PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Maybe you’ve seen one of the shows on cable television when people don’t pay their bills on storage units. Even without knowing what’s hidden inside, people bid on them.
Sometimes it turns out to be a mistake, but there are other times when the gamble pays off big.
KDKA’s David Highfield recently tagged along as local people bid on storage units in Monroeville, Homestead and West Mifflin.
It really is kind of like gambling because you don’t know exactly what you’re getting when you bid on a unit.
People who do this regularly told some disgusting, even scary stories. But there’s also a lot excitement, and in one case, a man hit the jackpot.
Auction day at Guardian Self Storage is like a real-life treasure hunt. When people quit paying for their unit, the contents are eventually auctioned off to the highest bidder.
The deal is that everyone gets a chance to peek inside – they can’t walk inside, they can’t touch anything, but they can use a flashlight to look around.
Mickey has been bidding on units for 12 years, and scored big recently.
“I happened to get it for $650, and within a week I did $7,000 on that unit,” he said. “There was a fitness center, there was tanning beds.”
Then, there’s Josh and Shellie who make a living by bidding on units and selling the contents. They’ve encountered some strange stuff including a dead shark in a jar, fingernail clippings in a medicine bottle and living snake.
“It was a box full of costume jewelry,” said Shellie. “I went to reach in – my husband said snake, and I almost grabbed it.”
Finally, Alex who once bid on a storage unit that smelled so bad he got it for just $150.
But he found a treasure inside – a Van Cleef and Arpel pin that he’s now asking $21,000 for online.
But big payoffs can come with big headaches. One time a previous owner somehow tracked him down.
“I had the gentleman showing up at my doorstep, threatening myself and my family,” he said.
At the auction KDKA’s David Highfield went to, the regulars were joined by many others including some first timers.
One of the units may just look like cardboard boxes and mattresses, but it generates interest.
Auctioneer Gene Gornick presides as the bidding heats up. In the end it goes to Josh and Shellie. They wanted it because of something they spotted in the back, and now that they can go inside, they know they were right.
They paid $1,100 for the unit, but they wound up selling the Herman Miller chair and footstool they found inside for nearly $2,300 online, and there was more.
There was a washer and dryer in there too and another piece of furniture. The grand total was more than $2,700.
“We all know that people love a treasure hunt,” said Guardian Storage Solutions President Steven Cohen. “They like to find that value find that deal where others didn’t see it.”
But Cohen tells KDKA-TV that they try to avoid auctioning off units, making every effort to work with people who are behind on their payments.
“The auctions are really a remedy of last resort,” he said.
In fact, he says they generally only make 20 percent of what they’re owed when a unit goes to auction.
People laughed at one of the other units, and no wonder, it was nearly vacant except for a vacuum, suitcase and empty plastic bin.
People teased one of the regulars, a man named Bill, when he paid $35 for it, but just wait.
He found purses and shoes in the suitcase, and then he looked in the front compartments.
Inside the envelope were $100 bills.
“Holy cow, $1,500! Oh my gosh, I knew it; I knew it! I had a feeling!” said Bill.
While that find was amazing it was definitely an exception.
One of the regulars added that it’s generally about 70 percent junk and 30 percent good, but some people do make a living at this.