The Magic Eye for the New Guy

human tiger eyeThe scrutiny of a good storage unit analyst is like a Magic Eye book.  Those without the magic tend to see a 2-d unit and often spend their turn trying to take in everything at once.  Yet, nothing really pops out of the picture.  Those that have been through the wire in this business can spend a fraction of the time as a newbie in their once-over and effortlessly separate the shiny, hidden picture, maintain it while blinking.  In other words, avid storage auction goers can visually separate the bread winning items from the fool’s gold, remember them, and bid accordingly.


Here are two distinct categories of merchandise, furniture and decor, which can often throw a new auction bidder for a loop.  For the pros, there are attributes of these things that stand out as being either red flags or green lights.  Here's some kick starter info for your new professional gaze.

1) Features of Furniture

Instead of the fantasy of antique Native American axes appearing in an otherwise modern looking locker (i.e. “Storage Wars Texas”), a real auction has antiques coming in couples or sets. The irony is that even though there are more, one has to be extremely careful when gazing at antique tables, armoires, or book shelves.  When the hourglass is turned over and it’s your turn to peak at the unit, here’s a few attributes to look for in antique furniture that can make or break your resale..

    1. Proportion: Does the table, for example, look like it has legs from one place and a surface of another?  That’s because it happens, all the time.  It is what is known as “marriage,” where two separate pieces have been forged together unnaturally, and it can cause a major plummet in value.


  1. Veneers: Most antique furniture is made of two sets of wood, i.e. it is “veneered.”  The value of the piece is going to be based on the quality and thickness of the external layer of wood.  Different woods were used in different time periods.  Study this list and find out which woods correspond to which time period.  Also, as a final note, it is incredibly hard to bank on antiques at face value, because replicas are abundant.  You can chase an antique table, only to turn it over and see that the top’s underside is much newer in appearance than the surface.

As a rookie, it is hard to tell whether or not a group of bidders is frantic for an old piece of furniture because one of them has actually seen it for what it is or if they are all on a wild goose chase.  Get the eye and you can be the trendsetter in bidding matches.


2) Discerning Decor

The truth about décor, paintings, plants, curtains, and wall clocks, is that is very hit and miss in actuality.  On the one hand, if a unit is well stocked with décor, you may be able to sell it in bulk to a thrift or consignment shop.  On the other, it will rarely bring in big bucks and stands as the medium that can cause a rookie a lot of problems, mostly because “it looks nice.”  In essence, décor should not be the drawing point of a major bid.
If there is a print in plain sight, there are a few things that you can readily scan it for (make sure to bring a flashlight).  Pop a light on the image, if possible, and scan the condition.  Is the image cracked or faded beyond recognition? Let's take art prints, for example.

Next, what is the subject matter of the artwork?  The value of a print is largely about which enthusiast is willing to buy it.  Is it Adam and Eve, George Washington, Ted Williams?   Can you think of a niche demographic that may be solidly interested in it?

Next, does the print look like an original or a reproduction?  Originals are the first batch from the first print matrix and can be worth loads.  Reproductions will have lush colors but faded quality as they are not produced with the same detail as originals.  Originals may be faded, but the detail will be starker considering it was struck on a finer matrix with more minute squares.

Finally, let's disregard the frame itself.  Although a print may have a nice, inlaid oak frame, most dealers DO NOT include the value of the frame in the value of the print.  Again, a print or two may not be anything to “go to war” for, so to speak.


huskySo, which key, plain-sight items necessitate aggressive bidding?  What should you scan for?  The answer, for the average locker, is commercial goods. Commercial goods are a win/win because they sell well if they work, they can easily be fixed if they don't, and you probably already have one anyway (i.e. a fridge) so you don’t have to worry about getting attached like you would to a valuable piece of art.

    1. Large Fridges: Can be a jackpot, sometimes even if they are need a repair.  In this economy, small businesses are looking to diminish their overhead, so they buy used machines all the time.  Look out for brands like Continental and McCall.  If it’s in good visual condition, it was probably left due to a small malfunction.  You can potentially resell for $800-$1,000, especially if it is a fridge/freezer combo.  Take a breath and be prepared to bid.


    1. Farm/Lawn Equipment- Easy to leave behind, easy to sell.  Auction goers report that they frequently find weed eaters, bush hogs, tractors and trailers.  Everyone has a yard, and the bigger the yard, the higher the income of the buyer and thus the higher you can fetch if you advertise on Craig’s List in a wealthier neighborhood.  All of these are solid finds and worth bidding on.  Your bids may range anywhere from $50 for a lawn mower, to $400 for a John Deere tractor.


  1. Music Instruments and Speakers- Trumpets, guitars, PA systems, home theatre systems, synthesizers and turn tables are always working their way around both EBay and 2nd hand stores.  The main thing to keep in mind is recognizing which cases house what instruments, since most of the ones you will want will have been kept in a case away from the elements.  Violin cases are flat and small.  Trumpet cases are boxy and long.  Synthesizers are sometimes kept in fabric cases the size of a small keyboard.  Look out for brand names like Yamaha, Moog, Korg, or for guitars, Martin, Fender, and Gibson (possibly scrolled on the case).  A value bid of $80 to $120 dollars should be reasonable, depending on the quantity of music gear and which instruments are apparent (i.e. less for trumpets, more for synthesizers).
Experience means a lot in this business.  The pointers provided here can give you a boost against the competition, but there is no better improvement to sharpening your eye than regular attendance.  A rookie is going to need to begin conservatively in order to develop instincts and strategies, to get their eyes on as many lockers as they can before the magic can happen.
Check out our auction going handbook to get more than just a sample of “hot and not” items and what bids fit them.
Image Credits:
Back to Blog
Leave a reply