I collect coins, so I go to traditional antique-style auctions all the time.
After watching American programmes like “Storage Wars” and “Storage Hunters” I wondered – are there storage auctions in the UK, too?
Turns out that yes, there are storage auctions in the UK – you just have to know where to look!
Some specialise in the entire contents of shipping containers, and others are just regular auctions that are abandoned self-storage that people have “done a runner” from and never paid for. Most sell for really small amounts, like £1. Others (especially if they’re full) go for hundreds.
I’ve put together this list of all the British storage auction companies I’ve found, where their storage facilities are, and a link to where you can bid. But first, there’s some important info you need to know if you’re a wannabe storage hunter like me.
What You Need to Know When Bidding with a UK Storage Auction House
I’ve bid once or twice on these auctions and this is what I’ve learned:
1. There Are Additional Fees
If you’ve never bid at auction before, bear in mind that all auctions usually have a buyer’s premium – it’s how the auction house makes their money. The premium is a percentage you pay on top of your bid amount. This can range from 10% to 25% and sometimes has VAT on top of that, so always read the auction terms and conditions carefully to add up how much your bid will really be.
Also, you need to know that storage companies often charge a “cleaning deposit”. From looking at existing auctions this seems to be around the £100 mark.
When you win the storage auction, this will be held on your card. You get it back when you FULLY empty the storage unit.
If you leave anything in the unit for the storage company to throw away, they might keep your cleaning deposit. This is to stop people “cherry-picking” the valuable items and leaving the junk behind!
2. The Contents Usually Aren’t Valuable – But There Are Gems
My daughter (who also writes for this site) used to work in TV, and when she told me that the American TV shows like “Storage Hunters” were almost all faked (and ‘set dressed’ with nice things in the storage) it ruined it a bit for me!
Don’t expect to find abandoned suitcases full of cash, pallets of Macbooks and all the rest of it. There’s a reason people have abandoned their storage – usually because whatever they left in there wasn’t worth paying the bill for.
The other common items you see are things that are a pain to move, like exercise equipment, washing machines or large bits of furniture. You can get things like this cheap if that’s what you’re after.
However, there have been gems. A friend of mine used to mock a young lad who always bid for what looked like rubbish – bin bags full of old clothes or jigsaws. One day the contents included what looked like old, out-of-date video games – but they turned out to be rare 1980s ones that collectors were paying hundreds for. They didn’t laugh any more!
I’ve also seen storage units full of designer shoes, or signed sports memorabilia. I have no clue about either of these markets so I didn’t bid, but for someone, these were huge bargains.
Basically what I’m saying is don’t get your hopes up, bid on what you know about, and don’t pay over the odds for something you can’t see!
3. Be Prepared if you Win
Some people bid online and then are surprised when they win… and they’re not ready to go to “their” unit, which might be across the country. Be serious if you’re bidding at storage auctions, and:
– Look at the time you’re given to come and clear it out. It’s usually not that long, like 72 hours
– It becomes “your” unit when you win – so bring a padlock! You’d be amazed how many people forget this. The existing padlock will have been removed in order to auction it, of course.
-Sort out transport and boxes. Some units are deceptively big and there are LOTS of things in them. You’ll need to move the whole lot to get your cleaning deposit back (mentioned above).
4. Some Items Have to Be Returned to the Owner
Some personal items have to be returned to their original owner, if you find them in your storage facility. These items include things like:
- Passports or ID
- Legal documents or certificates
- Tax or company paperwork
- Deeds, wills, etc.
This is pretty sensible and it’s just common sense to have these returned to their rightful owner. The auction house will probably tell you their rules, or it will be written in their terms and conditions.
Storage Unit Companies That Hold Online Auctions in the UK
Proper storage auctions are few and far between, but there are some. Here are the ones I found:
Probably the site with the most active online storage auctions at any one time. Bidding starts at £1 and they have locations all around the UK including Bristol, Derby, Buckinghamshire, London, Devon, Sussex, Hampshire and Worcestershire. Click here to see their current auctions.
It sounds obvious but lots of companies who used to run their own auctions now just do it on eBay because it’s easier for them to manage bidders and listings that way. Click here to see which companies are auctioning storage units on eBay.
They have a private “mailing list” that you can ask to join. They say there are over 1000 people on that list, so it must be popular. Then you’ll get an actual email from them when they’re auctioning off a storage unit, and you can place a bid directly with them. Here’s their page where you can sign up. Their locations are mostly in and around London and Birmingham.
The UK Storage Company Ltd
They have written an interesting article about some of the background on storage auctions. They say they “very occasionally” have ones auctioned, usually because the person has stopped paying or has moved back abroad. Interestingly they reckon that they have never made enough money back to cover the cost of the owed rent!
They use Ebay to auction their abandoned units. Visit their site here.
Storage Giant used to post about their auctions on Facebook but haven’t in a while, and I’m not sure they’re still doing them. Best to call them and ask. They operate mostly around the South West and Wales area.
this is probably one of the best ways to get “first dibs” on storage, and that’s to ask your nearest self-storage place. These days they’re in most towns and cities. This would be a good way to fend off the competition, because if it’s an online auction, everyone can bid – but if it’s just in your town, you’ll have a smaller pool of competing bidders!
In conclusion, do some research before you start looking, and don’t just assume that everything has value. Remember, if you end up winning anything, make sure you sort out getting it moved from wherever it was stored. But most of all – have fun! That’s what it’s really all about, for me anyway!