FAIRFIELD — Mike Dehaas was looking for payback.
The last time he was high bidder at Solano Storage Center, he paid more than $2,000 for a 10-by-30-foot unit — full of e-waste materials.
And since the Martinez resident makes his living from buying at such auctions and selling what he can at a Concord flea market, Craigslist and on eBay, he was hoping to find something that would help recoup the loss from the previous buy.
Dehaas was one about 75 people who attended a recent auction at the storage center. There were four units up for bid. The majority of their contents would remain a mystery until the buyer empties the unit.
Auctioneer John Cardoza had already auctioned four units in Rio Vista before arriving in Fairfield. Afterward, he was headed to three storage facilities in Vacaville before wrapping up his day in Dixon.
With the popularity of TV shows “Storage Wars” and “Auction Hunters” — Cardoza was on the latter recently — he said he’s seen a 30- to 40-percent increase in the number of people showing up for auctions.
“There’s a lot of hard work involved,” he said. “If people are willing to work hard, there’s money to be made. There is some luck involved and a lot of hard work.”
Dehaas knows. Asked whether he’s found something unique among his storage auction purchases, he said it depends on what one defines as unique.
He’s found everything from dirty needles to dirty clothes. But not that one nugget that he could resell for enough to retire.
“I wouldn’t be here today if I had,” he said.
The TV shows glamorize this business, Dehaas said. ”I’m making minimum wage when it’s said and done,” he said.
In exchange, he is his own work supervisor.
“I don’t like bosses,” Dehaas said. “I have authority issues.”
Cardoza has also found a few interesting things.
At one auction, the renter had a friend lock him inside the storage unit the night before. So, when the door was opened, there sat a man who wasn’t going to let his goods go without a fight. The owner of the storage facility opted not to auction the unit that day, Cardoza said.
At the Solano Storage Center auction, three of the units were in the same building. Some potential buyers walked up the stairs to the unit. Others opted for the elevator.
Each was offered the chance to walk by and peruse a unit that seemed to have mostly clothes and toys.
Then, the auction began. Cardoza started out asking for a bid of $10. He quickly dropped it to $5.
“Anyone interested?” he asked. “You never know, there may be something in it.”
One man offered $5 and it was sold.
Working with Cardoza was his wife Donna Cardoza, who worked 25 years as a 911 dispatcher before retiring. She stood at the end of a long line, waiting for a peek inside the second and third units, which were right next to each other.
“The better the unit, the longer the people look,” she said.
One unit had a portable oxygen tank, TV trays and boxes — including one labeled as a 17-piece cookware set. The one next to it had suitcases and clothes, among other items.
Some of the attendees pulled out flashlights to see inside the darkened units.
With everyone back in the main hall, Cardoza began the bidding, confusing the contents of the two. Justin Clark, assistant manager of Solano Storage Center, stepped up to correct him before any bids were placed.
Bidding started at $25 and as it neared $220, Cardoza looked at one man and asked, “Are you bidding sir or just playing with your keys?”
It sold for $320; the other went for $110.
Then, it was down the stairs and out the building to a much bigger unit, 10-by-35, piled high with a variety of items.
“It looks like old stuff,” said Dehaas, who didn’t bid on any of the units. “It’s not really about what you buy, it’s about what you spend.”
The rent had not been paid since February, said Meladi Morris, who manages the facility. About $800 was owed.
“We tell the people if they can’t pay the rent, to move it out,” she said.
Osward Alvarez of Stockton purchased the goods for $675.
“You got a deal on that one,” Morris told him.
Alvarez said his plans were to go through the unit and find things his three daughters, who are 28, 35 and 38, could use. Leftover items would be sold at flea markets or on eBay.
He stopped by the office to get the combination on the lock to open the unit. He was heading on to the Vacaville auctions.
Solano Storage gave him a week to empty it.
As for the day’s income, Cardoza got 25 percent. The remainder of the money is applied toward rent, Morris said.
And, if there’s still any money left, it goes to the county, where the renter has a year to claim it, Morris said.
While some may question the need for hiring an auctioneer, Morris said it’s the only way to go as the auctioneer assumes the liability.
“It’s worth the 25 percent,” she said.
Cardoza and his crew return to Fairfield on Wednesday for an auction at the StorageMart Self Storage on Walters Road. They’ll be back at Solano Storage Center in July.
Amy Maginnis-Honey can be reached at 427-6957 or firstname.lastname@example.org.