While online auctions have been available in the self-storage industry for several years, there are still operators who aren’t using this method to conduct lien sales. Some are resistant to change, some think they prefer live events, and some are worried about the legality of the online platform. However, many are curious about how it all works and what they need to know to proceed. Here are 10 of the most frequently asked questions regarding online auctions.
1. How do online auctions work?
Online auctions are very different from live sale events. Simply put, the following will happen:
- You’ll create an account on an online-auction website. There are several options available today.
- When you have a unit ready for lien sale, you’ll cut the lock and take several pictures of the interior from different angles to provide buyers with a good idea of the contents and unit size.
- You’ll upload the pictures to the auction website and fill out the listing description.
- Buyers will bid on the unit contents.
- The bidding will end on the date and time on your notice-of-sale letter.
- You’ll receive an e-mail letting you know who won and the amount of the final bid.
- The buyer will receive an e-mail letting him know he won the unit and to contact you to pay and arrange for pickup of the property.
- The buyer will visit your facility, pay you and take the items.
2. Do I still have to send late letters and run an ad to announce the sale?
The first and most important thing to understand is all your legal obligations are the same, regardless of how you intend to auction the unit. Even if your state’s lien laws have been amended to include online auctions as a method of sale, all other requirements remain the same. Notice-of-sale letters must go out promptly. Legal advertisements still need to run and include all the requirements stipulated in the lien laws. You’re bound by all contractual obligations outlined in your rental agreement.
3. Do I need to go inside the unit to take pictures?
No. You should take pictures from the threshold without going into the unit or moving any items. The pictures should be from the same view auction buyers would get if they were looking at the unit in person.
4. How long does the buyer have to clean out the unit?
Ask your online-auction provider, as these websites each have different policies. The timeframe is usually 24 to 72 hours. Ideally, your provider will allow you to set your own policies and decide how long you want to give buyers to claim their goods.
5. Do I have to collect sales tax?
That depends on where your facility is located. Most often, the answer will be yes. Several states don’t require personal-property auctions to be taxed. If you’re unsure if you should charge sales tax, contact your city or state department of revenue.
6. Can I still collect a cleaning deposit?
Yes and, hopefully, your online-auction provider will have a way for you to alert buyers that there is one and how much it will be. Any provider you choose shouldn’t hinder or change your operation procedures.
7. How does the online-auction provider get paid?
This will vary. Some providers require you to use a credit card and pay immediately after a unit sells. Some will allow you to have an open account and receive an invoice at the end of the month. Others have membership packages that allow you to pay a flat monthly fee. If the payment method is important to you, ask about the options before you begin listing.
8. Will I be charged a fee if I cancel a unit before the final sale?
Again, this will vary from provider to provider. Some will charge a fee ranging from $10 to $20, while others won’t have a fee at all.
9. If there’s a vehicle in a unit, can I sell it at an online auction?
Possibly. There are some states that don’t allow motor vehicles to be sold at an online auction or have policies that interfere with the sale of vehicles at auction. For example, California requires any vehicles being sold at auction to be available for inspection for at least 30 minutes before the auction at the location of the sale. This wouldn’t be possible if the auction is conducted online. Similarly, Georgia doesn’t have procedures in place to grant a title to a motor vehicle sold at a self-storage lien sale. If you have questions about car sales, reach out to your online-auction company to help guide you through the process.
10. What guarantees the buyer will show up to pay me?
Unfortunately, nothing is perfect, including online auctions. There’s no guarantee the buyer will show up. Sometimes a person will win and you’ll never hear from him again. This happens in live auctions as well. The auctioneer goes inside to collect money from the buyers, and the last person in line doesn’t have enough money to pay his bid amount, sales tax and cleaning deposit, and the operator is stuck with the unit until the next round of auctions.
If you sell a unit online and the buyer doesn’t show up to pay, contact your auction provider immediately to start the process of contacting second- and third-place bidders. Often one of these bidders will still be willing to buy the unit.
As with live sales, there are legal guidelines you must follow when conducting online auctions. If you’re not sure about a step or have questions about the process, seek a reputable online-auction provider for guidance.
Cheli Rosa is director of marketing for StorageStuff.Bid, which provides online storage-auction services. She’s a former high school teacher turned storage professional turned auctioneer. She’s worked in all areas of self-storage. Her constant desire for additional knowledge led her to immerse herself in the lien-foreclosure process. For more information, call 877.758.4243; visit www.storagestuff.bid.