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Unloading Storage Unit Finds

So you bought a locker full of stuff, now what

After you find that storage unit that strikes your fancy and sways you to put up the highest bid, you’ll need to start clearing it out. Many storage facilities require that units be emptied by the end of that business day. Others will allow you to rent units for a few days for a prorated fee. But that’s not always the case, so if you attend storage unit auctions, be ready to get down to work.

Some units will contain a lot—and we mean a lot—of items, which can make clearing out a locker seem overwhelming, if not downright impossible. Luckily for you, we’ve already gone through this process and put together some tips to help you sort through the sorting and unloading process.

Use a fine-toothed comb, with care

It’s important to go through your storage locker completely. This means opening every box and bag you find, checking the pockets of clothing items, looking inside shoes, unzipping bags, looking at every record and so on.

If you aren’t absolutely thorough, you risk tossing out something valuable. A veteran locker-auction attendee told us she once found a ruby and diamond ring in a locker she bought for just $10. The locker didn’t seem to offer much besides a camping tent and a portable barbecue grill that sat in plain view, but upon further inspection, she literally uncovered a gem.

You don’t want to ruin a valuable or fragile item because you accidently put a heavy box on top of it

With this possibility in mind, you should assume there are precious and/or fragile goods in each box you sort through, and take care as you go through items. As we mentioned in our previous article, you never know what you’ll find, and you don’t want to ruin a valuable or fragile item because you accidently put a heavy box on top of it.

Categorize it

As you sift through the items, sort them into three piles: trash, donations and resale. Your trash pile should contain broken items, paperwork—be sure it doesn’t contain personal information—torn garments and other items that are in poor condition.

Your donation pile should have everyday goods that are in working order or good condition but wouldn’t be cost-effective to resell. For example, we donated a pile of blankets, knowing we wouldn’t get much for them, but that someone else could get great use out of them. Thrift stores like Goodwill and The Salvation Army take donations, and will usually offer you a receipt for your donation that you can use come tax season. (If they don’t offer, be sure to ask for one).

Your resale pile should have items you plan to clean, research and resell.

Look for treasures amid the junk

You may be wondering, “How will I know if I have something of value in my locker?” That’s not an easy question to answer, but we have a few pointers to steer you in the right direction.

Keep an eye out for antiques, used phones, sporting goods, vinyl records, video games, new and vintage gaming systems, clothing, musical instruments, clocks, and collectibles. Also be on the lookout for price tags. They’ll give you an indication of what something was worth and what it could be worth today. We found a projector screen that cost more than $100 when it was purchased, according to its price tag. The screen was still in great condition and in the box, letting us know that it would likely fetch a good profit, so it went into our resale pile.

Also listen to that little voice inside your head. If you find something that peaks your interest, it might appeal to buyers. We found a vintage personal computer that turned out to be worth at least $75. That item, alone, would more than cover the cost of our locker.

You can research on eBay to see what similar items have sold for, but don’t be shy about seeking the advice of an expert

Research your items

Once you have your items sorted, you’ll need to research their value to make the most profit. You can always hop on eBay to see what similar items have sold for, but don’t be shy about seeking the advice of an expert. Our unit contained a collection of vinyl records, so we asked one of our co-workers to browse through the albums.

Interactive Media Coordinator Steve Swim, a “novice record collector,” found more than 50 valuable records. Among these were Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” several Beatles albums and The Eagles’ “Hotel California.”

Swim says there are a few things he looks for when deciding if an album has value: how rare it is, the album’s condition, the condition of the cover, and anything that makes the album stand out, for instance, is the record a first press? Does it include any extras like inserts?

If you have other types of items, ask your friends if they know anything about them, or visit shops in your area devoted to the type of products you acquire to see if you have something of value. End up with a unit full of books? Visit a book store. Have musical instruments? Go to a music shop. Don’t forget to do a Google search, too, to learn more about your items and their potential value.

Plan a selling strategy

Next, it’s time to unload items. When you get to this step, don’t limit yourself to online resale. Yes, you are an online seller, but the size and condition of the goods you end up with might make them better suited for another venue. For instance, selling a large couch that’s in decent condition online may not net you enough of a profit to offset the hassle of shipping it—or the cost of storing it, if it doesn’t sell right away.

That’s not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t sell some of your finds online, but we do suggest you be selective. Below are a few suggestions to help you decide where you should sell your winnings.

eBay: Smaller, valuable items or rare products should go here to give items the most exposure possible, and to hopefully drive up their price. Be sure to look at completed listings for items like the ones you have to ensure you’ll make a profit after factoring in shipping costs (if you will absorb them), shipping insurance, etc. Also remember that collectibles and items that are hard to price do well as auction-style listings.

Yard sales: Many of the veteran bidders we met at the auction have frequent yard sales to resell what they find in these lockers. These are great venues to sell bigger items like couches, tables and smaller items that wouldn’t bring you a lot of profit or would be harder to sell online, as well as used appliances and books that may not be in the best condition.

Instead of spending time photographing items, writing descriptions and waiting for items to sell, we unloaded some of our items in a few minutes for a great profit

You can advertise your sale with classified ad sites like Craigslist to draw in more buyers. If you think you don’t have enough items for your own yard sale, use classified ads to look for other yard sales in your area. Sometimes, people having yard sales welcome others to increase the amount of items for sale in hopes of attracting more buyers. Or ask some of your buddies if they have any items they want to unload at your sale. We did this just to make sure we would have enough to garner the attention of passers-by.

Craigslist: Of course, you can always offer items directly on Craigslist. The classified ad site has become a prime destination for bargain hunters looking for a variety of items, from furniture to clothing to appliances—many of the same items you would find at a yard sale. The tradeoff is that if you list products on Craigslist, you’ll have to put in the time to photograph items and write short descriptions, and deal with no-show buyers, but you won’t have to look for a location for your sale, display items, make signs or do the other tasks involved with yard sales.

Stores in your area: If you end up with items that a specialty store might enjoy, like vinyl records, swing by to see if the storeowner might be interested in buying your collection. We did this and, by selling just a fraction of the records we acquired, we earned more than $100 with little effort. You may think, “Now, hold on, you can get more for those records online.” That may be true, but don’t forget to factor in the amount of time that goes into listing and shipping items. Instead of spending time photographing items, writing descriptions and waiting for items to sell, we unloaded some of our items in a few minutes for a great profit.

Consider offering your items to consignment shops, too. These can be very useful for unloading goods. Depending on the shop and the item, you might get paid only after your item sells, minus a consignment fee, or the shop operator might give you cash for it on the spot.

Don’t be afraid to cut your losses

As we mentioned, there will be goods that won’t sell. When this happens, you’ll need to decide if you want to try selling these items through another venue, or if it’s time to let them go.

When you’re trying to decide this, consider the amount of time you’ve spent and how much more time it would take to relist these items on eBay or Craigslist, or to set up another yard sale.

Sometimes it’s best to just cut your losses and donate the items, so you can start on your next sourcing venture.

About the author

Olga Munoz
Olga Munoz is editor of In addition to writing news and feature articles about e-commerce, selling trends, online marketing and other topics of interest to online sellers, Olga manages the site's social media efforts. A journalism graduate of Chico State, Olga says her favorite part of being a journalist is learning interesting facts that help put stories into perspective, attending industry events and meeting interesting people "that leave you smiling, even in tough situations." Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

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