Interview With Storage Unit Auctioneer Jeff Gregory

Posted on Nov 2 2012 - 8:38pm by Tim Eyre

 

Interview With Storage Unit Auctioneer Jeff GregorySome people who bid at self-storage auctions are just curious about what treasures may be found behind those doors, while others are out to make a living. Whatever the reasons people bid, storage auctioneers are always happy to see them at their auctions. And it’s perhaps the storage auctioneers who understand what drives buyers more than anyone. Just like you see on television shows, auctioneers have regular buyers, and those buyers sometimes share what was inside those storage units they just bought.

As you might imagine, storage unit auctioneering is a fascinating job! I wanted to learn more, so I interviewed Jeff Gregory, owner of Nor Cal Storage Auctions, Inc. Jeff’s been conducting storage auctions in California for more than seven years.

You may remember Jeff’s tips on how to bid at storage auctions. Now, I’m going to share our interview so you can gain a glimpse into the storage auction world from an auctioneer’s perspective, plus learn about some of the intriguing things found inside storage units that Jeff has sold.

Tim Eyre:

Why do you think people go to auctions instead of shopping other types of sales?

Jeff Gregory:

I think it’s the thrill of the hunt. Some people have a deep desire to go out and discover something on their own.

For example, a lady at one of my auctions bought a unit up in Sacramento, and she paid $550 for the unit. It was a nice, big unit. It had a picture, and the lady sold it at an auction house and got $35,000! When something like that happens, the word spreads, and it’s very contagious. People think that maybe they can find one of those pictures, or some old jewelry, gold, diamonds or something else valuable inside a unit.

People are always looking to find that treasure, because what’s more fun than that? It’s kind of like as a kid when you’re trick-or-treating, and you go to that one house where the person gives you that extra Snickers bar.

Tim Eyre:

How do you determine your starting price at auctions?

Jeff Gregory:

I go by experience, but there are a lot of factors: size of unit, how full the unit is and the tidiness of the unit.

Sometimes, I’m lucky to get a dollar for a unit. I might start at $25, and gradually go down if there’s no interest. I’ve actually paid $1 for a unit so someone will grab it, but it’s well worth it for me to invest my dollar so the manager isn’t going to have to clean out the unit.

Tim Eyre:

How do you help ensure buyers turn out for auctions?

Jeff Gregory:

My job as an auctioneer is to try to get back as much money as possible for the unit that I’m selling. To do that, there are a lot of things I must do behind the scenes. For example, advertising in print media and on various media websites, Facebook and Twitter. I have my own web page out there, NorCalStorageAuctions.com.

Regular buyers get emails once a week of the various auctions coming up. I’ll email buyers who have bought in the past in a 50-square-mile radius of the auction. We’ve found the most success in pinpointing qualified buyers and getting them there by focusing on location. If you have someone who buys units in San Jose, they’re not going to drive two and a half hours to Santa Rosa to buy a unit. They’re more likely to buy a unit close to where they live. My job is to get the buyers there who are going to spend the money on the units.

On the other end of the spectrum, we also have to get the buyers there who are going to buy the cheap units, the $5 and $10 units, the stuff that people have left behind, whether it be an old couch or an old washer and dryer that they just couldn’t fit on the truck. A lot of times, these units don’t get sold if you don’t have the right people there to buy them.

I have buyers who come to spend $3,000 to $5,000 on units, and buyers who are going to spend only $5 to $20 on a unit. And it’s really good because one of the worst things to have happen at an auction is that you don’t sell all the units. The manager of the property has to deal with the cleaning out of the unit if it’s not sold.

Tim Eyre:

Going back to the ads you place, do buyers pay a lot of attention to them?

Jeff Gregory:

Yes, a lot of the buyers are starting to profile some of the people who rented the units advertised in the paper. Some even go so far as to Google them or look them up on Facebook to try to figure out the history of this person and what happened. There’s a story behind every unit that’s sold. And units end up in auction for a lot of different reasons.

Tim Eyre:

In your experience, what are the most common items found inside storage units that go up for auction?

Jeff Gregory:

Bicycles, baby clothes, baby strollers, toys and furniture

Tim Eyre:

Do people really make a profit buying storage units?

Jeff Gregory:

If I sell 100 units in one week, 65 to 70 percent of the stuff is going to be, I call it, low-end units: stuff that’s going to sell for less than $100. And it’s the 30 percent of the units that are usually full and untouched by the renter that people can make a profit out of. That’s what I’ve found, but either way, my job is to sell them all.

Tim Eyre:

How many of the people attending storage auctions utilize them as a means of making a living by reselling contents?

Jeff Gregory:

About 40 to 50 percent do it for a living. The others use it as supplementary income or a hobby.

Tim Eyre:

Have you noticed any changes in the number of people who attend storage auctions?

Jeff Gregory

With the latest craze with the “Storage Wars” phenomenon, we’ve seen more people show up at auctions. And a unit that typically sold for $200 to $300, may now sell for anywhere from $400 to $600, so it’s almost doubled some of the better units. But other units that would have sold for $1, still might sell for $1.

Tim Eyre:

How else have “Storage Wars” and similar shows had an impact on auctions?

Jeff Gregory:

One of those $1 units may be someone’s headboard from their bedroom set that may be left behind in the unit, and it’s just pretty much scrap wood. You can’t burn it. Some designers use parts off of it and build other pieces of furniture. There are so many people doing their own projects, and “Storage Wars” has really given them ideas to come out and get merchandise for their projects.

I’ve had authors come out, artists, sculptors, people that I’ve met and never would have thought they’d come out to a storage auction, and it’s because of the shows that have brought auctions into the mainstream.

Tim Eyre:

On “Storage Wars,” some of the characters purchase units with valuable antiques and other rare items that make them a lot of money. In your experience, how often does that really happen? 

Jeff Gregory:

Realistically, it’s probably only one out of 150 or so units that will hold a big treasure. We might go for two or three weeks without seeing something that makes you go “wow,” then we’ll have three or four great units in a week.

Tim Eyre:

Do you know the contents of storage units before they’re auctioned off?

Jeff Gregory:

Typically, we don’t know the contents, because we don’t go inside the units. We cut locks with a witness and photograph the units from the door, but we never go inside and open up boxes and inventory the units. The liability of going inside someone’s unit is too great. All we can do is just look at the front of the unit and get an idea of the number of boxes and items we can see. We do this visual inventory of the unit because under California law, you must advertise two weeks prior, the contents of the unit.

Tim Eyre:

According to your company’s website, you’ve conducted more than 4,000 storage auctions. What were some of the more interesting items found inside these units?

Jeff Gregory:

I can tell you stories of some things I’ve sold in storage units that even I’ve been flabbergasted by, like I can’t believe I just sold a helicopter! There was a black, orange, yellow and red helicopter that looked just like the one from the show “Magnum, P.I.” I could have sworn it was the same helicopter. It was disassembled, with all the parts. The helicopter was about 24 feet long, and we sold it for $3,900. This was years ago, and the guy who bought it sold it for $15,500 a few months after he bought it.

Just recently, I sold a small unit to a regular buyer in Walnut Creek, California. He paid $800 for it, and he told me the reason he bought it was because there was this old Italian racing bicycle from the 80s just like the one from the movie “Breaking Away.” There were also 60 boxes neatly stacked behind it. The guy who owned the unit was in jail, but the guy who bought the unit discovered a safe with more than $28,000 in cash (old money dating back to the 1970s and 1980s), and a nice coin collection!

One buyer found a 1908 Zippo lighter, one of only about 100 made. There are only about 20 known to still be in existence. After turning down a few offers for the lighter that were less than $100, he put it on eBay  and sold it to a collector for $12,850!

And there was a unit we called the “White House” locker about three years ago that sold for $1,200. It contained Halliburton briefcases and a nicely tailored wardrobe. The buyer also found a large collection of 175 inks pens that sold for more than $35,000. In that same unit, the buyer found an actual White House security clearance badge. I think he turned the badge in.

And people always ask me if I’ve found dead bodies instead storage units. No, I haven’t, but I’ve seen several prosthetic arms and legs. I’ve even had to go inside to make sure they weren’t attached to a body!

Tim Eyre:

Do you always find out what’s inside storage units after they’ve sold?

Jeff Gregory:

No, not every buyer wants you to know what’s found inside. There are many buyers who are very private and will never tell me. It’s their closely guarded secret. They may say, “It was horrible, just lot of junk,” because they don’t want me to know, or anyone else to know.

Tim Eyre:
That sounds like a good mystery to end on! Thanks for sharing all of this with the blog readers, and I hope that you get to see lots of “wow” units in your future!

Jeff Gregory:

I’m sure I will. My job is definitely exciting. Thank you for reaching out so I could share.

Tim Eyre

Interview With Storage Unit Auctioneer Jeff Gregory

About Tim Eyre

Interactive Marketing Manager (formerly)
Extra Space Storage

Armed with a Bachelor of Science in Business and a Minor in Marketing, Tim came to Extra Space Storage after an in-house position in search engine optimization opened up. With interests in internet marketing, Tim studied upcoming tactics in college and came to work for Extra Space Storage after working as a consultant. As the Interactive Marketing Manager, Tim is in charge of monitoring and improving the company's return on investment, with specific focuses on organic rankings and local internet marketing.

One of Tim's biggest goals is to be outside as much as possible, which he can often be found doing with his family. Tim is also a self-proclaimed sports nut and likes to travel where he enjoys learning about different cultures.

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