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How to Maximize the Benefits of Online Self-Storage Auctions

Online auction key on keyboard
The ability to hold self-storage lien sales online can be a terrific convenience for facility operators and bidders. Here’s how to maximize the benefits of online auctions and optimize your listings for success.

Online auctions are the self-storage industry’s latest “best practice.” By administering lien sales online, facility operators can leave the taxing auction work to website staff and concentrate on the day-to-day management of their properties. Here’s how online auctions can benefit your business and some tips to optimize your listings for success.


Online auctions offer a plethora of benefits:

  • All bidding is conducted online, so facility operators don’t have to worry about the liability and chaos large crowds can bring to a live event.
  • You never have to worry about rescheduling because of inclement weather.
  • Live auctions depend on bidders physically visiting your facility. Through an online platform, they can bid from the comfort of their couches, eliminating the need to travel as well as the hassle of having to stay at an auction for long periods. The only travel required is to collect their winnings.
  • Buyers can view photos of unit contents for as long as they like and bid on the ones that catch their interest.
  • While a live auction may draw 20 people, an online sale may receive more than 1,000 views due to the convenience of the Web and impact of online marketing.
  • Some auction websites will market the sale on your behalf, leveraging social media, marketplace websites and other resources to get the word out.
  • The only procedural requirement is to place an ad in the local newspaper, if mandated by your state lien law.
  • One of the drawbacks of hosting live auctions is you generally need to wait until you have multiple units up for sale to attract a sizable crowd. Though this is a smart strategy, it delays your ability to return those units to inventory. With online auctions, you can post a unit for sale as soon as legally possible.
  • Most auction websites require buyers to post a deposit immediately upon winning. They also stipulate a clean-out time. This helps move the process along quickly and gives buyers incentive to pay their balance and pick up their winnings.
  • At live auctions, buyers sometimes form alliances to control the bidding. Unless an auction website requires users to create a bidder name, online sales provide total anonymity. Bidders won’t recognize other buyers and can’t manipulate the auction.
  • Another benefit is reporting. Some websites will provide a report at the end of each auction, with summaries similar to those created by management-software programs. At a glance, you can see how the auction performed, including the number of views, bids and bidders, as well as the sale price and money collected.

Listing Images and Descriptions

One of the best ways to maximize the benefits of online auctions is to optimize your listings with several quality photos of the unit contents and as detailed a description as possible. Take photos in landscape (horizontal) position. (This is the default for traditional cameras, but smartphones need to be turned sideways.) Keep the camera as steady as possible, or use a tripod to avoid blurry images. Also, check the lighting, as most storage units tend to be dark. Use a flash, or set up some temporary lighting if necessary.

Don’t be afraid to take a lot of pictures. The rule of thumb is to take one photo of the front of the unit, and then divide that view into quadrants, taking a closer photo of each. Next, look for hidden, unique or high-value items, and snap a few photos of those, too. The idea is for potential bidders to have a good idea about the contents on which they’re bidding, since they can’t see the unit in person.

As you take pictures, note the items in the unit. The most successful auctions tend to have detailed descriptions. Many auction sites also allow you to create searchable tags for unit contents. It’s smart to take advantage of tagging because buyers tend to type exactly what they’re looking for into the search tool. If they don’t know there’s a piece of furniture in the back of the unit, they may not bid as high. Pictures and descriptions are the key to high bids.

Auction Logistics

Schedule your online auction to go live the night before the required newspaper advertisement is printed and distributed. Remember to include the website URL in your ad, along with other details as required by your state lien law.

As with live auctions, unit contents attract buyers to online sales. If you have only one unit to sell and it merely contains three garbage bags full of clothes and an old shoe, it may be best to wait until you have multiple units to sell. This strategy also makes sense if your state only recently allowed online storage auctions and this is your first time trying a Web-based sale in your market. Most auction websites can easily market large events, and putting multiple units up for sale simultaneously makes a big impression on the area’s established bidder base.

With online auctions, buyers often have the option to “like” a specific facility or sign up to be notified when certain facilities have scheduled a sale. After conducting an initial multi-auction event, you can often start to hold one-offs successfully because bidders will recognize you and be notified of your sales.

Online auctions benefit storage operators as well as bidders. The trick is to maximize your lien sales by creating as enticing an auction as possible. Bidders have shown time and again that they’ll take full advantage of the convenience online-auction websites provide.

Lonnie Bickford has developed and owned five Appletree Storage facilities in Greater Baton Rouge, La., and is a board member of the Louisiana Self Storage Association, where he’s worked closely with the national Self Storage Association to make changes to the state’s lien law. He’s also the founder of, a provider of online self-storage auction services. For more information, phone 866.944.8530; e-mail; visit

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