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Q Should auctioneers apply storage charges when an item is not collected within the set timeframe?

MAYBE

James Lewis, managing director, Bamfords Auctioneers

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James Lewis, Bamfords: "The issue for auctioneers is if bulky or fragile objects are left uncollected for too long"

“We have storage charges in our terms and conditions but our rule of thumb is we would recoup charges – which are then donated to charity – only if the buyer is acting unreasonably.

These days you have to be far more flexible about storage because people are bidding from greater distances. Bamfords sells 60% of its lots via the internet now.

The complexities for auctioneers arise when fragile or bulky objects are left for a while. If heavy items are collected late, it’s a lot of work to fetch them out of storage.

And everything in storage needs to be insured and protected. What happens when a fragile object is left with us for say, two years, and the buyer notices a crack in it when they finally collect. Was it damaged before the sale or during storage?

Objects left with us beyond the time limit tend to belong to dealers who, because of travel economics, wait to do a round trip to collect from us and other auction houses in the county. Because business is so tight for them, we try and be as flexible as possible.

We’re not saying ‘use us as a storage facility’ but if a dealer’s van has broken down or they’re ill, we’re happy to wait for collection when they make their next purchase if they let us know.

But again, it’s the ‘reasonable’ test. A buyer of a long case clock turned up seven years after the sale to collect it. We asked him for a £100 donation to charity in lieu of storage charges and he refused. The clock is still with us, I believe.

NO

Nick Bowkett, head auctioneer, Stroud Auctions, Gloucester

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Nick Bowkett, Stroud Auctions: "If you're selling at a distance, then you have to be flexible about storage charges"

Stroud Auctions actually doesn’t get many storage issues as we post in-house and our courier is very reasonable.

We rarely charge people for storage if they communicate with us about their items. It is about customer service and we will always do what we can to help.

The key to the process is communication. If the buyer explains their situation, then we can work with them. We would only consider charging if the buyer doesn’t make contact with us or if they are rude to our staff. We are stricter with trade buyers than private, and we offer them the courier option.

Our longer term aim, when we move to new premises next year, is to provide storage space that can be rented at a nominal fee.

I don’t think the location or the size of your auction house should affect your stance on storage. If you are selling at a distance then you have to be flexible. You have to adapt to the customer, particularly if you have a very high rate of selling online.

“ We rarely charge people for storage if they communicate with us. It is about customer service