Property marking: a good strategy for self storage

By Antony on May 19th, 2011 | No Comments

Property marking: a good strategy for self storage

In November last year, the tennis star Pete Sampras was the victim of a cruel crime. While he was in the process of moving house in California, thieves broke into a public storage facility and raided boxes of possessions that he had temporarily lodged there. They included 51 of his 64 trophies ‒ the precious rewards of his 13 years at the top of world tennis between 1991 and 2002.

Thieves are often disappointed when they break into self storage units in the UK. Usually what they find is a collection of old vacuum cleaners, cricket pads and hockey sticks, boxes of children’s books, kitchen implements that ‘might be useful one day’, and brown furniture awaiting a revival in retro-style.

But the Pete Sampras story is a reminder that people do sometimes have to place high-value goods in self storage, particularly between moves. Where else can they go?

Beware the danger

So if you are in that position, do be aware that your possessions may possibly be vulnerable to theft. What can you do about it?

Well, make sure the security of the self storage unit matches the value of your possessions. (Pete Sampras was surprised to find, retrospectively, that his storage facility did not have security cameras.)

And make sure you are adequately covered by insurance. (Pete Sampras had not insured his trophies, as it was not possible to establish a monetary value for them.)

Property marking (a.k.a. security marking)

You could also provide an additional line of defence by using security marking on the more valuable items that you are putting into self storage – just as you might do with your possessions in your own home. This means that, if they are stolen and later recovered, the police should be able to discover who the rightful owner is and restore the items to you.

Several types of property marking are recommended. The cheapest and easiest is simply to put your postcode, plus the number of your house or flat, on any item of value. You can do this by engraving. This has to be reasonably prominent in order for it to be detected – but that may also mean scarring the surface of an item in an unacceptable way (particularly an antique).

Instead, you could consider writing the postcode and house number on any item using an ultra-violet pen. The marking is all-but invisible, unless it comes under UV light – which the police routinely use when inspecting recovered stolen goods. UV pens cost only £1 or so; however, the marks do fade over time.

For items where appearance is not important – garden equipment, for instance, even bicycles – you can simply use enamel paint to apply your postcode and house number.


But much more effective than any of the above is SmartWater. This is a specially prepared invisible paint (or “forensic solution”) that contains microscopic coding unique to you – almost like DNA – and which is visible only under UV light. It can be brushed onto small items as well as large, and it is almost impossible for thieves to remove. It is, however, more expensive: a pack to mark the valuables of a four-bedroom house costs around £60, plus the same again as an annual subscription. But it does of course mean that, if you are taking this route, you can security-mark your valuables in both your home and your self storage unit.

Since the SmartWater is invisible, it is helpful to warn would-be thieves about its presence on your possessions. Post notices to this effect where thieves will see them: it is a mighty deterrent. Thieves know about SmartWater, and will not knowingly handle goods marked with it.

SmartWater would probably not have helped Pete Sampras recover his trophies, however. According to reports in March, they have been found. We can assume that engraving served as his form of property marking.

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