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!