Going once ... going twice ... SOLD!
For people with a taste for gambling, treasure hunting and mystery, buying an abandoned storage unit filled with unknown stuff might be the ultimate thrill.
Almost 100 people showed up at Eagle Point Mini Storage Sunday as owner Del Hansen and his crew began snapping the locks off 10 storage units, then rolled up the doors so people could quickly peer inside before the bidding started.
Many of the units were crammed to the gills with everything from vegetable dehydrators, tools, mattresses, couches, toys and lots of boxes.
Prospective bidders could look inside, but weren't allowed to dig in to see what they're buying.
"It's the mystery," said Aspen Droesch, a 25-year-old Medford woman.
Her grandmother, Lindsay Darneille, 66, of Phoenix, said tough economic times have increased the popularity of second-hand items and the interest in storage units.
Across the country, enthusiasm for bidding on storage units has even spawned TV shows such as"Storage Wars" and "Auction Hunters."
"This is such a crowded, crazy one," said Darneille, surveying the crowd.
Hansen, owner of the storage units, said that in Oregon, after 30 days of nonpayment, the owner of a mini-storage facility can start foreclosing on your stuff.
He said he attempts to contact the owner first, but when he isn't successful, he holds auctions every couple of months.
Hansen requested that anyone who purchases the contents of a storage unit, set aside photos, documents and other materials as a courtesy to the previous owner. He said the new owners aren't required to keep these things aside, though.
If any guns are found, they need to be turned over to the police to verify ownership before the new owner takes possession of them.
Typically, the contents of the storage units fetch anywhere from $50 to $2,000.
Until the day of the auction, Hansen said he doesn't look inside the storage units and struggled with bolt cutters and drills to unlock the doors.
Hansen said the amount of units sold hasn't really seen much of an increase during the recession, but he thinks that as more and more people endure longer periods of unemployment he will begin seeing more activity.
He asked the bidders if they wouldn't mind allowing him to bid on some of the storage units himself. At least two people said they didn't want him to, so he bowed out of the bidding and concentrated just on the auctioneering.
Barbara Shill of Roseburg watched the crowd as bidding started at $65 for a deep storage unit, finally cinching the deal when they upped the ante to $700.
"You don't really know what's inside," said the 58-year-old. "It's a gamble."
She saw a saddle, a jewelry box, a mattress and an X-Box, and assumed that she would at least get her money out of the deal.
Her husband, 58-year-old Jeffrey, said its a crap shoot sometimes.
"You can lose really bad," he said.
They said they recently bought the contents of a storage unit filled with gun tote bags that appeared to have something in them. It turned out the bags were filled with water bottles.
One time the couple bought 310 boxes from a storage unit only to discover it was filled with Bibles, which they donated to a church.
A lot of stuff in storage units is donated or hauled to the dump. More valuable items are sold
Dennis Nichols, a 69-year-old from Medford, said he'd recently bought a storage unit's contents for a little more than $200. He discovered that a painting inside was valued at $600.
"We made out," he said.
Some of the storage units barely had anything remaining in them. One, in particular, only had a grimy transmission, a bag of what looked like trash and a few other odds and ends.
The crew running the auction realized there wasn't much appeal to the storage unit, so they threw a $20 bill down, then a $10 bill to spice things up.
Alex Cook, a 41-year-old Medford man ended up buying the unit for $45.
However, he appeared mystified that the $30 was his to keep. "You look surprised," Hansen said after the bidding ended.
Cook took the money, saying he bought the unit because the transmission was probably worth at least $35 as scrap aluminum.
Cook also bought another unit for $80 that only had a few items inside. "I don't like the big storage units," he said, noting that he donates anything he can't sell.
Before the last storage unit was auctioned, many in the crowd shrewdly noted that the bidding probably would go pretty high.
Sure enough, George Logan, 37, of Eagle Point, became the proud owner of the unit, crammed with stuff including Craftsman tools and other items. He plunked down $1,650, which was the highest bid of the day.
Surveying his purchase, Logan said he calculated there was more than $1,000 worth of things that were visible. "I'm gambling on getting at least another $500 to make it worth my while," he said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.