Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Property Disposition is a bargain hunter's paradise

Bargain shoppers from all over campus and beyond are swarming to U-M Property Disposition as they work to keep a lid on expenses.

The 15,000-square-foot Property Disposition warehouse at 3241 Baxter Road is filled with bargains, from computers and office furniture to shelving and tools that are no longer needed by university units. Property Disposition's goal: to recycle, sell or appropriately dispose of the university's surplus goods.

From left, Ann Arbor residents Andrew Paolini and Austin McCloe inspect the engine from a Ford Shelby Cobra Mustang, which is listed for bids at Property Disposition. (Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services)

"Walk-in customers have increased in recent months," reports Steven Sinelli, Property Disposition supervisor. "Customers are purchasing more used equipment because of the current financial climate. It's kind of like McDonald's, where business is going through the roof."

"Property Disposition has a lot of options, and prices seem pretty cheap," notes first-time Property Disposition shopper Steve Jedele, owner of Steve's Custom Signs in Ann Arbor, who was furnishing an office for a new employee. "I'll definitely go back," said Jedele, who bought a desk for $50.

Another bargain hunter, Karen Conran, executive secretary in Public Affairs and Media Relations, found two cherry-top desks with metal drawers in pristine condition for $70. Comparable new wood-top desks list for $900 each. "Things come and go quite fast," says Conran, who picked up a couch, also in excellent condition, for $25 on the same trip.

Conran still hopes to find a 36-inch-diameter, round cherry table. A new one would cost about $200. A used table will cost $25 at Property Disposition, she predicts. Desk chairs go for $5-$10, compared to $350 for new; and four-drawer file cabinets are $20, a fraction of the $640 it would cost to buy new.

In February, when producers of the feature film "Betty Anne Waters" were looking for scenery props including artwork and office furniture for a prison scene, they shopped at Property Disposition. The props went to the Ann Arbor Reuse Center after filming was finished.

U-M departments can shop at Property Disposition from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday and 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday. It closes 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. each day for lunch. The warehouse is open to the public from 12:30 p.m.-6 p.m. Monday, 12:30 p.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, and 8 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Thursday. U-M's Moving and Trucking picks up and delivers merchandise for a fee.

Property Disposition accepts credit cards and cash, and U-M departments can pay by short code. Sales total between $1.5 million and $3 million annually. Property Disposition returns 97.5 cents of every $1 to the selling unit.

When pricing merchandise, Sinelli and his staff of four full-time and two temporary employees look on eBay and Craigslist. Large or unusual items are placed out for bid. Property Disposition's current inventory includes everything from a surveyor's level to a Shelby Cobra Mustang engine.

Connie Atia-Ahrens, Recreational Sports assistant director, has been a Property Disposition customer for more than a decade.

"We have a really good rapport. The staff are wonderful," says Atia-Ahrens, who has sold sporting equipment and apparel and purchased laptops and furniture for her department.

One of her best finds was a mule — also called a Gator — a heavy-duty utility cart used by Recreational Sports staff to maintain Mitchell, Elbel and Palmer fields for intramural and club sports and summer camps.

"The staff are especially knowledgeable about computers," Atia-Ahrens says.

Property Disposition computer specialist Larry Dixon checks out all computers sent for resale or disposal.

"I love to make sure they are operating right," says Dixon, who is known as the "computer doc." He also makes sure all software and operating systems are deleted before computers are resold. Hard drives that can't be salvaged are shredded and disposed of properly.

For Dixon, fixing computers to sell to students is one of the most satisfying parts of his job. "Not everyone can afford a new laptop," says Dixon, who regularly sells three- to five-year-old laptops for $400-$450 and some for as little as $300 on sale.

Kathryn Larson, administrator of U-M's Autism and Communication Disorders Center, started shopping at Property Disposition when the center opened in 2001.

"I get the vast majority of my desks and chairs from them because it really is a reasonable way to furnish an office. We also get file cabinets from them at a great price. At least 70 percent of the furnishings on the second floor of the Victor Vaughan Building came from Property Disposition.

"Property Disposition staff will let you know if they have an item in stock and will hang on to an item for a few days until you can pick it up. They always have been very pleasant, efficient and accommodating," Larson says.