Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Storage Wars

I honestly can't explain it to you, but if I find that there's an episode of this show on that I haven't seen, I can't make myself change the channel.

I know, most of us all want to think we're more "high brow" than that or something, but honestly, there's just something about Storage Wars that somehow manages to surpass most "guilty pleasure" reality tv stuff. Maybe it's all Barry's fault.

First, let me go ahead and get this out of the way: yes, I realize it's all pretty fake. Or at the very least they use a LOT of editing tricks in order to create a narrative that may not exist. I don't know if the producers actually put more interesting stuff in the lockers or not, but yeah, this isn't all that "real."

Which is fine, because you know, that's not really why I watch it. First, the opening credits are actually extremely well made, some of the best in the genre in my opinion. Most reality show opening credits are really terrible, and done with really cheap effects. But these work, and they give you a real sense of the characters and the show right off the bat. It's pretty impressive.

I recently was in a situation where I ended up chatting with the owner of a storage facility. We ended up talking about the show (he brought it up, but I admit I loved the chance to talk to him about it so I jumped on it). He said that on the one hand, he appreciates the show because their auctions were more heavily attended and bringing in higher dollar amounts now that everybody has this bug to buy old lockers. It means that he no longer has to pay to clean out unsold units because all of them go for something.

On the other hand, he said that everybody buys these units expecting to find something amazing and make a ton of money, which just flat out doesn't happen. It reminds me of when "flipping" homes became really popular and everybody thought that they would start buying properties for cheap, slap a coat of paint on them, and sell them at a profit. Without too many details, let's just say I know somebody who decided to go pretty heavily into that plan and it was pretty sketchy. Because the root of it is always a "money for nothing" kind of motivation. "I'll just buy this unit and sell off all the stuff and make a ton of money!"

Listen, here's my one tiny experience with that kind of thing. I was at an auction where the only rule was if you put something up for auction you couldn't set a reserve price. Ever item started at a dollar, no matter what. Someone I knew was in a bad spot and was selling his entire comic book collection, thousands of issues, as one lot. The bidding was ridiculously low, and I knew he needed the money so I tossed out a bid to try to help him out. The other two bidders owned comic book shops and I recognized them from the dealers room as people who sold comics at conventions.

I probably should have contemplated the situation and wondered what they knew that I didn't. But yes, you guessed it, I ended up with the comic books. What I discovered is that there's something to be said for the time and effort it takes to even just prepare things for sale. It took me days just to sort all the comics and list them in a database. And then because I wasn't careful about keeping my inventory updated, I ended up recently having to do it all over again because I wasn't sure what I had anymore.

On top of that, if you don't have an actual store, selling items isn't all that easy. It becomes a full time job just to list stuff on eBay or Craigslist, and even then you can end up paying fees without actually selling anything. At this point I've had these comics for seven years, and I'm still trying to sell them. Yes, I've made a profit off of them already. But has it been enough to make up for the time and effort? I don't know.

I imagine buying a storage unit when you don't own a thrift store is pretty much exactly the same thing. And on top of that, what they do on the show is a bit ridiculous because they just let the buyer talk about how much they think they can sell something for and consider that it's value. On Collection Intervention, they pointed out that there are different values to consider for every item. One is the price it would go for if you could just sit it on a shelf in a store and you're able to leave it there until it sells. Another is the price you'd get for it if you need to sell it now and find a willing buyer. But within that, there's probably two different price points because a re-seller and a collector will offer two different prices too because a re-seller needs to make a profit.

So when I see them declaring that a box of old random books is worth $100, I laugh. Because I've tried to sell old books before, and for the most part you can't even get a quarter for them unless you find one that's got a high demand, and those are few and far between. I'm not a thrift store owner, of course, but I've had enough yard sales and sold enough of my old stuff that I highly doubt almost any of the values they throw out are close to realistic. I guess part of it is location, maybe people just pay more for junk in California. I have always noticed they sell things for a lot more than I think they would on Clean House.

So if the show doesn't really represent reality in any way, why do I even watch it? I think at the end of the day it's all voyeurism. We want to look in other people's medicine cabinets. We want to know what other people do, and see what's behind the door. I want to know what other people put in their storage lockers. I want to know what they think is cool, and start making guesses about what kind of person would have that particular set of stuff. There's an episode of Castle where he ends up buying a locker and they try to solve the case and piece together information about the victim by going through the stuff inside and it pretty much lays it all out there. I just want to be a nosy parker and know what other people are up to.