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.