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Let’s say an auctioneer finds himself selling at auction an unopened and locked safe. Is it best to open? Leave locked?

We wrote in 2013 addressing if the “known” or the “unknown” sells better and concluded that the circumstances matter: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/does-the-unknown-sell-for-more-at-auction/.

Ultimately, this is the seller’s decision … open or don’t open. However, auctioneers can give their sellers good advice here. Generally, it is prudent to open the safe so as to more detail what actually is selling.

If this safe is sold unopened, it’s our opinion that the possible increase in bids based upon the unknown is outweighed by the distinct possibility that the full value will not be realized.

It is a safe and people typically use safes to store valuable items — far different from a storage unit, unopened box, or storage shed sold while closed and locked.

We’ve sold 100’s of safes and while this is merely our experience, it has taught us that more likely than not, the contents (when seen) sell for more than they would have unseen. As well, by opening, we keep from selling a firearm, explosive or other possibly dangerous/prohibited items.

There is certainly a cost to open a locked safe — and sometimes the only option is to damage the safe to view the inside contents. However, older safes — particularly non-fire-proof models — are not terrifically valuable in today’s market.

Have a locked safe coming up in an auction? We recommend you strongly suggest to the owner/seller that the safe is opened to see what’s inside.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, CAS, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, RES Auction Services and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and America’s Auction Academy. He is faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University and is approved by the The Supreme Court of Ohio for attorney education.