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SideLines: Real-life auction not much like ‘Storage Wars’

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 12:15 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 12:16 p.m. CDT

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I couldn’t resist.

The last few years, I’ve been watching a reality show on A&E called “Storage Wars.” Essentially, the show is about a group of people who bid on the contents of storage lockers that have been abandoned by people who don’t pay their rental fees. The bidders hope to make a profit by reselling the items.

My biggest problem with the show is that you never see any of the bidders actually selling any of the property, so you really don’t know if they made any money or not.

You see the bidders appraising the contents of the lockers after they’ve bought them. If someone appraises a chair at $100, instead of checking it out with an expert, the show immediately registers it as $100. It might actually be worth that much, or it might be worth a quarter. When they do take something to a real expert, the bidders’ appraisal is usually off by quite a bit.

At the end of every episode, the show announces a winner, based solely on the bidders’ estimates rather than actual sales. If it was me, I’d just say all my stuff was worth a million dollars. Since none of the other bidders dispute you, I’d win every time.

In any event, I had a chance to attend a real live storage auction here in DeKalb County earlier this year. It was conducted by DeKalb County Self-Storage, Inc., which has locations in DeKalb, Sycamore, Cortland and Malta. I was told the auctions are conducted once a year, usually in the spring. There were about 35 bidders at the auction I attended.

On the TV show, a big deal is made out of not letting anyone inside the unit. Instead, prospective bidders have five minutes to stand directly outside the roped-off locker and peer in at the contents, trying as best they can to determine what treasures may be hidden inside a closed trunk or sealed boxes.

In real life, not only are you allowed to enter the locker, but a lot of the contents are set out on tables outside, giving everyone a nice good look. “There are few surprises,” one young man told me.

So instead of the hundreds and even thousands of dollars that are spent blindly on unseen items on the TV show, the amounts in real life are much more in line with what you would expect to pay. Once someone wins a locker, they have to clear it out by a deadline; unless special arrangements are made, contents left behind are disposed of and the winners billed.

Among the items I saw were a desk, a cabinet of some kind, a coffee table, some chairs, clothing, costume jewelry, shoes, kitchenware, old records, a few dusty books and a microwave. Like everything on sale, once you bought it, you took the risk of whether the microwave actually worked or not. Some of the items, of course, were in much better shape than others.

I don’t know if anyone hit a big jackpot, like you’ll see occasionally on “Storage Wars” or like that guy who found the James Bond submarine car in a blind auction. He paid $100 for it and later sold it for more than $1 million.

On “Storage Wars,” the bidders all have colorful nicknames, such as “The Gambler,” “The Young Guns” and “The Mogul.” One of the bidders also has the real first name of Nabila and another Ivy, which I’ve never heard before. I’m sure many real life bidders may also have colorful nicknames, and maybe equally colorful real names, I just didn’t know what they were. I did guess at a couple of them, but I kept them to myself.

For the most part, the people at the auction I saw looked like normal people looking for something they needed at a bargain price. So a real life auction isn’t much like reality TV.

But, then, what is?

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