Storage Unit Auctions: How to Make Money From Abandoned Storage Lockers

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This contribution on making money with storage unit auctions comes from long-time Side Hustle Nation member Domenic Costa. “Coach” Dom does a bunch of different side hustles in addition to his day job as a teacher, including this interesting “buy low, sell high” business that’s straight out of reality TV.

make money with storage unit auctions

Be sure to follow Dom on Instagram and YouTube, where he shares some his flipping finds and hustle tips.

Take it away, Dom!


As a high school teacher, I listen to teens complain about not being able to make any money until they are 16 and can get a work permit to work in a fast food restaurant.

Having grown up as the son of a self-employed building contractor, I knew that there were lots of jobs and giving service that are available to anyone at almost any age.

You do not have to wait to be 16 to be useful! You do not have to be a certain age to provide a service and to get paid in cash!

I shared with the kids garage sales and selling things around the house on eBay, Amazon, and Craigslist were a great way to make some money!

To demonstrate it, I did the same activities myself and made YouTube videos! I share my journey at Coach Domenic Costa on YouTube.

Although I was making great money flipping items from yard sales (usually $200-500 profit), I realized I needed to find more material to sell.

How Storage Unit Auctions Work

When storage locker renters fail to pay their monthly rent for a certain period of time, the storage facility will auction off the contents off the box to the highest bidder.

For side hustlers, that means an opportunity to score inventory to re-sell on the cheap.

Usually there will be a notice in the newspaper or the storage auction facility will have an online listing of when the auctions will be. I try to attend my local ones when I have time off.

Storage Unit Auctions Near Me

At the start of the auction everyone is reminded to return to the storage facility office any valuables like cremation ashes, birth certificates, and family photos.

Then an auctioneer walks the attendees to the units, and opens the doors. Everyone has an opportunity to take a quick peek, but you generally can’t go inside.

You have to develop your skills of knowing what you’re looking at, what condition it’s in, and basically be wise enough to only bid on what you see!

The auctioneer goes through his or her spiel and the unit is auctioned off. After all of the units are auctioned off,  the “winners” typically meet in the facility office and pay up.

The winners are also responsible for a $100 or $200 cleaning deposit. Then they have 24 to 48 hours to empty the unit to receive their deposit back! The unit must be left broom swept clean and no trash can be deposited at the storage facility.

There are also online storage unit auctions — more on those below.

Getting Started in Storage Unit Auctions

I had always had an interest in making extra money, and had done lots of yard sale flipping. Back in the day when people read newspapers, I noticed storage unit auctions near where I lived and I would go to them occasionally.

I had never really taken the full dip into the pool but it was intriguing to see the types of swap-meet buyers and the stuff in the lockers for sale.

Finally in late 2012, I wanted to pay off more bills and I happened to stay up really late one night with my sick daughter watching the show Storage Wars. I said, “Son of a gun, I can do this too!”

My first auction was near my home and I won it for $35.

It was full of household goods like pots and pans and holiday decorations. I sold everything for nearly $200 — more than quadrupling my money.

I typically would buy one unit a month and sell all of the items. As I got bigger and better at selling all of this material, I ramped up to two per month and have now bought and cleaned out over 100+ storage units.

Is “Storage Wars” Realistic?

Around the time I started to take the storage locker auction side hustle more seriously, so did a lot of other people!

Storage Wars and a bunch of similar shows (American Pickers, Auction Hunters, etc.) were making a big deal about Storage Unit auctions and the kind of money you could make.

Here’s my 15-seconds of fame when I actually appeared on an episode of Storage Wars:

It was not unusual to have crowds of 70-100+ people at live storage auctions.

These crowds just drove up the prices and made a boatload of money for the auctioneers and storage facilities! A unit that might sell for $300 today would go for $1000 just because so many people wanted to get in on the action.

It was still doable to turn a profit, but it was difficult. I hung in there, and I bought a couple of units and began to learn how to sell all of the different kinds of items I found.

(Now it’s rare to see more than 20 people, and I believe it is due to the fact that storage unit auction reselling is nothing but hard work!)

Storage Wars was billed as “reality TV”, but I have a hard time believing that they found really excellent stuff in every single unit as portrayed. I am not saying it couldn’t happen but you have to remember the shows are for entertainment first!

How Much Money Can You Make from a Storage Unit Auction?

My typical profit ranges anywhere from 100 to 600% of the sales price. For me, breaking even is a loss!

My profits aren’t enough to retire on, but it is the skill of selling that I believe helps me and has helped my students develop confidence as they sell.

Selling is a skill that is necessary on our planet and I believe you can have a better and more fruitful life if you know, can practice it, and and appreciate it!

The typical sales price for a won unit could be free or $1 all the way up to the $1000s. The most expensive I’ve seen one go for was for $10,000 cash.

That particular unit was 20 feet deep and had at least 15 feet along one wall with stacked 7 feet tall with Nike shoe boxes! Now the boxes could’ve been empty or full of trash but the winning bidder believed that they were Nikes and therefore it got bid up really high!

The typical sales price for me is anywhere between $1 to $500. This seems to be a typical price for both my live auctions and the online auctions that I see.

I evaluate price based on what I am seeing. This resell game of acquiring items through the auctioning of abandoned storage units is a bit of a treasure hunt and as a buyer you must also have a bit of a riverboat gambler mentality!

I have bought plenty of units that were complete garbage because I got fooled by the dusty boxes in good looking totes! But there were other times where I bought those same dusty cardboard boxes and totes and they were filled with collectibles and other quite nice resealable items.

In that sense, it’s a bit like pallet flipping — you never quite know what’s inside!

My Best Storage Unit Auction Finds

The most valuable items I find are typically scrap gold and silver broken jewelry. One unit had several V8 engines under a tarp, which were worth several hundred dollars at the scrap metal yard.

I find lots of bullets — but no guns yet!

The most unusual were the tips of calligraphy pens found in the bottom drawer of a $200 locker.

I set that little matchbox of calligraphy tips in my eBay pile and didn’t look at it for months due to my busy football coaching schedule.

When I finally got around to listing them, they ended up selling on eBay for a cool $455!

Now I know calligraphy pen tips, what they look like, and what their value is. That’s the big chunk of this journey — learning about the variety of items people buy and what they’re worth.

There have been things I have found that I didn’t know had any value at all. For example, I once found five Michael Kors dresses in a locker. I thought that they had just misspelled the Coors beer name on them!

I snapped a picture and sent it to my wife and boy did she teach me! She kept a couple of the dresses for herself and the rest I sold on eBay for a tidy profit.

I definitely know a lot more about name-brand clothes and accessories than when I started, and those items tend to have strong resale demand.

Where to Re-Sell Storage Unit Auction Items

eBay is my go-to outlet to sell the most unusual items I find. There’s something about that nationwide and really worldwide marketplace that makes it perfect to sell rare or odd items.

Nick’s Notes: Flea Market Flipper Rob Stephenson echoed that sentiment in our interview.

I found this pile of old cell phones in one unit, and sold them on Ebay for $100.

If the item has a barcode, I’ll list it on Amazon.

Other items would go on a Facebook sale page or on Craigslist for my local buyers.

The final items are either donated or sold at a blowout garage sale held at my home.

Storage Unit Auction Costs

When you win an auction, you’ll be responsible to pay the winning bid amount on the spot (usually $1-500 for me) , plus the $100-200 cleaning deposit.

But there are some other costs you should know about, the biggest being your time. There are lots of hours of labor loading and unloading this stuff, and for big units, it may take several trips.

I own a full-size pickup, which definitely helps. You have to factor in your time, fuel, number of truck trips, and labor to get this material out of the unit and to your home or sourcing space.

Do you have a big enough garage to store your newly-acquired inventory? Or will you have to rent some warehouse space — or a storage unit of your own?

There are also marketplace fees to be aware of when you re-sell the items. Craigslist is free but eBay typically takes 10%.

Online Storage Unit Auctions

Storage unit auctions today are not only held live but are also held online! This has been a benefit for me because I still have a full-time job.

Online auctions allow me to not have to take a day off to attend and I can readily see the items and purchase the lockers online.

My favorite online auction site by far is They have auctions nationwide, and plenty in my part of Southern California.

online storage unit auction

They make it easy to look at each unit but each facility is responsible for taking pictures of the units for sale and the quality and quantity definitely vary.

It is a little bit like online dating — the pictures can be helpful but sometimes they don’t tell the whole story.

For example, here’s an auction that’s going on now in Cheyenne, Wyoming:

These are the only two pictures provided. The current bid is only $50, but the description is just one word: “Bags”.

Super helpful, right?

Sometimes it really is a treasure hunt — a roll of the dice.

Nick’s Notes: Other auctions have more pictures and more details — and higher prices — like this one near me:

I probably win 10% of the auctions I follow online.

Auctions are fascinating places to watch human behavior. It is better to be at an auction than to watch one on TV, that’s for sure!

Before Your First Auction

The biggest issue with this business is how much space you have and what type of transportation you have.

Space is important because if you buy a 10 foot x 20 foot unit that is packed from the floor to the ceiling with stuff, you are responsible to clean it all out to get your $100 or $200 cleaning deposit back. (This is on top of whatever price you paid to “win” the unit!)

You have to be able to move the stuff and have a place to process it to figure out a resale or disposal plan for each item.

In my experience, most of the big buyers are my swap meet sellers. These are the folks that have to feed the machine! They need to keep getting material to sell daily at their swap meet stall.

Bidding on units with them can be interesting because they may bid up the units on newbie buyers; online bidding eliminates that.

Another observation is that prices seem to go up right after tax season. Perhaps some people are using their tax refunds to go hunting for storage locker “treasures”!

Start Small and Practice

You have to develop a keen eye for units that have valuables in them. I believe this can only be learned by actually doing it over and over many times!

I’ve gotten better over the years because I’ve learned more about the variety of items I found. As I learned more, I got better at selling those items!

There is a definite learning curve, and it takes real world practice. For example, my first couple of units had some Disney memorabilia that I ended up selling at a low price before I knew their true value.

An interesting fact is that the smaller units often sell for more than the bigger units because some buyers can only handle the material that is stored in a smaller unit.

I highly recommend you go online to check them out or find an auction nearby to get a taste of what it’s really like. It is the only way to learn!

You’ll start to understand the game and what it will take to:

  • buy the unit
  • transport the contents of that unit
  • clean out the unit
  • sort through the items
  • sell the contents
  • dump the trash

It will be up to you as an individual if it is worth your time.

It has been a ton of fun for me as well as profitable — most of the time.

Related: One Side Hustle Show guest reported earning up to $4000 a month flipping used books! There are profit opportunities everywhere.

Drawbacks to Storage Unit Auctions

The sad thing about storage unit auctions is finding all of the personal life mementos and paperwork. I return those items to the storage office.

Most people lose their lockers because they have a financial problem, a death in the family, a divorce, or a medical hardship.

Sharing this journey of what I find and the circumstances behind why these lockers were lost with my students and family has been a benefit and a cautionary tale. I’ve found Americans (in general) buy and have too much stuff and then have to spend even more to store it.

The entire storage industry — and my little auction side hustle — is built on this consumerism.

Your Turn

All in all, storage locker flipping has been a great way for me to make money on the side — and teach my students some lessons about business.

Have you ever tried the storage unit auction side hustle? Ever watched Storage Wars and thought, like I did, “Yeah, I could do that!”?

Let me know in the comments below.


Be sure to follow Dom on Instagram and YouTube, where he shares some his flipping finds and hustle tips. Seriously, he’s been at it for years and has an amazing energy!

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Nick Loper

About the Author

Nick Loper is a side hustle expert who loves helping people earn more money and start businesses they care about. He hosts the award-winning Side Hustle Show, where he's interviewed over 500 successful entrepreneurs, and is the bestselling author of Buy Buttons, The Side Hustle, and $1,000 100 Ways.

His work has been featured in The New York Times, Entrepreneur, Forbes, TIME, Newsweek, Business Insider, MSN, Yahoo Finance, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, Hubspot, Ahrefs, Shopify, Investopedia, VICE, Vox, Mashable, ChooseFI, The Penny Hoarder, GoBankingRates, and more.

34 thoughts on “Storage Unit Auctions: How to Make Money From Abandoned Storage Lockers”

  1. I love that TV show :)

    The only thing I don’t like is how they just pull prices out of their a**** and that’s how they calculate the profit.

    If you have ever tried to sell something used, you know people will hackle and somethings don’t sell.

    But very cool that you’ve done it IRL – maybe I’ll give it a go as well :)

  2. I have been doing this for a while now.. OVERALL, (Key word) I am way ahead of the game.. I recently bought a unit to large for me..I ended up having to Rent out a unit for two months which killed INDIVIDUAL Unit profits,but almost every other locker I have bought, I have killed it with profits.. I bought a small unit, for $25.00 and it had a Treadclimber in it which sold for $285.00 on Craigslist. That locker is STILL giving me money to this day.. Most I quick it for $25.00 and sell on eBay.. I am still doing it to this day, I LOVE the bidding, the hunt for treasure, the NOT KNOWING, ALL of it.. I know now that I have to stay within a 5×10 unit or if the unit is larger, not one that is “Packed and stacked”
    Now that we have weeded out most of the wannabes it is fun again,too!!!
    Sorry so long, but this is one of my passions!

  3. Thanks Nick Loper for the chance to share!!! BTW Dan is spot on-I’ve thought the same thing on the prices some of the high prices Storage Wars participants give on items they find! Most definitely hmmmmm?!?!??! Cheers Steve for the unit score! That’s a score!!! Keep pumpin’!!!!!!

  4. Hey Nick,

    This post reminds me what the hack happened to that TV show called “Storage wars,” where people virtually fought and cussed each other out over lockers that had hidden treasure in them? I wonder if there’s storage auctions everywhere in the United States.

  5. Storage wars was such a great show because it was a pretty actuate representation of what being in that business is like. There are millions of passive income ideas out there but not everyone has hundreds of dollars to put down on a unit. I recommend dropshipping for beginners because there’s such little cost associated with it.. try SaleHoo for products.

  6. I also just started little over a year ago and love it lots of hard work for just me and my hubby but we always figure it out. Was wondering if anyone had any online sites that list in Florida. (Fort Myer/Cape Coral area) Thanks Bunches D.

  7. ive been doing this for over 10 years and love this i live near oklahoma cityand would also love to have someone to do this with me ive made lots of profit over the years but my biggest score was $5000 in gold jewelry i paid $110 for the unit

  8. Been doing this for a couple of years now, and I will say that it is an enormous amount of work. I share a store (39 Thrift Store and More) with 5 other vendors, none of which are getting their products from storage lockers. I have found that recently there are some pretty high rollers here in the Raleigh, NC area that will bid high just to get as many units as they can. I find my lockers on “Locker” and Storage It is amazing how much money can be made from these lockers, but for me, I clean, wash, sanitize, and test everything before I take it into my store. I do have a helper, but I am 72 and he is 73. I only wish I would have found out about this venture years ago. I sell local online and at my store and am making a profit every month.

  9. A lot of great info. I just think that I need to spend more time learning the value of items that I am able to see in a locker.

  10. Quick question. How does this work with taxes? Is this something that would have to be filed with the IRS is what I’m asking..

  11. I have a question:

    How confident are we (the potential Bidders), that the storage unit Owner has not already checked out and/or fleeced through the contents to remove and keep all valuables, precious metals, jewelry,
    etc., prior to initiating the bidding process?


    • Hey Clint, so how that works is once a storage unit hits action status (meaning it is about to put up for auction and the customer is still paying to get the unit out of auction) the storage company will put a special lock around it that have to be cut off. Then at live auctions from my understanding they cut the special lock let people look inside for like 30 seconds to a minute but they can’t touch anything. Then the bidding begins. They might go on to the next unit if they are others that are also up for auction and then bid after all units havr been seen. With online actions it’s hard to tell since they tske pictures. That is probably why they charge a cleaning fee so they don’t have to go through the stuff.

  12. Keep up the great work. Generally, this process is conducted via a live auction where bidders place their bids aloud as the property within each unit is auctioned off. Thank you.

  13. Like to know more about the Storage Auctions. How to bid on line, is theirs entry fee, if so how much, just how it works. Thanks

  14. How does the process work IF you find a GUN? Does it go to the office? Do I get to KEEP it? It has to be reported, in case it was involved in a murder, but do I Get to Keep it or sell it if it clears?
    How do I get that app that reads bar codes? You can scan bar codes on boxes that are new, without entering the locker, and it will give you the retail value, so you can calculate your bid, the value, and possible profit. Looks like a cool feature to have! Does anybody know? Ty

    • Not sure about guns. Guess that would depend on your state laws at best or the police you turn it in to at worst.
      Ass far as the app goes I wouldn’t bank on any info it gives you. Most boxes in storage units don’t contain their original contents. But you can get the code reader app at the app stores, both Android and iPhone, usually for free.
      I’ve been doing online auctions for a while and it really is a hit or miss unless you have great eyes and can determine what an object is just by a metal bar or a plastic handle or any number of bits and pieces the pictures show. And it’s amazing how fuzzy things get when you enlarge those pictures on your computer!
      The best lesson I’ve learned and the best advice anyone could give is look really, really well at the boxes and totes, particularly the ones in the front. Do they look rifled through? Are the contents in disarray? Do they look more like how you’d pack them out like someone was digging through them?
      People are usually aware that they’re going to lose their unit. Most of the time they’ll go in to it before the facility locks them out and dig through everything, taking what’s the most valuable. The shape the front of the unit is in its a definite tell-tale sign so be sure and pay attention.
      And these days you have to pay outrageous prices. People are bidding hundreds and hundreds of dollars for units I wouldn’t spend more than $75 on.
      I guess there are a lot of folks who are bored and have too much money. But they’re spoiling it for the rest of us.

  15. Something to consider (perhaps):
    From my experience, & solely using the online arena (although this would apply to in person action the same way), the INTEGRITY of each facility is imperative… meaning, are they abiding by the rules they set as well as the laws in place that may restrict their access beyond cutting the abandoned lock & replacing with their own (that shouldn’t be accessed again until either the tenant makes due or auction winner pays in full…nor accessed after the abandoned lock has been cut depending on state laws in place).
    This isn’t conspiracy as there are several documented examples on YouTube & other online platforms actually showing some significant tampering, deception, & other fraudulent activity (the fellas in Texas have an incredible story, good grief)….I only discovered these documented examples of corruption due to my own concern, disgust, perhaps paranoia, who knows….I provided Storage Treasures with documented proof myself on only like my 3rd or 4th attempt at bidding (took several screen shots of their pictures totally showing one of the 2 guys doing the pictures & containment list, with his arm moving back a large covered mirror or something similarly shaped, revealing a possible vintage train set, a painting, & something else…. and in 2 other photos the “covered mirror/painting” was now permanently resting in the place that “arm guy” had moved it (no arm this time) & train set & painting were removed!!! lol….it wasn’t a lighting or angle thing as the directional view was the same as the initial photo…. and after u start this & win a few, you’ll understand this better (may not agree, but you’ll definitely have empathy & perhaps a little suspicion)….
    So, it applies to both online & in person because “how do u know the abandoned lock wasn’t cut already before the photos or before the live auction, then perhaps penetrated & placed with another “regular lock” to be sawed off in front of you…
    Just be aware of the potential & honestly, the likelihood that any purse, suitcase, box, tote, e.t.c., might have already been cleaned out by the “hourly employee/manager”…or in the Texas boys case, the damn owner lol! Another facility owner online actually attended certain live auctions and bid the prices up to what they were in the hole for from the abandoned tenant… and TOLD EVERYONE… so it definitely happens.
    Here in Vegas, I also had a regular facility manager tell me “he had his eye on the unit I was getting”… instant red flag.. instant butterflies in stomach of getting screwed before even seeing the unit (unit was probably a staged one…2 cut locks on floor, decent floor speaker in view, and then LOADED with total crap that didn’t blend with anything else….the garbage mail had 2 different people & addresses & found in separate containers….)
    Just be aware… and like the man said…”bid on what u can see” (& sometimes, DON’T bid on what u can see ..if it appears staged…–esp. the ones with 11 teen mattresses, ovens, basic furniture that weighs so damn much u will regret & curse yourself for having to bid it one last time!!! “damn u disassembled & inoperable bobcat excavating machine!!”)…

  16. I just bought my first locker and boy was this an eye opener. I thought it was going to be some good stuff like on Storage Wars. Oh was I wrong nearly 3/4 was old outdated goods. I am hoping to turn a profit because I can’t keep doing the job I am doing or it is going to kill me.

  17. Hello,

    I am in dire need of finding someone to help me sell the contents of my unit for a 50% profit.
    I have paid a lot of money to keep those items there because I am attached to them as they are the last things I have on earth , however I cannot bear to keep spending the money to keep them stored any longer. This unit is located in Stockton, California and I pray that someone will take an interest on this project.

    • Dear Samantha, Drop me a line with some idea of what you’re dealing with in terms of value. I have some time on my hands if the opportunity is valid. Thanks

  18. I bought five abandoned storage units. What are the odds?!
    In one locker I found Cartier golden glasses! Similar glasses cost $2,795 new. In another storage unit, I found the football gear of a petit girl. That storage action was lucky as I sold everything for over $1,200 within a couple of weeks.

  19. This is what concerns me the most. The owners/mgrs , whomever puts that 2nd lock on an abandoned unit that is about to be auctioned off. Who’s to say THEY or one doesn’t pick thru that unit and remove valuable items for themselves. I am sure that happens more than one will admit. So my point or question I guess, is the owner/mgr of the storage facility the only one that’s making the real money ?


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