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Are Hillsborough commissioners on verge of consensus days before crucial transportation vote? PORT RICHEY a€” Leo Grace spent hours at last week's storage unit auctions with a pocketful of cash, watching the newcomers gamble on the abandoned units.
For nine years he's bought storage units filled with other people's relinquished goods, turning the finds into money on eBay or the flea market.
But Grace and other veterans of the trade say they're getting crowded by the greenhorns entering the business, introduced to the world of storage unit auctions by reality TV shows like A&E's Storage Wars and Spike TV's Auction Hunters. The reality shows follow modern-day treasure hunters who buy abandoned storage units in the hopes of finding forgotten treasures. The units go up for auction after the original owner stops paying the rent and has been unreachable for at least 90 days. He walked away from the post office job and bought his first unit near MacDill Air Force Base for $15. Since the shows started, more recreational buyers have come out to play and Grace has had to get a part-time job at a staffing agency to make ends meet.
Plus it seems more renters are raiding their storage units for valuables to sell before abandoning the units to auction, Grace said.
Aaron Smith, a storage auction novice, had his eye on a unit at last week's auction at The Storage Center in Port Richey. After going through his new inventory, Smith found the gun cases were empty and the mixer was broken. Grace said he didn't find any of the units at last week's auctions worth more than a couple hundred dollars. Donna Keeton, 52, property manager of Bayonet Self Storage in Hudson, said she's glad the TV shows have made the auctions more public.
Barry and Terry Seligman, two brothers who own an air conditioning business in Clearwater, started going to auctions about two years ago.
They do it mostly for fun, but they are also on the lookout for stuff they can sell at their consignment shop in Kenneth City or at their stands in the flea market. Before bidding, potential buyers have a few minutes to look through the open door of the unit.
If there's any money left beyond that, it goes to the person who originally rented the unit (or to the state, if that person can't be found). He and his brother-in-law spent 30 days driving back and forth to Tampa, sorting through endless piles of boxes to empty out the unit.
He said auctions that used to draw 10 to 20 people now have three times that many potential bidders. He spotted gun cases, a big baking mixer, a tool box in the back and the sandblast cabinet a€” all things he said he could easily sell and double his money.
But he remained hopeful after finding a lot of tools and a handheld GPS he said he could easily sell for $100. And when bids start, he said, prices are driven up immediately, even if the unit doesn't look terribly interesting.
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