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Friday, July 22, 2011

Once upon a time... there WAS a happy ending!

Here's a little feel-good story for you guys, because quite honestly, I've had a really crappy day.  It doesn't make it better either that we haven't been to auction in about two and a half weeks-- the longer I don't go to auction, the moodier and antsier I get.  It's a huge stress release, and I'll be thrilled to death when we get to go back next Tuesday.

When buying abandoned/repossessed storage lockers- more often than not the stuff was the latter, repossessed and not given up voluntarily.  It's pretty common for people in this situation to ask for their things back.  Now before I tell you why we never give their things back, let me first explain the procedure that gets someone in this position in the first place (so you can stop feeling sorry for them):

1. Person does not pay their storage unit bill.  Typically you pay between the 1st and 5th of month for the entire month.
2.  Storage unit calls person and lets person know they are past due
3.  Person does not show up to pay bill even after courtesy reminder call
4. Storage unit cuts person's lock off of the door, and replaces with storage unit lock.
5.  Step #4 should be enough to let person know that stuff has been seized temporarily, but people are stupid-- so often times storage company puts a tag on door saying "contact management"  "please pay your bill" or "if you do not pay your bill you will lose your stuff.  This means NOW"
6. Person still does not pay bill.
7.  Storage unit decides to auction person's stuff off to recoup some of their funds.    Storage unit has to follow certain laws (see below) and has to pick a certain date at least 14 days away.  They have to get a licensed auctioneer to conduct auction.  They have procedure and protocol they have to follow (see below).
8.  Storage unit must by Louisiana law advertise in public newspaper at least 10 days before the auction. They are required to put the person's name so they can see they are being foreclosed on, as well as the unit number.  And if there's STILL doubt about what the person is losing, they are also required to list some of the contents in the locker.  It lists the date and time of the auction.
9.  Person has until DAY of the auction to pay.  They can literally run up during the auction and yell "stop, stop, I have the money!"  -- and then the auction is ceased.  I've seen it happen.   I've even seen stupid people (there are a bunch) attempt to do this using PERSONAL CHECK.  Not a bright idea.
10.  Often times, auctioneers/staff/whoever will feel sorry for people (even dumb people) and even allow them a few extra days to pay their bill.  They make us bid on the units but "bid/hold" them until the agreed upon time for the person to pay. They do not have to do this by law, but do it as a customer service type of deal.  For instance, if the auction is Tuesday at 5, they may give the person until Saturday at 2 to pay.  We still bid on it Tuesday at 5, and if we "win" it, they put the storage unit lock back on, until Saturday at 2 when either the person pays up and gets their stuff back or we win the bid, pay the money, and claim our locker.

SO.... with that said, it's obviously NOT a quick process.  People cannot have their units "stolen" from them.  They cannot expect us to feel sorry for them.  They have been past due and past due for a long time.  Many of them are incarcerated or spent all their money on drugs. I realize there are a few exceptions (some of my dear friends included), but for the most part, people who lose their things in storage lockers are either irresponsible or stupid or both.

NOW.  Because it's not a quick process and because people who lose their lockers are either stupid/irresponsible or both, one of the worst things that we can do is to make contact with these people. That would be SUCH a bad idea.  They have proven that they are irresponsible, so let's be nice to them and reach out to them?  Wrong.  Brian & I are smart enough to know already that this is a bad idea, and we would NEVER EVER dream of giving a prior-tenant our contact information... but even so, I do know of people who have done it and have heard horror stories about them receiving phone calls at 2am asking if the person could come pick up their bathrobe or getting threats that so-and-so wanted their gold back or they were going to sue them, etc.  Storage facilities are not allowed to give prior tenants your information unless you give them your permission first and that will just never happen.

PERSONAL ITEMS:  are a different story.  If we find a diploma, or birth certificate, or a box of photographs, or baby teeth, or whatever-- we return that to the office whenever possible and they usually pass it on to the customer.  Some even require that you return these items, because they are of no value to you.  Some offices will tell you not to bother because they've already sent certified letters, made phone calls, and taken the tenant to court and they still can't find them-- so they just want you to throw the stuff away.  But for the most part, we try to always return things that are of little value to us and great value to others.

Recently, we broke our rule of contacting a prior tenant.  We swore we would never do it, but alas, we did.   A few weeks ago, Brian and I bought a unit that no one else seemed to want, for $80.  With tax (that's a long story) it came to approximately $88.  There were several (at least 8) sterilite containers, so even though we weren't totally sure what was inside, we figured it was worth it alone in the value of the bins, and whatever was inside was lagniappe.   This was the day that the Auction Hunters people were following us around, so we didn't do a full dig (opening it up like little kids at Christmas) on it, but merely looked briefly through it and moved on to the next auction.   All of the things were baby items... baby clothes, baby shoes, baby toys, boxes and boxes of new and unused baby things.   Typically kid/baby/household things are used.  They are washed, they smell of laundry detergent, they have a little bit of wear on them.  These were pristine.  I knew something was off but I didn't quite know what-- was the person stealing baby clothes?  Was this from a couple who had divorced?  Not sure.   We made a note to look for answers when we went back later that day...

... and we got them.  Halfway through the "personal items" box (I always make a note to COMPLETELY go through the personal items box with a fine-toothed comb... see my tip at the bottom for why), we find it... the reason.  A baby's death certificate.  The child died of SIDS just a few months old.  This explains everything.  We go into the office to make SURE we return all of the personal items, and we're told that "the gentleman just called and would like his things back-- he's prepared to pay you." Typically (we get this a lot)  we respond "sorry, we're not interested,"  but this time Brian and I both looked at each other and simply said "give us his phone number."    We asked how much he owed on the unit and were told $125.     Then we called him.

From seeing tenants in the office furious and cursing and throwing things, and hearing some of the horror stories, and reading some of the letters and things inside these lockers (not this particular one, but just in general), I was expecting the worst.  It's not a generalization or a stereotype, but a reaffirmation of my previous point that people who lose their belongings are irresponsible and do not think things through.  People who do not think things through are inclined to be dangerous for me.  Just a thought.  And now, not only am I prepared for a hoodlum, but I'm also prepared for a hoodlum who has had tragedy in his life and may also have a chip on his shoulder.

I could not have been more wrong about Kendrick.   He was the NICEST man imaginable.  He had manners.  He kept saying "thank you so much, I appreciate you so much" through his almost tears.   He was a person who had fallen into the situation by hard-luck, not lack of effort.  The man lost his vehicle and was taking the city bus each day to work (a blue-collar maintenance job for the city).  He had the money to get his things out of storage but not the transportation to retrieve them.  He feared his wife, who did not know that he lost the unit, and who would "probably kill me when she finds out,"  he said.  He paid us $125 (what he would have had to pay anyway), and we gladly loaded up the van and delivered the things to his apartment complex (which saved him the money he would have had to use to rent a uHaul, borrow a truck, pay a cab, etc).   We made about $30 which covered our time and gas.  He felt good, we felt good.  We helped him carry the things inside his modest apartment and he kept thanking us over and over again.  They're not all like Kendrick-- in fact, we may never get another one like that again EVER-- but I am so blessed that we had the privilege of meeting him that day.  It reminded us one more time of the "other side of the story"  and that there is good in everyone.   It was an honor to be able to do something good for someone who so deserved it.

STORAGE HERO TIP:   When finding a box of "personal items" - don't just say "oh, this whole box is personal items, let's just bring the whole box to the office" --  that would be a big mistake.  You shouldn't ever be lazy, being thorough will be the difference between whether your unit brings you hundreds or thousands in profit. Additionally, you should know that it is easier to guard one city than two-- and for that reason, people do not scatter their valuables around-- they always put them in one place (this is why safes and jewelry boxes exist in the first place).  So, whether something is valuable on the market, or valuable to the person... there is a chance it will be someplace special surrounded by special items around it.

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