Property: If you pack up your home

...where do you put it? Penny Jackson advises
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The Independent Online
At this time of year, storage companies are used to getting calls from customers desperate to get their hands on winter coats that were packed away in April. Many of them are renting while house hunting:temporary measures that can becomedepressingly permanent.

The options for anyone who has sold a home and not yet bought are limited. Friends and families are not likely to be able to store more than a few boxes and, even if they are willing to clear part of an attic or cellar, their generosity is likely to turn a little sour when the months creep into a year and more. One family who took an optimistic view of their chances of finding the right house are now approaching their second Christmas in a rented house, with their possessions scattered between four lots of family and friends. They live in the chaos of the dispossessed, wandering from attic to attic, carrier bags in hand.

It need not, of course, be this tortuous. The lucky few may even be able to rent an unfurnished house. But for the majority in this situation a storage company is the best answer. There are three main alternatives: conventional storage, where a removal company will stow belongings in divided spaces within a secure warehouse; container storage, in which house contents are put straight into a container that is loaded on to a lorry, sealed and then stored; and self-storage, a secure room at a storage centre, accessible only to the key holder.

Instant access is possible only with self-storage. Abbey Self-Storage, with 13 sites in the UK, gives customers a key pad and a PIN number which secures entry and exit. The time in and out is logged. As the name suggests, people moving from a small flat can undertake the job themselves, whereas removal companies will do the stacking and stowing for those with more belongings. It's also a good place to garage the weekend Porsche - not uncommon, says Abbey.

Removal and storage companies in the south east, in particular, have seen a growing number of families caught between houses. Anthony Ward- Thomas knows this both from the growth of his container business, and from a frustrating personal stalemate. He runs Ward-Thomas Removals from south-west London, and has his own possessions in store. "We've been looking for a house for a couple of years. A bit extreme, perhaps, but its amazing how long people do keep their things in storage. We keep stuff here for anything from a week, when they may be decorating, to five years if they go abroad."

He is not complaining; but as a nation we would do well to adopt a more throw-away attitude. "A lot of people, when reunited with their belongings, take one look at the load of tat they have been storing and wonder why they have been paying for it," says Mr Ward-Thomas. Little about moving is stress-free, he finds, least of all when divorce is involved. "We had one warring couple with `his' and `hers' containers. The store manager was moving stuff between the two, until they agreed to disagree and put it in a neutral container. They started off with five, and now have seven half-empty."

Normally, the company has no need to open a container once the goods are put into store. An inventory is made before the items are locked in, and nothing is touched until it is delivered to a new house, unless the customer wants to get it out of storage. Advance warning, and a small charge, are necessary for that.

"We had a desperate call from a girl who needed her passport at once. She was so apologetic, we found it for her in a couple of hours. But anyone who demands such a service will normally find themselves waiting much longer."

The all-important matter of insurance is something that people should look at closely, however secure the storage centre. Valuable pieces should be itemised as if they were in a home. If a removal company offers a poIicy, it is worth checking with an underwriter whether the cover is adequate. Neville Moody of the family business, Moody's Removals in Salisbury, which runs a conventional storage warehouse divided into spaces, sells policies from an independent insurance company. The same cover is in force from the moment packing starts, through storage, to delivery and unpacking. And those trying to save on storage altogether could be taking a costly insurance risk.

Tim Garne, of Hamptons in Alton, says that a good number of people are looking to rent a house with a double garage for storage. According to Eagle Star this could prove an unacceptable risk. Tell your insurance company what you are planning, is the message. Otherwise the new house could be looking horribly empty.

What it would cost to store the contents of a three-bedroom house: Abbey (0800 622244) quotes pounds 148-pounds 195 a month (no VAT). Ward-Thomas Removals (0171-498 0144) estimates that three or four containers would be needed, costing pounds 120-pounds 170 a month plus VAT. Moody's Removals, Salisbury (01722 743313) quotes pounds 30 or so a week, plus VAT and insurance. The British Association of Removers (0181-861 3331) will name three recommended companies

within an area.

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