They aren't your typical auctions. The bidders don't know exactly what they're bidding on, yet everyone there is hoping to strike it rich. What's for sale? At a recent auction, it was the unseen contents of storage lockers at Payless Self Storage in Richmond. Thousands of these auctions take place at storage companies across the country as they clear out belongings when customers don't pay their rent.
"The last thing we want to do is sell their goods at auction. These are their belongings that we would like them to have back," manager Shale Butler told 7 On Your Side.
Butler says more customers these days are falling behind on rent and losing their belongings. However, it's the classic paradox. One person's misfortune can be another person's luck.
"I was hoping to find something worth value so that I can return it for a profit," said bidder Chris Watkins.
Butler says crowds of bargain hunters have doubled lately, but with this type of auction there is a catch. Bidders are not allowed to see exactly what's inside the lockers, only to peer in from the doorway.
"You're looking for every little nook and cranny," bidder Jeremy Everett says. "You're trying to look under things, behind things."
They shine their flashlights looking for a hint of treasure, but buying sight-unseen seems to add to the thrill of the hunt.
"It's a gamble and you get that feeling, you know, what's in there? Is there really a treasure in there? Where are the gold bars at?" bidder Kurt Anderson of Concord said..
Anderson says he travels to many storage auctions each week and re-sells what he buys.
"I'm looking for the treasure, but I also feed my children this way, you know? I sell at swap meets and what not," he says.
Others hoped to get rich quick. The reality show "Storage Wars" has brought more bidders to these auctions hoping they could get riches like the guys on TV.
Jeremy Everett won a locker for just $4. Kris Watkins couldn't resist bidding on a unit just to see what might be stashed away in the boxes. Kurt Anderson thought he caught a glimpse of something valuable when he looked inside a locker. So, did anybody get rich?
"We got a locker full of books," Anderson said downplaying his disappointment as he opened the boxes.
Everett dove into his $4 locker to see what he got. "For $4, I got six beers," he said. There was a half bottle of whiskey, a broken fan, a lot of trash. "It's going to cost me a little bit of money because I have to dump it now, right?" he said.
When Kurt finally unloaded his $10 locker, he found someone's wedding decorations, family photos, then a nice little nugget, a Chinese artwork maybe made with abalone and "worth $30, $40, $60 maybe."
"So, I got what I wanted and it was a good price. For $10, not bad," he said.
Under state law, renters must be at least 14 days delinquent on their rent and must be notified by the storage house owner before the belongings can go up for auction at a lien sale. One more note, the bidders who ended up with personal belongings like those family photos said they try to find the owners so they can return them.