Don't Be a Special Victim: 9 Strategies for Private Unit Investigation (Part 1 of 2)

Sherlock holmesAlthough we've all heard horror stories of storage units being used as meth labs or for storing body parts, most of us will never get to experience the dangerous euphoria of hunting down a psycho-criminal like Hannibal Lector, or a real one, like Jeffrey Dommer.

But that doesn't mean you can't be a super sleuth.  Using your well-honed powers of deduction gleaned from college and a lifetime of watching crime thrillers, you can easily become a formidable private eye of the storage auction world, and know when to hold and when to fold on a unit with calculated decisiveness.

Please, don’t just scan, half smile, and half memorize this list.  Print it off and take it to heart.  These investigative techniques will surely improve your storage unit analysis and thus the girth of your wallet.

9 Tips for the Aspiring Unit Investigator (Part One)

9. Dust into Trust? Signs of dust on surfaces usually means the unit has been paid off for a long period of time.   This could mean older valuables as well as a sense of care for the items by the owner.  Being the most general rule on the list, this telltale sign should be used in conjunction with other items on this list in order to be used as a rule you can fully trust.

8. The Back Story of the Owner: If you can absorb general information from the facility owner as to who the owner was and what information, if any, they have provided to the facility owner in their late rent correspondence, you stand to have a much clearer angle on evaluating what is in the unit that is in plain view.  Were they single, male, female, divorced, a collector, a college student?  Did they indicate to the facility owner where they were moving and why?  If they went overseas, for example, there is a good chance they were not able to return to individually remove the most valuable contents from their unit.

7. Sometimes, the Clothes Make the Man: Does any visible clothing tell you anything about what sort of work ethic the owner held?  If there is even one or two garments that are expensive, well kept, or aged, this can be a clue, not only as to the character of the owner, but older clothes could generally mean older items in the undisclosed boxes within.

6. Cleanliness is Next to Godliness: If the owner took the time to organize their belongings, chances are the stuff was meant to be reclaimed or revisited in some way.  Perhaps it was never their intention to leave the unit abandoned and unpaid, but work or a trip took them elsewhere.  Plus, if the unit is organized, it will obviously mean there should be more bins and boxes for you to get a read on, or spaces to beam a flashlight through.

sherlock holmes5. Become an Expert in Key Industries: Furniture and electronics are categories of goods that you will often run into throughout your typical unit viewing.  Antique or even slightly dated furniture (if in good condition) can often easily be repurchased by enthused buyers, mostly because chairs, sofas, and tables can actually have decorative or practical value in their home.  Is the table “Shaker,” “Germanic,” or “Revival” Era?  More importantly, is it a fake remake of such a style?  (Check my sources below to find a great furniture dating website.  No, it's not

As far as electronics are concerned, the periods and styles of TV’s may not be as nuanced as the furniture industry, but a good brand name TV (Sony, Panasonic, Samsung being the most notable) from the 1990’s or early 2000’s in clean, working condition can fetch you anywhere from 50-100 bucks at a pawn shop.  If there's one in plain sight, take notes.

Finally, wooden case TV’s with feet that look anything like the one below should be a tip off as to their value.  Such models were produced between the 1920’s and 1950’s, and could be very valuable to any antique dealer.

Did you think you were going to get it all at once?  "Tune in" tomorrow to finish out the top four tidbits of preliminary auction unit inspection!


David Gross, Content Writer

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