Storage auctions might reveal treasure or trash

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The problem with reality TV is that, well, it isn’t all that realistic.

That holds true for shows that focus on storage auctions—the practice of buying the contents of a storage unit that was repossessed because of a lack of payment. Storage auctions have had an increase in bidders since two TV shows, “Storage Wars” and “Auction Hunters,” hit the air in 2010, according to auctioneer Rich Schur of Schur Success Auction & Appraisal. 

But Schur estimates, based on his experience, that for every three storage units that have valuable contents and are glorified in a TV show, the filming of 97 others landed on the cutting-room floor, because those units made little or no money for the show hosts. The typical profit for a unit is $300–$400, Schur says. It seems likely that interest will continue in 2012, because both productions have been contracted for more episodes. 

Further, you have only a few minutes to survey the contents, and you can’t open any boxes, which might contain rare antiques or polyester pants, says Chris Longly of National Auctioneers Association.

If you win the auction, you must clear out your stuff within 24 hours or forfeit a cash deposit, which typically is $50–$110, Schur says. This means that you must have a way to move it, a place to store it and an outlet by which to sell your new stuff—all of which, of course, eat into any profit.