The hit cable television show “Storage Wars” has certainly drawn some new buyers into the storage unit auction arena.
Marine Voss of Andover has an eBay store where she sells anything from purses to vintage clothing from the 1920s and random knick knacks. She and her husband Dave are fans of the A&E television show “Storage Wars” in which buyers try to guess how much money they could make from goods in a seized storage unit that they can barely see for a few minutes.
“There’s money in it if you know what you’re looking for,” said Don Heckes of Coon Rapids, who has been hoarding items from numerous auctions, antique sales and garage sales for most of his life.
Dozens of people came out to the ABC Mini-Storage in Andover April 24 to see what treasures they could find. The Vosses wanted to get a comparison between the show and reality. They ended up not getting a unit.
Susie Crane of Andover and her father Donald Johnson of Anoka were also rookies and they bought a storage unit because they saw an Atari gaming system box and a number of other items they felt could earn them some money.
The highest price ABC Mini Storage owner Kraig Domogalia got was $375 for one storage unit and he received considerably lower bids for the other units.
According to Domogalia, he has never made any money on these auctions because he has lost money from people falling behind on rent.
The economic downturn has actually helped his business because more people who may have downsized or gone through a foreclosure are storing goods in his units. His units have been close to 100 percent occupied for some time.
“For me, it’s just turning it around so I can re-rent it,” he said.
Heckes watches “Storage Wars” and said people dream they will find hidden treasure in these units when most will probably have old mattresses, electronic equipment that will not work and some random stuff that may not have been properly sealed in a storage container.
He said you are not likely to find jewelry or gold watches and even if you do, the cold, damp Minnesota winter would have damaged this.
Ellis Gottlieb, vice president of the Nationwide Housing Corporation, which owns nine Acorn Mini-Storage facilities, including one in Blaine, echoed Heckes’ sentiments.
He has been to a number of storage auctions and sees a core group of five to 10 people, Gottlieb said.
After the “Storage Wars” show became popular, a lot more people come out of curiosity, but the bids have not really gone up. Most bids are under $100 and he has seen some $5 or $10 bids because they open the garage for the anxious audience to only find a few boxes and garbage bags inside.
A lot of people come once, are disappointed by how anti-climatic the auction is and never come back.
“It’s not a glamorous business,” Gottlieb said.
Gottlieb said Acorn Mini-Storage has had a number of auctions considering it has over 5,000 units in nine locations. He said the number of auctions has likely increased as the number of foreclosures have gone up. It is a last resort because of the cost to go through the process. When they provide the approximately 60-day notice, they usually lose a couple of months of rent, but Gottlieb said he would rather work with people who may be going through a rough patch.
This was only the third auction Domogalia has had since he bought this ABC Mini-Storage site in Andover in 2004. The last time he had an auction he had 10 storage units up for sale. This time he was going to have five, but two renters made their delinquent payments in time.
Domogalia did not want to disclose how long he gives renters, but he said he typically gives them a little bit of time to catch up if they fall behind. He legally must give at least 57 days notice of a pending storage unit auction to the renter and the public.
Legal notices are published in the local newspaper, a sign is posted on the property and a certified letter is sent to the renter.
Gottlieb said Minnesota law also requires storage facility managers to attempt reaching alternative contacts that the renter provides in case they are incapacitated and cannot make payments. This backup person can make payments or redeem goods.
State law gives renters the first 16 days after notice of auction has been filed to recover any item of value to them. After that, the storage facility has legal ownership over anything except clothes, baby supplies, tools for work or medicine, for example. This can be recovered any time before the unit is auctioned off.
Besides vehicles, guns cannot be auctioned if the storage unit business knows it is there.
Some notable items found at auctions that Gottlieb heard about were not even kept. A classic car was found in one unit. State law required Acorn to find the lien holder and give the vehicle to them.
One attorney left boxes of court documents involving their clients in a storage unit. The buyer returned the documents and Acorn Mini-Storage turned the papers over to the state.
Heckes, a retired union electrician, said when he goes to the storage bin auctions, he looks for how the boxes are packed. If there is no lid, that obviously is a negative. A riding lawn mower or high-quality furniture or dishes are items he watches out for. The first items he bought many years ago were crystal dishes.
Domogalia recalls seeing framed family photos in one unit. He contacted the renter because he wanted them to have this back. He has not heard of many big items found at the auctions because the buyers typically package the boxes into their vehicles and unpack at their own homes.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]