the dump. I think the only pieces of furniture we saved were a few occasional tables (including the leather-topped one you can see at the top of the pile in a photo) and a bookcase that needs to be reglued before selling. (Bookcases seem always to sell.)

When cleaning out the boxes, I started looking through some of the correspondence I found. Primarily, I hoped a birthday card might contain a forgotten-about gift card or money. And, what I read prompted me to read more. I found quite a soap opera in the papers. The center of all the drama was a woman I'll call Susan.

Susan had previously divorced a husband and had a daughter from that relationship. She was now living with a guy named Joe. I found lots of short, hand-written notes from Joe to Sue exclaiming how much he loved her. One sad note said he was in jail and he was writing, pleading with her to come and bail him out. He said he loved her but all she loved was the pipe.

Sue herself had plenty of contact with the police. We found some id's for her indicating she was a member of the Las Vegas police in the 80s. Then I found what I can only describe as a rap sheet, listing her many run-ins with the local law enforcement. DUI, assault with a deadly weapon, assault on a police officer, a good 10 or 12 arrests over the years. Yikes!

Further on in my box review, I found a number of condolence cards to Susan following Joe's death. Then, I found a marriage certificate documenting a 2006 marriage between Susan and another woman, Linda. In the same bunch of documents, I found 2 letters from Linda to Susan professing her love and wondering why Susan didn't love her.

Finally, and this really bothered me, I found correspondence between Susan and a law office. Susan had used a lawyer to recover a $640 debt her daughter owed her! There were a number of letters from the law office passing on $40 weekly checks from the daughter to repay the debt. Honestly, who does this kind of thing to her own daughter?

So that's the story of unit #17. I suppose Susan didn't value any of these papers. Why else would she have left them to molder in a storage locker she didn't even bother to keep current on?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Units 15 and 16: Not Gratifying

this is the "nice" piece of furniture I saw from a distance before bidding on the first unit. Turns out it was nice once, just not now
I brought masks for all of us. There was evidence of pigeons and rats in the building.

The stuff in the first unit was so junky, this is what we left behind. We decided fairly quickly that the quality of the items was so poor that we'd forfeit our security deposit as it would be cheaper to do that then spend the gas, transfer station costs and labor costs to dispose of everything.
The front of the second unit. Curiously, the recliner you can see on top of the dresser wasn't there when we bid on it. And, there was a console tv in the front (just past the blue desk) that was new as well. We wonder what of value was taken.
I've been through most of these boxes (12 so far) and have only saved a jeans jacket. The rest was either trashed, recycled or set aside to donate.

Here's that "nice" piece. It'll take a lot of work to get into sellable condition. Or maybe we'll dump it for really low dollars and someone else can fix it up.
The one thing we've found so far that I actually like. An occasional table carved with a chain saw. I think it's very cool, but then we used to have a chainsaw sculpture in our front yard until it rotted out. Unfortunately, this one has a big crack down one side, but that's not too obvious since the table base is so busy.

* * * * *

As I wrote a few posts ago, we bought 2 units in a furniture warehouse and had to wait 10 days to get access to the freight elevator so we could clean them out. We figured we had an unbelievable amount of stuff to remove from the 2 units so rented a 25' truck from U Haul. A much smaller truck would have been adequate as we found very little to take away. Lots of stuff was covered with pigeon poop, so that was left behind. Much of the furniture was just junk so we left that behind. Once I realized how bad the stuff was, I started opening boxes to give them a quick review before anyone removed anything. Most of the boxes' contents were so junky that we left them behind.

At this point, I'm looking at these two units, and the costs to remove them, as a loss. If we recover half of the total cost, I'll be ecstatic. Oh well.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Buy the Set or Buy the Piece?

I wrote about getting this French Provincial set a few months back. This unit basically had 2 bicycles and this bedroom set with a few boxes of used children's clothes that I gave away and some other boxes of unsellable stuff that I threw away. The bicycles sold right away. But not so fast for the bedroom set.

I listed the set on Craigslist. Got inquiries both scamming and legitimate, but more scammers than legit. And, the legitimate folks never followed up past their initial inquiry. So, it languished. I lowered the price by about 20%. Finally, a woman got in touch with me who only wanted to buy 2 pieces. Her husband picked them up on Sunday and that day I redid my Craigslist ad to sell the remaining pieces individually.

Well, wham! Monday I sold the 2nd dresser. Today, I sold the remaining nightstand and bed frame. Tomorrow, someone is coming by to pick up the mirror. And with that, it'll all be gone.

An important lesson has been learned. You'll appeal to more potential buyers if you offer a set up in pieces rather than just as the set. This is a good lesson to learn now since Monday we clean out the mother of all storage units that is just filled with furniture.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Gotta Sell What You Buy

I find it pretty easy to buy storage units but have a few challenges on the selling side. Sometimes, you've got to do a bit of work on the furniture, like repairing chair seats, before it's in shape to sell. In other cases, the stuff isn't worth a whole lot of money and there isn't much return for all the time you spend creating auctions on eBay. Even if the item is worth a lot, it still takes a lot of time to sell it on eBay.

I have a ton of stuff to sell. Honestly, we have a few things left to sell from every unit we've ever purchased. Sometimes it becomes completely overwhelming and it's hard to set priorities for what is most important to focus on. I have been more successful of late in setting priorities and working them in order, primarily through list-making.

Through trial and error, we've got the following outlets in play to sell various categories of goods we've found in storage units:
  • Furniture: we started, and still use to some extent, with a consignment shop near us that has over 8000 square foot of floor space. We had an issue with them where they wouldn't increase the price on a dining room set we felt was worth quite a bit more and that prompted us to try Craigslist. Craigslist carries with it its own issues, like scammers. It's also more work than the consignment shop, but we get to keep the entire sale amount, rather than the 50/50 split with the shop.
  • Collectibles and goods worth over $25: we use eBay auctions and "buy it now" for selling these items. eBay takes frickin' forever to upload pictures and create auctions and they take 9% (or more) of the sale price. But, it's still the best way to reach a big pool of buyers. I use "buy it now" if I'm reasonably sure of an item's value and an auction model if I'm unsure. For instance, some of the pre-Prohibition beer bottles from Unit 14 are so rare I can't find current or prior auctions on eBay or any of the beer collector websites to determine their value. In those cases, I use an auction and hope to get at least 2 parties interested so they'll drive up the price by bidding against each other. I also plan to try Etsy for auctions of some antique, handmade linens from Unit 14 as Etsy specializes in handmade goods and only charges 3% of the sale price rather than eBay's outrageous price.
  • Low cost items: these items were the hardest to figure out how to sell. I chatted up a woman at an auction who sells her stuff at flea markets. She showed some interest when I pitched the idea of selling to her in bulk the things that would work well at a flea market. However, she didn't bite when I contacted her after the auction. We considered a flea market table of our own, but that would have been too expensive for me as someone would need to stay home with Skip (my wife, who has MS and is disabled). We were able to find a group shop near a flea market in central Mass where you rent a booth and the flea market has staff on hand to handle the actual purchases. We've been there for a few months and found it a good way to sell the low value stuff. However, we found that a number of handbags (from the hoarder's unit ... we got 60+ brand new bags from that unit) had been stolen during the first month, so I have to figure out a new way to unload those.
  • Collectible items that appeal to men and can be bundled into lots: the latest thing we're trying is a live auction in Worcester called Olde Tyme Stuffe. Yesterday, I dropped off 2 train sets, a 1930s baseball glove, 2 lots of beer bottles, a miniature printing press and some antique hair curling irons for their next auction. In particular, their auctioneer told me that things men collect are doing well. In the current economy, women are being more cautious so items like depression glass and other housewares are not doing very well (he also attributed the downturn in these items to the lousy housing market). I plan to use these folks as a good way to unload smaller items that can be grouped together, avoiding the time-consuming eBay write-ups.
I'm sure we'll take advantage of other options as we think of them. In the meantime, I think we've found a good mix of outlets to get this stuff out of my garage. I dream that someday I will park my car in the garage again.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Units 15 and 16: Delayed Gratification

Warning: long story!

Since our last unit purchase in late June, we've only spent two days auction-going. In late July, during the middle of a hellacious heatwave, we went to a few indoor auctions. I specifically avoided any outdoor auctions as those are very hot on the hot tarmac when it's only 80, let alone the 98+ degrees we had during the heatwave. The first auction had 15 units up for sale. We bid on some but were always outbid by others. The best unit of the day, with lovely, furniture proteccted by shrink-wrap and a lot of nice-looking boxes, I didn't even bid on because I couldn't imagine us trying to haul all that stuff in that heat.

Today, we went to an auction in Worcester that I was very much looking forward to. In the auction schedule, they noted there were 40 units up for sale and it was at a moving company. From the two other moving company auctions we've gone to, it's clear they are different from those at regular storage unit sites. The goods are either set up in piles arranged around the room or they are in small, 5' x 8' wooden vaults that are open for some inspection even before the auction. So, you can get more data before you bid. They also tend to have more furniture than boxes and, after the last unit's ~80 boxes, I was ready for the simplicity of furniture.

Well, this place was, perhaps, the mother of all moving company auctions. The auctioneer told us that the company had never had an auction in the 40 years they'd been in business. And, they wouldn't have had this one except the building was foreclosed on and they needed it cleaned out. We were told before even going into the building that we could leave behind all the mattresses in any units purchased and pieces in really bad shape could be left in their dumpsters. This is great because mattresses are 1) a big pain to move and 2) cost money to drop off at the dump. We also found out there were 61 units up for auction!

So, the 60-70 of us there to buy went into the building a few minutes after 10am. We trooped up the stairs to the 5th floor to start the fun. What greeted us was absolutely unbelievable. Stuff, stuff and more stuff was piled high and deep. I'd estimate the average unit was about 10-15 feet wide and 30 feet deep. With about 20 units on the 5th floor, that was a mind-boggling amount of stuff. With so many of us trying to move around in the small corridor, it was very difficult to get a look at much stuff. Fortunately, the "scene" seemed to drive a lot of bidders away, so the crowd really thinned after this first floor.

Since my brother and I decided not to bid on anything in the top floor, we headed down to the 4th floor so we could get a good look at those units while others were bidding upstairs. A lot more of the same on this floor, except we were able to identify 3 units we wanted to bid on. We noticed almost every unit we looked at closely had a piano. Fortunately, when I checked with the staffer there, she let us know we didn't have to take pianos if we didn't want them. Score!

It was very hard to see far into the units, making them a huge mystery after the first few feet. We noticed some folks were climbing up into the units and getting a look deeper in. My brother's friend BW, who is young to us (in his 40s) and quite limber, was able to get deep into a unit I was interested in and determine that the contents looked to be of some value.

The first unit we bought was in a funny space on the 4th floor. Its contents were largely obscured behind flimsy walls, making a space about 10' x 10' but we could see in enough to spot a nice piece of furniture, most likely a sideboard, and a good number of boxes and tubs. I was the only bidder and picked it up for $50. The next unit we bid on was had a ton of new, clean boxes and went for a lot of money even though it was relatively small (another 10' x 10'). We were also outbid on the next one we were interested in, mostly boxes with a vintage Kirby vacuum cleaner at the front. It went for about double what we were willing to pay.

On the third floor, I thought we were down to the last 20 units and realized we needed to take some action to pick up another unit. With so many units going for relatively small money filled with so many goods, it seemed hard to believe we couldn't make a good profit from any decent-looking unit. I finally picked one out that had a good looking couch, 2 old sewing machine cabinets, a piano and bunch of boxes in view. BW was able to thread his way down a path to get far into the unit without sighting any remarkable (good or bad) finds. When the bidding began, about 4 of us were involved, but soon, it was just another woman and me. I finally wore her down and took the unit for $350.

After we finished this floor, we found out there were 3 more units on the ground floor, near the company's office. Unfortunately, one of these units was the true gem of the auction. There was some beautiful furniture in it, and it wasn't quite as massive as most of the other units. I bid on it, but didn't pursue it with gusto because I already knew we had more than enough stuff in the units we'd already bought.

One downside of moving company auctions is the logistics of removing the goods. This place had only one loading dock and one freight elevator, so only one buyer at a time could have access. When we paid up for our 2 units, we determined the best time to clean them out wouldn't be until Monday 8/15 (partly due to the dates already taken by other buyers and party due to our schedules). Bummer! Now I have to wait 10 days until I dig into those babies and find out what we really bought. I am not a patient person. This is going to be a hard wait.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Unit 14 Finds

The boxes in this unit just keep on going. I'm not through everything, but have found quite a bit of interesting stuff. Below are some shots  ...

The beer bottles go on and on. There are at least 8 boxes of them left that I haven't had a chance to go through yet.

What is a tractor with a lug?

Lots of this china pattern, most in good condition. Perfect for eBay.

To the left, a 1960ish amplifier, complete with tubes. To the right, an antique miniature printing press (the type box obscures most of the press).

Some of these actually are worth selling on eBay. Who knew?

1890s seed catalogs in very nice shape. There are a lot of old books that still need to be reviewed. I keep putting that off.

Girl Scout stuff.

I'd hoped I'd find a good cone top beer can. Finally did this morning.

Booklets from skating shows in the 80s

Bottle openers. A box of bottle openers!

Apparently, Poland Spring used to make Gin. I have 5 Poland Spring Gin bottles and 5 "moses" bottles that Poland Spring bottled their water in.

A 1930s baseball glove. Probably the most valuable individual item in the lot. A collection of swizzle sticks below. Who collects swizzle sticks?

A 45 RPM tribute to JFK and a cardboard record from the Monkees found in 60s cereal boxes. Guess which is worth more?
There're also paintings, milk glass, McDonald's and Burger King collectible glasses, antique lace, commemorative pennants. And stuff still yet to be discovered.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Unit 14: Boomer Collectors

Stoneware bottles - the left and right ones are from the mid-1800s and held ginger beer. Not sure of the age or use of the middle one.

Some of those boxes sitting in my garage.

Most of the games from the unit. These will be perfect for our booth at "the flea."

This bottle is from 1963. The labels were wrapped in cellophane for protection and the bottle itself was wrapped in newspaper from 1976, as are all the other bottles I've seen so far.

On the 4th Friday of each month, there are a set of 6 successive auctions pretty near each other and 3 of them work very well for me time-wise and location-wise. On June 24th, my brother, his friend BW and I headed out to those 3 auctions. The first location only had one unit and it wasn't too appealing. The second had 2 units and we bid on one but hit our price limit before a fellow bidder so we walked away with nothing. At the final auction, I was beginning to think we wouldn't get anything. Few units and about 20-30 competitors at each auction wasn't a fruitful situation.

We found out at the third spot that there were 2 units but they were both owned by the same person. It's best in this situation to pick up both units in case, say, a set of furniture has some pieces in each. So, we all traipsed up to the second floor of the warehouse and they opened the first unit. Pretty small, I think 5' X 5'.

Looking inside, I was very interested. You could see lots of games and paintings and lots of smaller boxes that had been packed up long ago. We couldn't see too many descriptions on the boxes, but what we could see suggested the contents were not housewares like furniture or kitchen stuff. In fact, the unit was very appealing because it looked like there was no furniture, no personal items, only collections and collectibles. And, all the stuff we could see looked like it was collected by baby boomers. To me, that means these items were older and would be desired by 50+ folks with some disposable income who wanted to reclaim their youth.

Then they opened the second unit. Similar in contents, but very little stuff was actually inside. Only maybe 15 boxes and a few paintings.

I wanted this unit and fully intended to pick it up. It seemed tailor-made for us. Plenty of collectibles to sell on eBay and also to put in the booth we rented June 1 at a multi-dealer location connected to a flea market (more on this in a future post). There were only a few others interested in the unit so we were able to pick it up for a decent price.

I paid up and the clear-out commenced. As we emptied it out, we kept ooh-ing and ahh-ing. It was like Christmas. After going through the games, we found a miniature, antique printing press in one box. Then we started finding boxes of bottles. Lots. of boxes. of bottles. Christmas stuff. Antique books. Lionel trains in their original boxes from 1952. Track for the trains. Milk glass. China. Paintings. It was a lot of fun to empty the unit so we could see what the next box held. I kept calling Skip to tell her about the things we'd found.

I can't wait to find out what's in the rest of those boxes!

I walked away from this unit knowing we'd recoup our money by quite a bit. But, the reality is that there are so many individual items, such as the bottles, that it will take quite a bit of work to sell it off. Over the last week, I've learned a lot about antique beer bottles and began listing them for auctions starting today. I expect it will take a number of weeks to get them all listed. Crikey, I haven't even made it through 10% of the boxes yet!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Unit 13: Small and Profitable

A week ago Thursday, I took off on a day of spelunking. On tap were 2 auctions in Worcester, 1 in Shrewsbury, wrapping up with an auction in Northboro. These are all about 30 minutes from my house and even closer to my brother, so he could join me for a clean-out if I found a good unit. My challenge was that he was helping BW's girlfriend move the next day, so we needed to move everything out of the unit that day. You typically only have 24 hours to get everything removed. So, I was looking for a unit without much stuff but that still looked profitable.

On this day, we finally got some summer weather. The temps got into the 80s (F), so it was quite warm wandering around the pavement at the storage unit sites, going from unit to unit.

The first auction had 9 units up for sale. Most of them had nothing appealing. In fact, one unit didn't sell at all it was so unappealing to the gathered crew of about 30. One of the last units was interesting. It was small, had a large electronic keyboard and you could see a guitar case peaking out from behind some bins. I was willing to pay up to $175, but it was over $350 when I walked away to scope out the next unit.

At the next location, only two units were available. The first contained some nice looking furniture, but too much for my brother and I to handle that afternoon, so I didn't bother to bid.

In Shrewsbury, it seemed the bidders lost interest in the units. They were going for very little. The fourth of 5 was interesting. It was a funny-shaped unit, taking a turn at the end. You could see a few boxes and a couple of bikes from the door. The auctioneer went in and said there was a bedroom set inside and no mattress (mattresses cost to dispose of, so that was a bonus). I was the only bidder and picked it up for $50!

This is the time of year to sell bikes and I'm still surprised no one else was interested in the unit. I sold the two bikes (one is the girl's bike above - a Bratz Diamond Dazzler) for a total of $190. The other bike was a virtually new mountain bike. I found online that they sell new for about $100, so I listed it on Craigslist for $85. Got a lot of calls and emails on it and had a buyer lined up. He didn't show, so was going to offer it to the next caller. Unbelievably, when I told an interested party that I had other potential buyers in front of her, she counteroffered $150! As you can imagine, she took it home.

The furniture, in a french provincial style, has some wear to it, but it's well-made and solid. I can't find any information online about the manufacturer, Paoletti Period Furniture, unfortunately. I'm putting it up on Craigslist today. Wish me luck for a quick sale!

Now this is the way to make a profit in storage units. I'm happy.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Units 9 - 12: Good Stuff

One Saturday, about 3 weeks ago, my brother, RC, his friend, BW, and I went to a moving company auction in an affluent town nearby. I was very interested in this auction because there were over 30 vaults up for sale, so I figured we'd find some items worth buying.

Unlike a regular storage unit auction where they cut the lock and open the unit a few minutes before the bidding begins so you get only a few moments to review the contents, all the vaults were open and viewable when we arrived for registration. The furniture was pretty much all wrapped up in moving pads, though, so information was still limited. The up close review got a little too up in some cases ... One vault entirely filled with boxes had actually had a few opened by attendees! One contained Christmas stuff, which you find in most lockers, but the other, tantatlizingly, had a baseball card collection inside.

We bought 4 vaults, and we're on our way to making a profit overall on them. The last unit contained only a dining room table and 6 chairs. We brought these to the furniture consignment shop we use and they sold it almost right away. Unfortunately, we disagreed with the price they listed it for, thinking it should be higher. Since they wouldn't raise the price, we were going to pick it up and sell it ourselves on Craigslist, but, until we were able to pick it up, I let them keep it actively listed. So, that resulted in a net loss for that unit. The second vault was jammed with furniture that was wrapped, so we really only a got a good look at the first piece. It was a lovely, antique dresser that suggested the rest of the furniture would be equally lovely. D'oh! All the rest was sort of junky, laminated office furniture and couple of 20-year old office side chairs. We've got the dresser in for an auction and are listing the rest of the items on craigslist. We're trying to stay away from the consignment shop since we're developing other routes for selling furniture that don't involve having half the sale going to the shop.

The third unit was mostly visible before the auction so we went in with eyes wide open. It contained 5 wicker chairs, a nice patio table, a new Toto toilet in boxes and 3 shelving units still in boxes. Additionally, we discovered in the very back, wrapped in protective paper, a 3' x 5' glass table top without a base. This glass is 3/4" thick and has a special edging design. Looking online, similar table tops sell brand new for over $400. We haven't listed it yet, but expect to get decent money for this little bonus. Everything else in the unit sold quickly, except for the patio table, which we decided to keep for ourselves.

The first unit we bought turns out to have the greatest profit potential. From what we could see, we knew it contained a dining room set but weren't sure if there was anything else in there, since there were a ton of wrapped items. It turned out to contain the heaviest furniture RC and BW ever had to schlepp anywhere! It contained all the pieces of another dining room set: table with 3 leaves, 6 chairs, sideboard and china cabinet that sits on top of the sideboard. (Photos at top of post.)

Because the garage was so jammed with stuff, we had to cram in the dining room set and didn't really have a chance to examine it in great detail. First and foremost, we had to repair the seats on the chairs. One seat was missing entirely and some of the others were pretty stained. RC is taking the lead on that, and is almost done with the work. Since we haven't been able to advertise the dining room set yet, combined with the garage cramming, I hadn't yet investigated the set to find the manufacturer. Yesterday, we moved some of the furniture, including the table, sideboard and china cabinet over to a storage unit I've rented and got to examine the furniture more closely. We found in the sideboard a manufacturer's mark. Turns out the set was made by Bassett Furniture, which is a high-quality company. We're still investigating the exact Bassett collection, since it's discontinued, but using prices from a similar collection on the Bassett website, this probably cost about $6,000 new! I'm hoping we can get $1,000 or so for this set.

One interesting feature of these auctions that finally crystallized for me here: boxes are like catnip to buyers. These vaults were relatively small and very few contained a lot of boxes. Most of them contained furniture. The vaults that had the most interest and went for the most money were the ones that were just boxes! The one that had the two open boxes I mentioned went for over $700, more than double what I would have paid for it. Furniture is heavy and not so easy to deal with for most people. Boxes are a big mystery and might contain the elusive high-value items that we all hope to find. I like boxes too, but having gone through many that contained a lot of junk, I'm pretty skeptical about them now.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Unit 8 Redux and a General Update

Unit 8, also known as the "hoarder unit," was truly an experience. I had guesstimated about 60 boxes were in the unit, but as time went on, and the boxes seemed never to end, I gave them a thorough count. Over 75 boxes of 1.8 cubic feet (and some were the larger 2.7 cubic feet size) adds up to a lot of stuff. Just about all of the contents were clothes, with at least half of the clothes being brand new.

We have donated more than half of the contents of those 75 boxes. We weren't interested in used clothes, blouses or cotton knit. We also didn't have any interest in winter hats, used shoes or used handbags.

So, now we have 21 boxes of stuff that made the initial cut.
  • We've got 40-50 coats. At least 20 of them are faux fur. The non faux fur coats are virtually all red. Red was our hoarder's color of choice for coats, handbags and clothes. I'll hold all the coats till September to list them at a time of year when they're likely to go for more money. Looking at coat auctions on eBay, I'm estimating these will sell for about $20 each. I'm hoping for about $750 from those coats, which will hand us a nice profit on the unit.
  • We've got hundreds of skirts and dozens of dresses. Unfortunately, most of them are fairly low value, such as Jaclyn Smith from Kmart, so they don't have a high resale value.
  • We've got at least 2 dozen unused, large handbags. 90% of them are red. None are leather, all are fabric or manmade materials. These will be fairly expensive to ship and probably won't go for much money on eBay, so I'm going to try and find a flea market seller to pick these up for a bit.
  • Speaking of flea markets, I set aside a very large box of all manner of low value, unused stuff that I'm hoping a flea market contact will take. It includes 4 cheesy tiaras, 50+ hair barettes, dozens of troll dolls and mucho, mucho cheesy hair stuff for young girls.
  • And, last but not least, we've got lots of high-heeled sandals in size 10.
I've done an initial listing of skirts and dresses. Of the first 9 I tried, only 2 sold. The auctions expired without a bid on the other 7. I listed them at reasonably low prices, having checked completed auctions on eBay to see what was reasonable. As a result, I'm rethinking my strategy and will probably junk (as in, donate) all the Jaclyn Smith skirts. Even with those out of the picture, we've got a lot of stuff to sell for the next few months.

It's funny to think that big Leominster auction was about a month ago. Since then, we've been to 2-3 auctions but haven't purchased any new units. Each unit we've been interested in has either gone for more than our agreed-upon maximum (trying to make sure we don't overbid) or because we didn't have enough money in our pockets to buy the unit up for auction.

This Saturday, another large auction of units at a moving company is on tap. And, it's only 20 minutes from my house, so it'll be easy to transport stuff back here assuming that we buy. I am really looking forward to this Saturday!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Units 6, 7 and 8: One Big Buy in Leominster

The plastic Jesus was a find from a box in Unit 8 (all the other junk you can see is mine)
Seltzer bottles from Unit 7
The boxes from Unit 7 take up one half of my garage!

Leominster is in central Mass, about 35 minutes from my house. I went to high school nearby and back then there was a billboard on Route 2 (divided highway that runs through Leominster) announcing proudly that Leominster was the "Pioneer Plastic City." Back then, in the early 1970s, we laughed at the name. Why would you want to celebrate your history as a plastics manufacturer? Surprisingly, they had a new and improved billboard up proclaiming their pioner plastic status when I drove down Route 2 to the auction.

I was very much looking forward to this auction because it was at a moving company and about 30 units were expected to go. As I drove up to the building where the auction was, though, I saw that the building was practically falling down, in a state of horrible disrepair. D'oh! Why would anyone store anything there?

Turns out the building was being torn down and the moving company needed to get the storage units cleared out. This wasn't a place for self-storage but, instead, where the moving company would store things for clients whose housing was in transition.

We were looking forward to lots of furniture being on the block here and the first 8 units certainly lived up to that as they were practically all furniture with barely a box in sight. In fact, the vast majority of the 31 lots up for sale contained loads of furniture. I was very interested in 2 of the first 8 and got both of them. As we were walking away from the second unit, another buyer offered to buy the large jewelry display case we'd just bought. RC and I jumped at the offer as we had both been wondering where we'd get rid of it and figured it was going to be heavy and difficult to move (it was at least a dozen feet long).

We bid on some other units but were not able to pick any others up until the 3rd to last unit. It only had a few pieces of furniture and the rest of the unit was all moving boxes. RC was really interested in this unit, so we bid on it. I figured the boxes would hold items of value since they were nice moving company boxes and there'd be a variety of items in them as well. So, we picked this unit up as the last of the day.

After settling up with the auctioneer, RC and I decided to look over the furniture then we'd fill his minivan and trailer and my Element with as many boxes as we could haul. (We'd rent a UHaul trailer for a big move a few days later.) Only a few boxes were in the first two units so most of what we loaded up were boxes from the last unit. Each one was labeled clothes. Ruh-roh! I figured as we got deeper into the unit when we cleaned everything out when we came back with the UHaul, we'd find boxes labeled "living room" and "dining room," etc.

Well, no such luck. Virtually every one of the 50+ boxes from that unit was labeled clothes. Sometimes, the label was "living room clothes" or "dining room clothes." We've been through 7 of these boxes so far and the person who lived in the house these came from was clearly a hoarder. Most of the clothes were still in store bags (unfortunately, Kmart, Target and Sears rather than Nordstroms and Neiman Marcus). Most of them still have tags on them, so they're new and unworn. I've come across 12 unused red handbags and at least 5 red winter coats. About a dozen Jaclyn Smith skirts with tags as well. And so on. Clearly, we'll make money selling the new clothes on eBay, but there will be a lot of work getting them listed.

Bottom line: the furniture wasn't quite as nice as it appeared from a distance (you don't get a close look at anything before bidding) so we won't net as much from the furniture as I'd estimated. The boxes didn't contain as high-value items as I'd expected, but I anticipate we'll make a lot of money from the clothes when all is said and done. It's lucky I have lots of time to get these listing posted!

Unit 5: The Art of Overbidding

Actually, it turns out that this is one art I don't need to perfect. I've already got the overbidding skill down pat!

RC and I went to an auction in Worcester (good-sized city in central MA) where there were 14 units up for auction. As you might imagine, this generated a big crowd. The first unit was clearly junk and it went for far more than we thought it was worth. A lovely unit went for $1450, far above our cash on hand. We bid on a few items but kept getting outbid. With only a few units left, a promising looking locker with furniture, well packed boxes and storage tubs came up. A couple that we'd seen at other auctions who clearly had been in the business for a while were bidding on it, so they saw value in it.

Unfortunately, RC and I hadn't had a chance to check in before the auction on this unit began. We typically look at the unit individually then discuss our reactions to it ... buy? pass? if buy, what's our max? We talk about the items of value we saw, since we both see different things, and the junk that'd prompt a trip to the dump (especially with a premium for mattresses and tvs). As a result, in this case, we hadn't collectively decided how much to bid.

So that couple was bidding away and I decided to join in on the fun. I thought there was value in the furniture I could see, and knew we'd find some value in the boxes and tubs.

Well, turns out the furniture was all junk. Cheaply made, worn and dirty. Off to the dump. The glass-topped tables we saw had broken glass tops and the glass to replace was about as much as I expected we'd net on them. Large DJ speakers were in tough shape and one was missing a horn speaker. The washing machine was beat up. We did find tools, a working Wii and games, and an Xbox and games. So, there's some value here but not enough to make up for the amount I paid.

Bottom line: I looked at those items through rose-colored glasses because I really wanted to buy a unit. I need to be a bit more skeptical when I'm spelunking. There are always other auctions and other units.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Unit 4: Very Interesting!

Our 4th unit was purchased at a storage place only 8 minutes from my house. That's fortunate, because it contained a lot of stuff that needed to be brought home for sorting, including the false breasts shown above.

When we went to the auction, we found out there was only 1 unit available. When the door was opened, it looked good. I could see a bedroom set in good shape, including 2 dressers and 2 bedside tables. We could see sporting equipment and lots of tubs containing goods.

We took the unit for $375. I had figured the furniture we could see would cover the cost of the unit and the remainder of the goods would be profit. As it turns out, the bedroom set actually was in good shape and, combined with a recliner we found, we will more than cover the cost of the unit if it all sells at the consignment shop we took it to.

My brother and his friend were at the unit loading the first trailer full of stuff when I received a text, "he was a drag queen." All in all in the unit, we found two sets of false breasts, 9 wigs, 3 makeup cases, 2 pairs of thigh-high boots, about a dozen high heeled shoes (actually, maybe more), corsets and other undergarments, and all manner of spangly and slinky outfits. Since they're used, at first I didn't think they had any value. But, the more that we thought about it, there's so much stuff here, we could probably pick up some money selling it off in lots. They're going up on eBay over the next week.

This was a good unit ... clean and well-packed. We should realize a decent profit from the furniture, clothes, drag queen items and so on that we found. It was good to have this under our belts after the horror of unit 2.

Unit 3: Quick and Not Too Interesting

We picked this unit up for $50. It didn't have too much in it and my first bid took it. There were some decent, clean women's clothes hanging in a box that I'm going to take to a clothing consignment shop. The main interest for me was the furniture - 2 tall hutches for a dining room and a sideboard. I'll be painting the hutches to maximize their sale price. Unfortunately, the sideboard was missing some drawers so we'll be using it as a sorting table for reviewing our purchases.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Unit 2: What a Bummer!

The irony of our second unit purchase is that I was so excited about this auction and  looking forward to it for weeks. The auction was in Brookline, a city next to Boston that has a mixture of nice apartments and well-to-do areas and there were more than 10 units up for sale. I looked up the storage business online and even the building it was in was interesting - built as a storage company in the 1880's, it was actually on the national register of historic places.

When we got to the auction, to make matters more interesting, Allen and Ton from Auction Hunters were there. Apparently, this year's show has them traveling around the US going to auctions rather than staying in California, their normal stomping grounds.

Most of the units turned out to be junky. About halfway through, a unit came up that was about 10' X 10' and jammed to the gills with boxes. We didn't see any furniture inside. We decided to bid on it and picked the unit up for $150.

Ton and Allen picked up 3 units, including one that was decidedly creepy. It was a huge room, I'd guess 20' X 20', and it contained 8 large Home Depot boxes along one wall and about 30 black pastic bags arranged in two piles. I hope these make it onto one of their shows as I'm very, very curiuos about what's in those bags.

When my brother paid for the unit, he found out that the monthly rent was $200 and the owner had been $3440 behind. As we cleaned out the room, it became clear the stuff had been put there in 2000, so they'd paid over $20,000 in rent before they stopped paying (actually, probably less, as the monthly rental cost presumably changed over the last 10 years). If someone is going to pay thousands of dollars to store something, wouldn't you expect it to have value? Well, in this case, you'd be wrong ... horribly wrong. We were in shock as we dug into this unit. Not one thing in it was worth selling. Maybe there had been good stuff but the owner had removed it because most of the boxes had been ruptured and rifled through. The junkiness was awe-inspiring.

Not only was there nothing to sell, but the unit cost us money to dispose of the 6 tvs and 3 computer monitors we found in it. TVs and monitors cost $35 each to dispose of at the dump.

So a couple of lessons learned: 1) Brookline not worth revisiting and 2) when the unit looks junky from the outside, don't waste your money or time on it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Our First Unit Purchase

A few days after our first auction, we planned a visit to 3 auctions all close to one another. The middle auction was cancelled as everyone had paid their back rent. The first auction was in Chelmsford, an exurb with a relatively high median income (I hope this would make for good quality goods). The storage place was very well set up. The first unit was a large one outside, in the pouring rain. We looked it over and I liked it. Not too much stuff left, primarily some good looking furniture that I figured we could take to the consignment shop. We took it with a $250 bid. The third and fourth units were interesting but they ended up going for more than we were prepared to pay.

RC and his friend BW (who now comes to all the auctions with us and without whom we'd be screwed because he's strong, industrious and good-natured) cleaned out the unit the next morning and took the furniture over to the consignment shop. If all the items sell, our 50% take will more than equal our investment in the unit. That's lucky because there won't be much to make from the remaining stuff.

All in all, the unit should yield a small profit and took very little time and effort to clean out and dispose of the stuff. We were pleased.

Our First Auction

My brother RC and I went to our first auction in Haverhill, a working class city north of Boston and about an hour away from my house. The storage unit place was in an old mill 4 stories high. There were 4 units up for auction. I was quite surprised to see about 40 people waiting for this auction, with only one other woman in the crowd.

The first unit was fairly narrow, maybe 6 feet wide, and you couldn't see anything except for the back of an appliance (washer or dryer), the side of a large piece of furniture like a hutch and a mattress obscured everything behind it. This was not of interest to us because we didn't want to deal with a mattress or an appliance, but I was interested to see it sell for $200. The next one was mostly junk -- it looked like the renter had taken out what was of value and left the trash behind. It actually sold for $50. The next 2 units looked fairly decent with the last one looking best. We got in on the bidding for the last but the sale amount went over our max.

We were disappointed that we didn't get anything on this first auction, but we did learn a lot.  It's true, you really can't see much and the value determination is mostly by feel. What conclusions can you draw about the overall contents based on what little you can see? Another thing we found out is that many units are just junk.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Pre-Auction Preparation

Before going to our first auction, I wanted to learn as much as I could about this new thing. That's typical for me ... when I become interested in something, I want to dig into it and really understand it. I wanted to understand where the auctions were held and when, what the process and rules were for them, how quickly the stuff had to be cleaned out and the like. I wanted to scope out what options we had for selling the stuff found in the units. Most importantly, I wanted to get a feel for how to determine what to bid.

What I found out, I found almost entirely on the web.

Turns out in Southern New England, all the auctions are managed by 2 different companies. And, their scheduling is often set up so you can attend a whole slew of them in one day. For instance, between 10am and 3:30pm yesterday, there were 6 auctions scheduled in one geographic area that made it possible to attend them all.

The most important rules are 1) units bought are paid for in cash only, 2) in addition to paying the winning bid to the storage company, you also have to pay 10% more to the auctioneer and pay sales tax on the bid, 3) a deposit is required, typically $50 or $100, to the storage company that is returned when your unit is cleaned out, and 4) the unit typically needs to be cleaned out within 24 or 48 hours.

When the auction is underway, the process works the same for each unit sold. Someone from the storage company cuts the lock with a bolt cutter. Then, all the potential buyers get an opportunity to stand at the entrance of the unit and look over the contents, often shining a flashlight into the murk hoping to get a good look into the depths. No one can go inside the unit and nothing can be touched. After we've shambled past, the bidding begins and typically takes about a minute. The winning bidder puts his (almost no women are in this business) own lock on the unit and we move on to the next one. After the auction concludes, we settle up with the storage company and the auctioneer.

The true art of the auction is how you decide what to bid. One excellent recommendation I found online was to take 1 of 2 approaches, depending upon how crammed with stuff the unit was. If not too crammed, it suggested you guesstimate the value of all the items you see that you think you can sell, total those guesses and divide in half. That's your max bid for the unit. In the case of a crammed unit, again tally up the value of the items you can see and value and bid up to the total of your estimate. One issue with this approach is that a good portion of the stuff in the units is in boxes so their contents and value are a mystery. Both on the Storage Wars and Auction Hunters tv shows and in online reading, I found suggestions for how to guess at the value of the unit using some general guidelines. People who've packed up their possessions in sturdy boxes and arranged them neatly in a unit probably value what's in them more than the unit where they've haphazardly shoved stuff higgledy-piggeldy into the space. Also, trash bags are made for holding trash, not things of high value. Lots of trash bags in a unit are not generally a good sign.

The final consideration I wanted to get a handle on before our first auction was where we'd sell the stuff we acquired. Most of the contents of these units will be household items, so I figured we needed to find second hand or consignment shops that carried furniture and the like. Googling located a couple very near me. RC (my brother) and I checked them both out in the afternoon following our first auction. One of them is over 8,000 square feet, had tons of furniture and household items in general. Since we've brought stuff there, we found out they also have an online reference for reviewing your sales to date, which is very helpful. There are lots of other stores that specialize in different categories of used goods, such as clothing, sporting equipment and audio equipment. These will be good spots for unloading some of our haul. Of course, for collectible items that are not easy to sell locally or have a relatively high value, we'll use eBay. Selling items through an eBay auction requires a good amount of work - taking photos, composing descriptions, researching similar items to determine pricing and how to promote our piece -- so I plan to avoid this approach when the item isn't anticipated to be worth at least $100. Craigslist is of course an option, but I haven't ever used it, so I will need to get familiar with it to figure out when it's the best option for selling items.

With all this accomplished, I felt ready for our first auction.

NEXT - our first auction

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why Storage Units?

I admit the idea of purchasing the contents of abandoned storage units to resell them never occurred to me until a few months ago, when I watched Storage Wars on tv. Storage Wars is a "reality" tv show that follows 5 individuals as they purchase, clean out and resell the contents of storage units in California. I knew there were storage unit businesses, after all you see them all over, but I'd never thought through what happens when someone doesn't pay their rent and the unit needs to be cleared out for a new paying customer.

When I watched the show, it seemed like a fun and potentially profitable enterprise. I knew the show was focusing on the most rewarding units, since the "finds" definitely made for the most interesting viewing. More interesting to show a find of valuable baseball cards then junk that needs to go straight to a dumpster somewhere. And, the tally of income and expenses for the units was completely out of whack, with no consideration made for costs other than the unit itself. How about the time of the folks buying the unit? Cost of traveling to and from the units? Cost of sales? And so on ....

But, I thought it would be a fun thing to do. And, I had the time since I'm unemployed. In a moment of complete serendipity, I mentioned to my brother that I was interested in buying storage units. He was too! And, by the way, he's unemployed, strong, and has a mini-van and trailer. Most importantly, though, it's always more fun to do this kind of thing in partnership with someone else. You have someone to share the experience with. And, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses; working together we can exploit our strengths and ideally mitigate those weaknesses.

Next up: pre-auction preparation