Everything You Need to Know About Online Auctions
by Sarah Cole, Oakcrest Management

As technology continues to advance, the self-storage industry is advancing with it. One of the most recent changes is with online auctions. Thanks to the hard work of TSSA, Matz & Co. and Connie Heyer pushing new legislation through last year, online auctions are now part of the Texas Property Code. Many companies started making this switch over the last few years, but the rest have been watching the industry to find out what is going to benefit their facilities the most. One of the best ways to figure out what will work for your facility is to weigh the pros and cons of both in-person and online auctions.

The concept of online auctions has been around for quite some time. Online auctions started with individuals selling and auctioning personal items on sites such as eBay. Now we have the ability to utilize online platforms to auction off the contents of storage units. Online auctions are not just another fad or trend.

When the TV show “Storage Wars” aired, self-storage auctions started get- ting some publicity and now the general public finally knows storage unit auctions are an actual thing. So why did the market start shifting to online auctions?

“Online auctions seem very interesting,” says Ashley Montessoro of Lockaway Self Storage. “It is something new, gets the property name out to a new group of people and seems like it may be easier on our managers.”

Lower attendance at more rural properties is the reason Ryan Rogers, managing partner at Store  Here Self Storage, started looking into online auctions. Online auctions open the door to more potential bidders, the bidders have more time to view the items in the unit and they have more time to bid.

Another reason is the amount of time it takes to conduct an in-person sale on auction day. “It is a disruption of the property’s normal business day,” says Rogers. “Especially if you have more than one location to visit, it takes up your entire day.”

April Young of Ultimate Properties says, “When traveling from property to property on auction day, the number of bidders dwindles and by the time you get to the last property, you’re lucky if you still have one or two people show up for the auction.”

Liability, liability, liability is what we hear at every legal session we go to when it comes to onsite auctions. It is the overall liability of a group of people walking the property on auction day. What if someone trips and gets hurt?

“With online auctions,” Montessoro states, “There is also the bonus of not having a large crowd walking around the property once a month.”

Also, the worries we have about having to handle altercations are now gone when you use online auctions. “You also don’t have people coming onto the property and causing a stir

with the customers,” notes Ann Parham of Joshua Management Corporation.

Buyer collusion can also be a problem with onsite auctions. “The people who follow the auctioneer know each other and they start to negotiate with one another before the unit is even up for auction. It causes price setting,” explains Parham.

Online auctions seem to solve a lot of potential concerns and issues we face every month, but still many of us are hesitant to make the switch.

“I’m not so sure it is hesitation that has kept us from switching as much as it is us wanting to keep those hands- on, face-to-face relationships with our bidders,” Young explains. “There is also a sort of comfort in knowing all of your paperwork is right and the auction was processed correctly.”

Even though they have only been doing online auctions a short time, Montesorro has noticed, “There is the potential to make simple mistakes when setting it up online. Your managers really need to pay close attention to detail or the auction may have to be cancelled.”

Some locations have a great auction crowd. Some of us like using an auctioneer who has their own following, which also gives us a second pair of

eyes on our lien paperwork to ensure the sale is conducted properly. And some of us like to just get these auctions done and over with. Instead of waiting several days for online auctions to run, and then potentially another 24 to 48 hours for the highest bidder to come in and pay (un- less they pay online); in-person auctions are all over in one day.

“Buyers not showing up to pay after bidding” is an issue Rogers has seen with online auctions. “With in-person auctions,” Rogers says, “We know right away if a buyer does not have the money and can sell it again quickly.”

Once you’ve weighed all the options and you’ve decided online auctions are the way to go, where do you begin to look to find the right online platform? When looking at all of the different options, put yourself in your customer’s shoes. What is most important to you? Is it price or customer service that is the deciding factor? You want to know that the platform you use will back you up if there is a mix up or any issue with the auction. Here are a few of the platforms available to you (some of this information is taken directly from the company’s website):

IBID4STORAGE.COM According to their site, iBid4Storage. com has managed self-storage locations and been involved in the self-storage auction process in Canada and the United States for the past 22 years. “We continue to be innovators and leaders in the self-storage industry and have created a marketplace where both sellers and buyers of storage auction units can benefit and prosper.

“If you’re a storage unit owner or manager who is looking to recover your losses, online storage auctions are a great way to find bidders and to advertise your auction without the crowds and inconvenience that come along with having a physical storage auction at your facility. Research has shown that owners get three to five times more for foreclosed storage unit contents with an online sale.”

“We chose iBid4storage because they were friendly, acted like they were interested in gaining our business, were willing to negotiate rates and followed up consistently, even after gaining our business,” says Rindge Leaphart, COO of Oakcrest Management, Inc.

SELFSTORAGEAUCTION.COM From the founder of Storage Battles, SelfStorageAuction.com is ready to revolutionize the storage industry. From their site: This new website for online and live self-storage auction listings is built to “provide the most safe, manageable and efficient platform for online self-storage auctions to be held.”

Most self-storage auctions are now being held online. “Our site not only speeds up the sales process, it completely eliminates the need for live, on-site auctions. Facilities can easily prepare auctions in advance

and increase profits by expanding their customer base.”

STORAGEAUCTIONS.COM Owned by Lonnie Bickford, StorageAuctions.com is a robust online auction site for foreclosed units. Ac- cording to the StorageAuctions.com site, you can find the best storage unit auctions as a bidder and reach a faithful audience of bidders as a seller.

Storage facilities can also streamline their auction process by listing their inventory in one place for both live auctions and online auctions. Storageauctions.com reduces the hassle and you can list with confidence knowing your unit will be viewed by a much larger bidder base than those who might show up in person for a live auction.

STORAGESTUFF.BID According to their site, StorageStuff.Bid is made up of a combination of self- storage owners, licensed and experienced storage auctioneers and a team of technology partners who specialize in internet marketing and web design. “Together, we have more than 50 years of experience in the self-storage industry.

“We understand the needs and goals of storage owners and operators. We understand the consequences of accounts receivable and bad debt. We also know that storage operators are in the business of renting storage units, not selling them. We offer storage operators a quick and easy way to empty units that have gone through the lien and foreclosure process.”

STORAGETREASURES.COM StorageTreasures is a free, social site to find live onsite storage auctions or online auctions at any self-storage facility across the United States and Canada.

StorageTreasures.com was founded by SSA members and self-storage professionals who have more than 60 years of experience in the self-storage industry.

StorageTreasures has revolutionized the way in which the contents of self- storage units are marketed and publicly auctioned after the tenant has failed to pay rent. The site fills the gap between the operational systems that the industry currently utilizes and the public buyer who may be interested in the contents of a unit going to auction. The tools StorageTreasures provides allow the storage industry not only to comply with, but also exceed the intent of state laws governing the self-storage industry, protecting tenants and bidders alike.

“We use storagetreasures.com,” says Montesorro. “Another branch of our company has been using them for a couple of years now. Plus the customer service response, we have received from them is really nice.”

TIPS FOR TRANSITIONING TO ONLINE AUCTIONS

You’ve decided to give online auctions a try. You did your research and picked the online platform that suits your business. Now you ask yourself, how am I going to transition this new process?

What procedures should I follow to make sure I don’t miss selling a unit? Since several of us have been doing them for a while now, we have some suggestions. Remember everything up to your notice of sale and auction ad are the same:

1. Seize the unit

2. Send out the Notice of Claim

3. Inventory the unit for the auction ad

Now this is where the changes come into play.

4. When you publish the Notice of Public Sale in the newspaper, it must contain the following:

  • Statement that property is being sold to satisfy a landlord’s lien
  • Address of the facility (where the unit is located)
  • Website address for the auction
  • Start date/time and the end date/ time for bidding (and any other terms of sale)
  • Tenant’s name
  • General description of the property

5. Mailing a printed Notice of Public Sale to the Tenant is optional and not required by statute.

Next, list your units on the auction website. Most people take additional photos for the online auction in addition to the standard lock cut photos. Some supervisors find it easier to wait approximately five to 10 days before the auction starts to go back to the facility to get the additional photos they need.

“This is a great time to thoroughly review the auction file and make sure all of the notices were sent correctly,” says North Texas district  manager for Stor- age Depot Jay Hoger.  “The week before the auction starts is a great spot in the timeline to take the additional photos and upload them to the auction site because there are a lot of tenants who pay between lock cut and auction. Therefore, the closer you wait to the auction date to take the photos, the fewer units you will need to photograph.” Uploading the photos to the site a week before the auction is supposed to start will give prospective bidders the opportunity to preview the unit.

Double check… no… triple check that the photos match the unit you are listing. You don’t want to have an upset buyer come in and pay for a unit and then open the door to find out it does not contain the items pictured. Nor do you want to have to pull a unit from auction because you didn’t upload the photos or forgot to schedule a unit online for the auction.

When the auction ends, the auction site will notify you as well as the highest bidder with all of the pertinent information on the sale.

We have found it is best to wait until the buyer comes in to pay before closing out the sale. There is the occasional no-show and most of the auction sites will give you the second-place bidder’s information, so you can contact them to purchase the unit. However, TSSA legal counsel  Connie Heyer’s opinion is that the bidder is not required to pay at the facility—they  can simply pay online. It is important for your auction rules to list all terms, including what will happen if the original bidder defaults on the sale. It is also important that the online auction site rules don’t conflict with your facility’s auction rules.

There are pros and cons with online auctions and a lot to consider when you are switching to a new procedure. As self-storage advances into the technological age, are you ready to advance with it by making the transition to online auctions?

Sarah Cole joined Storage Depot seven years ago as the audit manager. In addition to overseeing the audit process for the entire organization (32 stores and growing), she provides support to the management team regarding auctions, process improvements and general day-to-day operations. Sarah is also a degreed paralegal.