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The real ‘storage wars’

November 4, 2011

Auctioneer Butch Evans has worked with storage units since 1990.

Cut the locks off and roll up the doors — its bidding time.

Interest in storage auctions has exploded throughout the last year across the nation and right here in Catawba County.

Extremely popular reality TV shows like “Storage Wars” and “Auction Hunters” have exposed millions of Americans to what can be a fast-paced and exciting business. An increase in advertising and marketing websites promoting storage auctions have also made it easy for the average resident to find a “real-life” auction in their neck of the woods.

Now, area auctioneers and storage owners say they are seeing large spikes in auction attendees looking for the excitement and big finds portrayed on reality TV. What they are finding, however, is that the real auctions are a bit different.

“The way the shows are is like putting slot machines all over the country and only showing people winning the jackpot,” said Butch Evans, a veteran auctioneer and owner of Butch Evans’ Auctions Unlimited.

“People have to realize that this is a scripted show and this is a production.”

Evans has been an auctioneer since 1973 and has worked with storage units since 1990. While the valuable finds portrayed on reality TV are in actuality more seldom, he said the auction business is a gamble that sometimes pays off.

“It is a treasure hunt or like fishing, you never know when you’ll catch the big one,” Evans said.

The auctions are a risk because sometimes, you don’t know exactly what you’re bidding on. Usually, bidders are given 5-10 minutes to look at an abandoned storage unit before the auctioneer starts taking bids.

They can’t enter the unit and aren’t allowed to touch anything inside.
Usually, the units contain household items, boxes and furniture, but sometimes there’s the occasional jewel.

“We had a guy the other day that bought a storage unit at Myrtle Beach who found two nice car engines inside. He was tickled to death,” Evans said. “We’ve sold units where people find gold and other things like antique pieces. You just never know.”

The attraction of “catching the big one” is doubling — even tripling — what used to be normal auction crowds. Wayne Foster, auctioneer and owner of Foster Auction Services in Denver, said he’s seen crowds jump from about 30 people to near 100 at an average auction.

Foster said at his last auction, there were 66 registered bidders; all but three were new to his auction. He said a lot of the newcomers have been drawn out by the television shows.

“You hear some of them use the same lingo as the shows on TV. They’ll say look at these guys, there are some ‘newbies’ coming,” Foster said, adding that some of the bidders use the famous “Yep” call of “Storage Wars” character Dave Hester.

Foster agreed that most units don’t pack the excitement and big finds as portrayed on TV, but said bidders have lucked out on valuable construction equipment, bicycles and antiques in the past.

“You never know what you’ll find in one of these things,” he said.

More bidders can also mean more money for auctioneers. Foster said as the auctions have gotten more crowded, the prices for units have increased.

Evans agrees that the prices have risen slightly, but suggests that inexperienced bidders start slow.

“Some of the people don’t understand the bidding process. They say they like to buy but they haven’t bought before,” he said. “There are a lot of people out here running the price up, but they don’t know how to buy.

The heavy hitters do this all the time and know what they are doing, and it just takes experience to learn that.”

While the auctions may be exciting, they aren’t always the first option for storage unit owners.

Todd Goins, owner of Goins Mini-storage in Newton, just wishes that renters would pay their money on time. With Foster leading the bidding, Goins will auction off three units for the first time Saturday starting at 10 a.m. at 417 N. College Ave. in Newton.

“I’m not going to get my money out of the auction,” Goins said. “I would prefer that people pay their rent and not have to go through an auction. I lose money on that.”

Goins said after paying for legal assistance, an auctioneer and certified letters to the renters, he will not make money off of the auction.

Goins usually waits 60 days before seeking legal assistance on one of his temperature-controlled units, which can be purchased for about $40-$95 a month, he said.

“They don’t make any contact with me,” he said. “If people would talk to me, I would try to work with them. When people dodge my phone calls, though, I don’t have any sympathy for those people.”

Goins and Foster expect about 60-100 people at the auction in Newton on Saturday.

Break-out box:

Auction speak: How do they do it?

Auctioneers are licensed to perform their craft and often go to school to learn skills like bidding vernacular. Veteran Auctioneer Butch Evans said "filler words" and years of practice can produce the rapid-sounding speak often heard at auctions.

"People are saying would you give five, would you give 10, and it’s filler words in-between."

The filler words differ from auctioneer to auctioneer, but Evans uses one like "B-i-d-d-m." It sounds like biddm at 10, biddm at 20 and so on.

"Different people use different filler words," he said. "You try to do it in a rhythm. It’s more fun when you do it that way. Whatever you learn and practice and get good at. We all have a different step."

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