Apartment Advice

Using Self-Storage Auctions to Furnish Your First Apartment

About to move into your first apartment? But lacking furnishings for the new place? Check out these five tips for navigating the world of self-storage auctions!

Renting your first apartment is a major step in achieving independence. But furnishing your new home might be more difficult than you originally anticipated.

If you’ve visited every local furniture and retail store location only to discover you’re unable to afford the items you’re interested in — it’s entirely reasonable to feel defeated.

However, there is another option that can expose you to modern, customized, and antique furniture or other household items. You might even be able to score them for free! But, you must be willing to put in the time and effort.

That option?

Self-storage auctions.

1. Finding Local Self-Storage Auctions

If you’ve ever seen an episode of Storage Wars, you may think you’re prepared for what comes next.

You might be picturing a crowd of random people surrounding an open storage unit with an auctioneer rapidly rattling off bids as they come in.

What you’ve seen on television is probably not what you’ll experience at a modern-day self-storage auction.

In-Person Auctions

Finding in-person self-storage auctions requires putting in a little bit of extra legwork to be successful.

If you’re the type that still reads physical newspapers, you might be able to find a listing in the classified section of your local newspaper.

These auctions are significantly less common than television makes them appear. Also, they may spend minimal time on advertising.

Try contacting individual local self-storage facilities to ask about auctions. Or to inquire about storage spaces currently for sale.

Keep in mind that actual in-person auctions with many units for sale are much more common in high population areas and cities.

Online Storage Auctions

A majority of self-storage auctions are available entirely online.

Check sources like StorageTreasures, Lockerfox, and AuctionZip. You can enter your local zip code and locate storage units available for sale in your area.

What makes online auctions much more user-friendly than in-person sales?

The ability to view the contents of the self-storage unit from the comfort of your own home.

In comparison to in-person self-storage auctions, online auctions allow you to compare all units listed for sale. Then you can determine which would best meet your needs.

These websites also allow you to view:

  • The current high bid
  • An image from right outside the unit
  • A description of what appears to be in the unit
  • The amount of time remaining in the auction

No more disappointment of going to an in-person auction only to realize that the storage spaces for sale are duds or just not for you.

2. What to Expect at a Self-Storage Auction

Before you plan to attend an in-person auction or delve into the world of online storage unit auctions?

You need to make sure you have the funds.

In short — don’t make a bid that you can’t afford. Because most of these items are likely used or years old, you might be wondering how to figure out roughly what the unit is worth today.

Average Prices

Statistics show that the average price of a storage unit sold at an auction is about $425. Yet, most storage units aren’t filled to the brim and often contain items of little to no value to the average person.

Generally speaking, the price of a storage unit is usually dependent on the presence of some of the big-ticket items. (Think large pieces of furniture, televisions, computers, and other electronic devices.)

If you find a unit with these items included, expect to pay a few hundred dollars out of pocket. Though this can vary depending on how many of each item there are.

If it’s a limited unit and only includes small-ticket items, you may be able to get it for well under $100. Small ticket items are things like kitchenware, small/holiday decor, and mismatched furniture.

Some facilities may just want to get rid of the unit at any cost. You could possibly get these units for free or even a dollar.

Common Items

It would be ideal to find a storage unit that offers all the furnishings you’re seeking for your brand new apartment.

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that you’ll find everything you’re looking for all at once. A lot of the items in these units will be worthless to you.

But, a majority of storage units will have at least one item you’ll want to buy to furnish your brand new apartment.

Some of the most common types of items that Americans keep in storage units are:

  • Furniture
  • Important files and documents
  • Books
  • Appliances
  • Holiday decorations
  • Electronics
  • Antiques

In all actuality, any of these items can complement your decor without breaking your budget.

Found a lot of awesome antiques to display? Here’s How To Use Floating Shelves to showcase your new decorations.

As far as furniture and decor to help you furnish your first apartment, you might find:

  • Mattresses
  • Televisions
  • Table sets
  • Couches

These tend to be common items found in storage units and can be very helpful in helping you furnish your new apartment.

3. What NOT to Get at a Self-Storage Auction

Depending on the unit you get, you might end up with many items you don’t want.

While you could discard or recycle them, there are some you should avoid purchasing at auctions altogether.

The reasons may vary from the issue of cleanliness, potential damage, and even the legality of the items.

Items to Avoid

Here is a list of things you shouldn’t buy at a storage auction (or you shouldn’t keep after purchasing the storage unit)

  • Mattresses: The most serious concern when it comes to purchasing mattresses secondhand? The potential for bedbugs and other bacteria. You have no idea who owned it before you or what their personal hygiene habits were.
  • Cribs: When you find an item for an infant or toddler, you want to make sure it’s safe and of high-quality. With a crib purchased from a storage unit, there’s no way to guarantee whether it was correctly built. Or, more importantly, if it is free of lead paint and bedbugs — both of which can be extremely dangerous to children.
  • Used Electronics: A storage unit with a television or a computer might be exciting. But there’s no way to be sure that the products work and are free of malware or viruses. Your best bet when it comes to buying electronics from a storage unit? Only purchasing electronics that are still in their original boxes. Otherwise, you’re taking a risk at having a dysfunctional television or computer.
  • Sharp Kitchen Utensils: The concern with buying kitchen utensils like knives and blenders is that the blades of these tools may be dull. Or they might be wearing away. You’d be better off purchasing these sorts of items new.
  • Vacuum Cleaners: If it’s a used vacuum cleaner — stay away! They may still have residual dust and bacteria in the dirt tank from the previous owner. There’s no telling what the vacuum last sucked up its hose. There could be harmful chemicals and bacteria lingering in the canister.
  • Some Upholstered Furniture: You’re probably looking for furniture. But you need to make sure that you use your best judgment when it comes to buying upholstered furniture at storage unit auctions. You should be evaluating the condition of the upholstery to determine if bedbugs, mites, or damage may be present.
  • Drug Paraphernalia or Weapons: When purchasing a storage unit that has visible drug paraphernalia or weapons, your best bet is to keep your distance for legal reasons. Even though the items weren’t originally yours, possessing these items can pose legal issues in the future.


Related: Moving Out of Your Apartment: The Complete Cleaning Checklist


4. The Bidding Process


If you’ve found an in-person storage unit auction (or you’ve located a unit online that you’d like to purchase), you’ll need to engage in the bidding process. Often there is no fixed-rate option.

The most important thing you can do at this step of the process is to analyze the contents of the unit holding your interest. From there, determine how much you’re willing to spend.

Making a Bid

Regardless of how much you personally think the storage unit is worth, the concept of an auction isn’t to guess how much you believe the actual value is.

With that said, even though you think the contents of a unit are worth $300, you shouldn’t place that as your starting bid for obvious reasons.

In all honesty, the best starting bid that you can make is $1.

After you make your first bid, you’ll be able to see the potential interest that others have in the unit. This is where bidding low comes in handy, as you may have offered an initial bid of $300 in a unit that nobody else held an interest in buying.

If somebody else places a bid on the same unit, it’s up to you how much you’re willing to engage in a bidding war.

Knowing When to Stop

Before you even start bidding, though, you should have a cap when it comes to how much you’re willing to spend, especially given the contents of the unit.

Just because you brought $250 with you doesn’t mean you should spend it all on a unit that only includes a 20” television and old holiday decorations.

At a certain price point, you need to stop bidding and realize that you won’t be getting as much for your money as you may want. If you overspend, you might as well have gone out and purchased brand items from a retail or furniture store.

The goal here is to furnish your apartment, not spend all your money on secondhand items.

5. Transporting Your Purchases

Purchasing your storage unit is the easy part. Moving the contents to your new apartment can prove to be a little bit tricky.

First, if you’re looking to buy large items, you should arrange for transportation before you even place your first bid. (Large being couches, flat-screen televisions, or dining room tables.)

It makes no sense to buy a storage unit with items you’ll never be able to get back home.


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Getting the Items Home

The facility that you buy a storage unit from will most likely give you a deadline for when you need to have all of the contents removed. Usually about two days, but it may vary depending on your location and the items in your unit.

The method of transportation will depend on the items you bought.

If mostly incidentals, household accessories, or basic decor items, you can probably put these items in the backseat or trunk of your car. Ready to transport them to your apartment immediately after the auction.

For larger items, you could enlist the help of a friend with a pickup truck or large van. Or even rent a moving van to get the most substantial pieces back to your apartment.

Remember to take this into account when considering your budget for the auction. As renting moving vans will incur an extra cost, and missing the removal deadline would result in lost funds.


Heading to a storage unit auction is perhaps the most straightforward way to furnish your brand-new apartment. And at a reasonable price tag.

Not only will you save money, but there’s also a possibility that you’ll be able to find items and furniture that are no longer available in stores.

The entire process might seem a little complicated. Let’s review.

First, find a storage auction. Then prepare your budget and make sure you understand the bidding process. Finally, figure out a way to transport your newfound items.

Armed with these tips, the whole process of attending self-storage auctions should be easy breezy for you!

Storage unit auctions are the simplest and most unique method of checking off each item on your new apartment checklist.

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