Bidders flock to auctions at storage lockers

The mirror of a dresser shows the reflection of Lynn Woellhof of Grand Junction, who peers inside a locker at 29 Road Mini Storage, pondering her bid during an auction. Bidders are not allowed inside. “The boxes could be filled with trash,” said another bidder. “It’s a total gamble.”

Missing was much of the swagger, the trash-talking and the endless cache of high-end treasures buried in storage lockers as seen on the California-based reality television show, “Storage Wars.”

But bidders at a recent storage locker auction in Grand Junction still had the thrill of the hunt and discovery.

Partly because of the television show, which highlights bidding spats and cunning antics between four money-grabbing dealers, a storage auction Wednesday at 29 Road Mini Storage, 492 29 Road, brought out about 50 bidders. It was far more than most local dedicated auction-goers had ever seen at one sale.

“I used to buy this for $50, $60,” one man grumbled to a friend, peering into a packed but mostly darkened storage locker.

By “this,” he meant all of what was inside.

But anymore, the man knew, that 10-by-20-foot locker teeming with used mattresses, cowboy hats, a dated headboard, a double tape player and stacks of boxes went for much more, at least $600, according to some who disclosed their bids to a reporter.

Cash and clear out

According to state law, owners of storage units can auction off possessions from customers who fall behind on paying for the space. Notices are printed in newspapers and attempts are made to contact the owner or the person’s relatives. When those methods are exhausted, a sale takes place,  usually within about three months of a failed payment.

Storage site owners usually use an auctioneer and sell a locker’s entire contents to the highest bidder. At 29 Road Mini Storage,  the owner uses a silent approach of written bids. The winner must pay immediately in cash and has a couple days to clear out the space.

Bidders cannot set foot inside a storage unit, which prompts some experienced auction hounds to carry a flashlight, casting a beam into a locker’s far reaches in search of treasures or any number of clues to indicate what valuables might be hidden by junk.

People leave items in storage lockers for any number of reasons, 29 Road Mini Storage owner Terry Hammer Sr. said.

Sometimes people skip town and don’t want to deal with it. Others might have been involved in illegal activity and wound up in jail, unable to make payments. Still other abandoned units could fall into delinquency because of a death in the family, he said.

Storage lockers tend to contain household goods, Hammer said. But Wednesday’s sale, which encompassed seven units, featured one unit with a outboard motorboat and another with a motorcycle. As the business goes, there would be no titles available for either vehicle. A few units were surprisingly sparse with items of little value. An old snowboard and some used windows were revealed in one unit. A dining room light, a baby jumper and three wooden dining room chairs were scattered about in another.

“I haven’t heard of anybody finding a 10-carat diamond ring,” Hammer said.

Trips to landfill

Despite the warnings to bidders and the slim odds of finding actual valuables, the auctions invariably spark the imagination and bring out people seeking a good deal.

Dan Medina of Paonia, and his wife, Sandi, traveled to Grand Junction just for the sale. The couple resells items they procure at auction sales at a garage-sale type business they operate from a friend’s building, 18378 H Road in Delta.

As a rule, they bid about 50 percent of what they think they items will resell for. A stash of boxes piled high in one unit intrigued Dan Medina. The couple also looks for undisturbed units where dust on the boxes indicate someone else may not have scoured them for the best items. Evidence that a unit contains items of an older person is good,  too. That could mean a collection of antiques, also highly sought.

“The boxes could be filled with trash,” Sandi Medina confided. “It’s a total gamble.”

Usually, the couple finds enough items to resell, and they mainly focus on furniture. But they’ve also spent enough afternoons hauling items to the landfill. Still, they sometimes hit the jackpot. Once, Dan Medina secured some firearms during a purchase. Another time he got lucky when he found coins and collectable baseball cards. It’s the thought of finding other such gems that keeps them coming back.

“They’re worth quite a bit,” he said of the cards, beaming with pride. “It took me a long time to find them. They were buried.”

Gail and Clinton Bungier of Orchard Mesa enjoy the search, and don’t use the auction sales to make a profit. Gail Bungier keeps her eyes peeled for housewares emblazoned in ivy patterns; her husband has a penchant for old postcards. Last month the couple did themselves in, spending a marathon day attending 15 local storage auctions. Some of the items they won were transferred to their personal storage space. Other goods went to any of their combined eight children. On Wednesday, they were looking for a dining table and chairs.

“It’s just like Christmas, you know,” Gail Bungier said. “It’s a guessing game, it really is.”

No glamour, yet

Hammer said even though he has recouped some costs, the whole auction process still leaves him about 30 percent short of making ends meet on customers who abandon their units. There are costs for advertising the sales and for tracking down relatives. A poor economy is likely to blame for the seven units that went to auction last week. Usually, Hammer auctions only a couple units at a time.

The television show that offers a glimpse of glamorous goods as the storage doors roll up has people salivating to find good fortune off another’s bad turn.

“We don’t seem to have the high end stuff they have there,” Hammer said. “Maybe we’re more of a low-key community than in California. Maybe someday we will be.”


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