The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

February 4, 2013

Bidding on what's behind the door

Herald-Banner Staff

GREENVILLE — “OK, who wants it?” shouted Jackie P. Sutton with All American Auctioneers on a chilly afternoon in late January, as he began to take bids on a storage unit which had just been inspected by about a dozen interested buyers.

Moments later the unit — which contained a few items of furniture, an older model television and some assorted odds and ends — had been sold and it was time to move on to the next one.

The sale at AAA Industrial Self Storage in Greenville was similar, but not identical, to those depicted on the popular cable television program “Storage Wars”. This day there are no roving video cameras to capture the action, no one shouting out trademark phrases and no dramatic confrontations among the bidders.

In fact, those gathered to participate in the auction greeted each other warmly and amiably chatted amongst themselves as they awaited Sutton’s arrival.

“Everybody knows everybody because everybody goes to the auctions,” explained Sherrie Slocum, property manager at AAA.

Sutton, who operates his business out of Arlington, is running a little late on this afternoon.

“That’s because he has other auctions ahead of us,” noted Rhonda Tieck with AAA’s management company.

Sutton’s schedule that day included two auctions in Garland, one in Wylie and another in Rowlett before making the trip to Greenville.

One by one the bidders entered the office and registered, coming from as far away as Mount Pleasant, Sherman, Waxahachie and McAllen and from as close as Rockwall and Caddo Mills. Most of the bidders had also attended the day’s earlier auctions.

Ted and Molly Jones of East Tawakoni were among the exceptions to the rule.

“We don’t go to every one, but we’ve been to several,” Ted, a former East Tawakoni police officer, said. “We don’t do it to make a living, we’re retired, but we do enjoy it.”

“It’s clear fun, really,” Molly added.

The first few auctions fly by, as the units don’t contain much of interest to the bidders.

Slocum said AAA holds “about two or three” such events a year, after the people who rent the units fail to make the payments.

“It can be anywhere from five units at a time on up,” Slocum said.

“January is usually the biggest auction,” Tieck said.

On this day, the contents of 13 units are up for sale.

Slocum said when “Storage Wars” premiered in 2010, the interest in and attendance at the local auctions rose significantly.

“It has kind of evened out now,” Slocum said.

Another difference from the show? Although it tends to happen at least once in each episode, in real life it is very rare that anyone finds something worth thousands of dollars inside the units.

Slocum and Tieck said occasionally a nice antique will turn up, or an interesting curio item.

“There’s all kinds of stuff,” Tieck said.

“You just never know,” Slocum agreed.

The first few units on this day did not appear to contain any hidden treasure. A couple had older appliances, but there was also plenty of the aforementioned old furniture and televisions, not to mention clothing.

LeighAnn Hosking of Greenville attends the local auctions when she can, but has also found storage unit auctions which are conducted online. She once won a unit in Arlington.

“We’ll drive that far if we know we’ll be getting something of value,” Hosking said. She sells whatever she can from each of the units she buys. “I’ve always made my money back.”

As each unit is opened, the bidders get a few minutes to look around, but they can’t go inside or touch anything. They usually have about 48 hours to clear out the unit, but Slocum said they also have the option of taking over the payments on the unit if they are in no hurry.

And in yet another difference from the television show, none of the units sold this day go for the staggering amounts seen on the program. During the early going on this afternoon, the highest bid rose to $180.

When asked for any advice she’d offer newcomers, Molly Jones said for bidders to bring their own locks, to secure the units until they can be emptied.

Hosking admitted she has never found any hidden high dollar items in the units she has bought, but she doesn’t intend to stop attending the auctions — either in person or online — any time soon.

“I just like looking through the boxes,” she said.