Fast-talking auctioneers and cutthroat bidders. Gold, guns and other treasures buried in inconspicuous boxes of junk. It's the stuff A&E's television series “Storage Wars” and “Storage Wars: Texas” is made of.
How do those shows stack up to reality?
Patrons of Oklahoma storage unit auctions said bidding on storage unit lien sales is not quite as glamorous, the treasures not quite as rich, and the rivalries not as heated as seen on TV.
Still, played right, a gamble on a unit can mean a big win.
That takes a lot of elbow grease — work that's not seen on TV, they said.
Public Storage hosted eight auctions Wednesday at facilities throughout Oklahoma City, drawing about 40 people who drove to the various auction across town.
Public Storage employees opened each locker for onlookers, who filtered by to get a quick look at the goods. Some shined flashlights inside, while others stood on their toes and squinted for a look into the piles of stuff.
Dave Silva, of Blanchard, was in the crowd.
The owner of Silva's Pest Control has gone to storage auctions for years, first, as a kid, with his dad.
When he grew up, he developed a taste for gambling, but has quit.
The storage auctions are a healthier alternative, and he typically doubles his money, he said.
“This is my casino now,” Silva said.
The auction for the contents of a particular unit at 8012 S Santa Fe moved fast, with bids quickly climbing.
Where some may have seen trash, Silva saw treasure.
He won the unit for $500. A big box of DVDs? He's got a guy to buy those. The bed? He's got a guy who'll take that. He expects a large container of in-the-packaging collectible toy cars to help win his money back, too.
Crowds have gotten a lot bigger in the past year, Silva and other bidders agreed.
They surmised some people are drawn out by the TV shows; A&E's website reports “Storage Wars” drew an average of 2.8 million viewers per episode in its first season.
Winning a quick buck
Others are drawn by the allure of winning a quick buck in a hard economy.
A few regulars blame the newbies for inflating the cost of the units. Bigger crowds, bigger bidding wars
“They want to hit the gold mine,” Silva said.
He made a profit of $5,000 off one unit, but he also has lost a few hundred dollars through the years.
He said he wouldn't do it if he didn't turn a profit overall.
It's not that easy to make money on storage units, said several bidders attending Wednesday's auctions.
“It's nothing like the TV shows,” retiree Bert Boswell said. She pointed out “Storage Wars” bidders seem to have luck finding guns, a hot item when they come with all the paperwork. In 15 years of bidding, she's never found a gun.
Plundering the good stuff means sifting through a lot of the bad.
“You have to go through every little thing,” said Eric Yates, a car dealer who also runs a resale shop with Matt Hungerford called Wize Guyz Trading.
The two attend auctions almost every weekday and travel to auctions in Texas to stock their store.
They've found furniture, appliances and gold in their travels.
They've also found two liters of human urine in a storage unit that someone had been living in. Rats move into units that have any kind of food. Stuff that can't be sold is donated or thrown away.
It's a lot of work, bidders agreed.
But they said it's worth it.
“Once you buy a unit and make a good amount of money, you're hooked,” Silva said.