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Tips for Successful Online Auctions: Photos That Sell Self-Storage Units

By Chuck G Comments

Many self-storage operators now have the option to sell the contents of their defaulted units through an online auction service. However, enticing buyers can be a bit tricky with this method because bidders only get a virtual view of the goods. With live auctions, a buyer can peer into the unit with a flashlight to uncover treasures that aren’t visible at first glance. To tempt buyers to an online sale, you need a good camera and great photos.


Your first step toward ensuring more online auction sales is to get a quality camera. Nikon and Cannon have stellar digital single-lens reflex cameras that take first-rate photos. However, they’re expensive and come with a learning curve. Thankfully, an expensive camera is no longer necessary. The high-quality cameras built into smartphones enable anyone to take amazing photos and videos. Today’s best smartphones come equipped with a 12-megapixel camera. Even some short films and independent movies are now shot on smartphones.

First Photo

When the lock is cut and the door opened, what’s the first thing a storage buyer sees at a live auction? The front of the whole unit. You want to provide a similar experience for your online auction bidders.

Stand dead center in front of the unit to take this first photo. Make sure you’re a few feet away to capture the entire view. While an item such as a mattress might prevent you from seeing many of the unit contents, understand this is the expectation of the buyer. He wants to see what the unit looks like—for better or worse—as if he were physically present in front of the door. Time and time again in online listings, this full-front shot is dismissed in favor of close-up pictures of single items. Buyers want full transparency, so give it to them.

Next Two Photos

During a live auction, a buyer will see the unit contents from three different angles: front, left side and right side. For your next two photos, stand to the right and left at a roughly 45-degree angle. These two shots allow the online buyer to see any items that lean out of view or are tucked away on the floor. Fishing poles, artwork, industrial equipment or any thin or flat item against the wall will now be apparent.

‘Money Shot’

Once you’ve taken photos of the front, left and right side of a unit, you’ve given the storage buyer a good first look. Now what? Take a photo of a single item or group of items that hold a good value. Remember, most of your buyers are in the resale business. Pictures of pots, pans and clothing (unless the clothes are designer) don’t appeal, as they generally don’t provide a decent return on investment.

Instead of taking a dozen photos of anything and everything in the unit, be selective. Find the “money shot” that will grab the auction buyer’s attention. Aim for industrial or sports equipment, and new-in-box items—anything that has visible value.


Whether you’re in a rush to take pictures or don’t have steady hands, a blurred photo will be ignored and dismissed by an online buyer. Instead, invest in a gimbal, a device that allows the rotation of an object on a single axis. It will enable your smartphone to remain level as you move about the entrance of the unit. A gimbal will also permit a greater reach into the unit without you crossing the threshold.

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