A Lesson in "Auctionese": Learn to Talk the Talk at Storage Auctions

So you’ve finally saved up enough cash to go to a storage auction. You’re eager to buy your first unit and are planning on doing so no matter what. As you make your way through the crowds at the storage facility, you feel confident that no one is going to outbid you. But wait-do you know who the whale is at this auction? Did you just overhear someone talking about phantom bidding? Is there another new blood to contend to? Better yet… do you even know what any of that means?

If not, hold your horses! If you want to walk the walk, you gotta talk the talk. Over time, the auction scene has become somewhat of a subculture, and as with all good subcultures, the bidders and auctioneers have developed slang and secret codes. Knowing their language is indispensable in being successful.

Look around. Get a feel for the crowd. Listen. Hear what people are saying about the other bidders, about the units, and about the auctioneer. Here are a few phrases to listen for at the next auction that might just save your career.

Caravan auction – a series of site auctions advertised through a common promotional campaign. Caravans are usually led by the same auctioneer, who will lead the “caravan” to different unit facilities throughout the day. Find out if the auction you’re at is part of a caravan-you might have an opportunity to visit more than one facility that day!

“Fair Warning” -if you hear the auctioneer say this, listen up: if you haven’t bid on the unit and would like to-do it now! The auctioneer is about to close the bid, and is alerting you that he/she has given you “fair warning” before doing so.

Jump bid – a bid made of a much higher increment than the previous bid. Usually employed by a serious bidder who wants others to know that they mean business.

Looky-loos – a person who goes to an auction purely to spectate, with no intentions of bidding. Looky-loos can be frustrating to both the auction goers and the auctioneer, as they crowd the space and make it harder for potential bidders to see the units. The amount of looky-loos has increased in current times due to the booming popularity of storage auction reality TV shows.

New blood – a newbie; a person who is new to bidding. Don’t underestimate the new blood, they can be just as fierce as the seasoned pros as they’re trying to prove their worth amongst the other bidders and carve out a place in the business.

Pickin’ bid/phantom bid – a nonexistent bid called by the auctioneer to pique interest in the bidders. Be warned-this tactic is considered improper and in many jurisdictions is illegal.

Quarter/”Gimme a quarter… ” – no, the unit is not selling for 25 cents. The auctioneer may refer to a $25 bid as a quarter. “Gimme two quarters” would obviously mean $50.

Shill/shilling – a type of bid; bidder who is working for the auctioneer to inflate bids. Watch out for this one. Ask around for the inside scoop. Does the auctioneer make a profit off the units sold, or do they get a flat rate salary? Know your crowd, and more importantly, know your auctioneer.

Staged – relating to storage units, this describes a unit that has been tampered with before the day of the auction. Items of interest may have been pulled to the front in order to entice bidders, such as electronics, brand name purses, etc. Look for signs of a staged auction by disrupted spots of dust or an awkward, almost too perfect look to the setup of the locker.

Valuation – estimation of the worth of an item, or a storage unit on whole. After enough auctions and research, valuating will become much easier for you. Valuating is important in deciding what you maximum bid on a unit should be. Obviously, if the bidding goes higher than your valuation, you should step out.

Whale – a seasoned buyer who attends the same auctions very frequently. You’ll probably pin point the whale very quickly, and many people may be talking about them. They are usually tough to outbid if they have their sights set on a unit, and most likely have a lot of cash to burn!

“You’re out!”- a tactic used by the auctioneer after you have been outbid. Auctioneers often interact with buyers this way in order to fuel further bidding.

Are you feeling comfortable yet? Try some of them out, see how they feel! Who knows, you might just impress the other new bloods and the whales alike at your next auction.

For some more fantastic auction speak, as well as some of the phrases from this article, check out “Slang: The Topical Dictionary of Americanisms” By Paul Dickson.

Storage Auctions – Myth Vs Reality

With so many eager bargain hunters flocking to their local storage facilities in hopes of chasing down priceless hidden treasures, it’s inevitable that some folks are going to have their hopes dashed as soon as the unit doors fly up and the only thing that greets them is trash bags and dirty clothes. Property managers all over the country have been struggling to manage an influx of bidders that have never even been to a storage facility before, as well as the jackpot expectations these newcomers bring with them. From a management perspective, there are positive and negative aspects to this flood of attention. More frequent incidences of property damage, arguments between inexperienced bidders and high volumes of calls from bargain hunters that have no intention of renting units are certainly irritations to managers and the facility owners.

On the plus side, the increased foot traffic and higher auction turnout is also converting into higher final prices for storage auction units. Small repossessed storage lockers that at one time might have sold for as little as $50 are now regularly bringing in upwards of $150. This trend is due almost exclusively to television shows like Storage Wars and Auction Hunters that are suggesting to viewers a far higher frequency of jackpot storage units than may actually exist. In the eyes of a property manager, foot traffic is always a good thing, since it means more exposure for the facility. Even if the auction hunters themselves do not rent any units, they may mention the facility to friends, thereby disseminating the brand and increasing the likelihood of future word-of-mouth referrals.

Many newcomers to the world of storage auctions wonder why these special sales even occur in the first place. The answer to this question actually dovetails with a number of conspiracy theories cropping up on the internet in print that suggest that delinquent storage unit auctions are entirely made-up; a mere product of a clever reality show ploy to secure viewers. The truth of the matter is that storage auctions have been around for a long time. They’re real. End of story. Auctioning off the contents of a delinquent unit is legal recourse of self storage properties that find themselves in a financial bind when a tenant abandons their belongings or simply refuses to pay their rent for months at a time.

What isn’t exactly true is that every repossessed storage unit you see sold by auction is going to produce diamonds, jewelry, antiques, heirlooms and collectibles to the tune of thousands upon thousands of dollars. This is just not the way it works. Briefly consider the logical progression of a storage unit auction in order to determine for yourself exactly how rare it is to find a storage unit with heaps of valuables and no junk:

First, someone rents a storage unit because they have belongings they prize highly enough to want to secure and retain them. They have to have sufficient money to cover the sign-up fees along with at least the first month’s rent. Some storage facilities require a cleaning deposit, and some facilities that do not offer month to month storage rentals require that the new tenant pay a few months in advance. This means that people who put valuables in storage not only had enough money to initially obtain those valuables, but they also have enough money to cover the start-up fees for their unit rental. We can conclude from this that, excepting some totally unforeseen disaster, most wealthy storage tenants are not going to become unwealthy enough quickly enough to lose their valuables to a public auction.

That’s not to say it doesn’t occur. There are innumerable scenarios that can see even the most organized and well-intentioned storage facility tenants unable to make contact with their property manager quickly enough to prevent their unit from going to auction. Sometimes people get stuck abroad and lose all contact info for their facility and eventually lose their will and ability to keep up with their payments. These kinds of scenarios are far more likely to produce the types of repossessed storage lockers that shows like Storage Wars and Auction Kings need to produce their episodes.

What does all of this mean for beginning storage unit pickers that want to get involved in the exciting world of storage auctions? Simply that success in this business depends on determination, patience and keeping your expectations in check. If you always go out planning to find your own private box of riches behind the next storage shed door, you will almost always end up disappointed. However, if you play smart, always buy low and resell everything you find inside via yard sales or online auction sites, you can and will turn a profit over time.