Tips for a Successful Household Move

Moving is not an easy task! Here's some advice from Mom.

Estimator

A few weeks before the moving crew loads your household goods into the moving van, an estimator will come to your residence to survey what you have, how much of what kind of stuff there is, and what the total weight probably is. The move cost is calculated per pound per mile (other things, such as pianos, have an extra fee which is assessed in addition to its weight and miles traveled).

Walk around with the estimator. Point out delicate things, items which will not be moved, and so on.

As noted, some things cost extra. Ask the estimator which items will have an extra fee. Your employer should pay these extra fees, too, but it's good to check on this in advance with your [new] company to confirm they will cover all fees. (Move costs, including meals and motel accommodations if your goods are delayed, should be part of your salary negotiations before taking the job.)

This is the time to tell the estimator you want only your possessions in the van. ("This won't be a problem, will it? I've had problems with this before and lost some of my things when they were left at someone else's new house.") If you share van space with another household, you are likely to have some of your things left at someone else's new residence or vice versa. As the estimator leaves, remind him again that you want only your things in the van. He may squawk, but insist: "This is really important to me. Can you arrange it?" If the estimator admits he doesn't have authority for this decision, find out who does and contact that person, working your way up the authority tree until you find the person who does have authority.

If you have 100 boxes total plus a little bit of furniture, you may decide it will be ok to put your stuff on a mixed truck. If you ok a mixed van, just keep track of everything carefully as it's packed, loaded, and unloaded. More below.

Ask about insurance. State law mandates what the minimum payout will be if the shipment is lost entirely. Usually this is stated as a dollar amount per pound.

Find out whether and by how much the company increases the coverage. You may want additional insurance if you have many expensive things (lots of china and crystal) that don't weigh much. Sometimes your company will cover this added cost; make arrangements. If not, it's a worthwhile thing for you to buy separately. Check with your insurance agent to see what may be covered already by your homeowner's/renter's policy.

Also find out how often the moving company has had to pay for total loss of goods; the state commission should be able to give you this information - - the moving company won't!

Finally, ask the estimator for a "firm written quote." If he shies away from this, *run* to the phone and call another company.

Inventorying Damage Prior to the Move

Another day, someone will inventory your household and look at all your furniture, noting its condition. Ostensibly this is so they know which dings they put in during the move so they can reimburse you for damage repair and loss, but actually it's so they can pay as little as possible for damage claims.

Go around with the guy and ask him to point out each thing he's writing down. Ask him to tell you what the code is that he is using (companies each have different ones). Watch what he is writing down as he points to it and calls it out to you. Contest wherever necessary (this is likely to be often). When the guy knows you are on top of things, he'll be less apt to "stretch the truth."

Insist that dings already there be noted as they really are, not exaggerated or added. Remember that he's doing CYA, and you are the "adversary." Claims for very small amounts net the driver and crew bonuses.

Make sure you have a legible copy of the report. Don't lose it, or it's your word against theirs. (Keep all your move-related paperwork in a closeable file and take it with you in the car. More below.)

Rather than the estimator, it may be the driver who does this inventory on the day of the move. Each company does things a little differently. Make sure there is enough time to do this walk-through accurately. Don't be rushed.

If you are paying for the move yourself, get several estimates. Don't bother with any company that won't send an estimator out to your home at no charge but prefers to make a guess on the phone or will charge you a fee for the estimate. (You know how many pianos you have, but how do you know what your goods weigh?)

As in most everything else, you get what you pay for. A national company will have more incentive to do an acceptable job and to see your post-move wrongs righted because it has a national reputation to guard.

Ask for references from people who have moved into your present town (not the town where you're going). Call them and ask specific questions, not "Were you pleased?" Examples: Were the packers on time? Did they leave a mess? How much breakage of ___ (china, glassware) was there? How much loss, what kind of items, and what kind of damage? How easy was it to get replacement and repair? Did you purchase extra insurance? And so on.

Pre-Move Work

Before the packers come, identify your delicate things. I have an antique porcelain statue in which the man has one finger sticking up. This is a prime target for breakage, so I take bubble wrap and do his hand myself. Then I wrap all of him in more bubble wrap and put him in a sturdy box. Doing a little pre-packing to protect things the crew is likely to do carelessly will reduce damage. (Remember that this is not their stuff! They won't be devastated if your grandmother's porcelain vase collection is shattered.)

Go through your filing cabinet drawers and weed out things you don't need. Also, go through your clothing, kitchenware, and other items to see if there are things you can donate to charity to lighten your move. If you are paying for the move yourself, you will be especially motivated to move as little as possible.

Not only will you reduce weight, but you'll reduce things that must be "handled" at the other end.

Gather immediate-use items and set them aside so you can direct these put in separate boxes. Make sure these boxes go on last so they come off the truck first. Write "immediate use" or "first off" or something on these boxes (all 6 surfaces) in large colored letters so they're easy to identify.

Boxes:

The company will not move matches, fireworks, paint and other flammables. Probably they won't take insecticides and other garden chemicals. As about aerosol containers.

Make arrangements now for removal of these toxics. Don't wait. You may need an "appointment" at the toxic recycling site.

Note: If you have opened cans of wall/trim paint, it's a good idea to leave it for the new tenants so they can cover up any little dings. If you haven't done so already, label each can ("Bathroom trim"). Leave left-over wallpapers, too.

Find out if there are any other restricted items, such as firearms. If there are, make provision to move these items another way.

Pack what you can to reduce costs (unless your employer is paying for it and you don't want to go to this trouble since you don't need to).

Things like books, linen, and clothing are perfectly safe if you do them.

These boxes will be noted as "PBO", which means "packed by owner." Any PBO boxes are not covered on the move insurance and therefore are not candidates for loss claims.

Even if you don't have to pack some things in advance, you may wish to, anyway, because you can control exactly what's in the box. The moving company should furnish the boxes and paper. ("Will you furnish boxes and paper if I pack some of my things ahead of time to reduce work for the crew?" - or - "Please drop off boxes and paper next week. I'd like to pack some of my things to reduce work for the crew." This second approach assumes this is a matter of course, and, obviously, they will say yes! The first one is a request, and you might have to hassle to get what you want.)

Packing

If you have a "heavy" move, the packing team will pack you before the van comes. The estimator will be able to tell you whether this is the case with your stuff; and how many days it will take to pack you.

If you have a small move, packing and loading the van may happen the same day.

On the day of the move, the driver (or his right-hand crew member) will put numbered identification stickers on your furniture. Go around with the guy as he does this. The stickers should go on the -underside- of the furniture. Make sure no numbers are skipped. (I usually volunteer to dole out the stickers so I can oversee this.) Make sure each item has a number. For example, a child's desk and chair should have two numbers. Otherwise, you can't prove there really -was- a chair, should it be lost.

As the stickers go on, whatever it is will be noted on the loading manifest. (You'll get a copy.) Item #245 is a "books from the study," for example.

Using an extra-wide marker, as each carton is sealed, label each carton with the room from which it came ("kitchen" or "laundry room") and possibly the contents ("pots and pans"). This will help at the other end. Sometimes the packers will label the cartons.

Some things need a bit of extra attention.

Put table leaves inside a "wardrobe" (clothing) carton. Wrap each one with your own blankets. Make sure the padding is on the ends of the leaves, as well as the sides; place a pillow in the bottom of the wardrobe before the leaves are slipped in. Add bath towels and more pillows if you need more padding.

If there are small items you fear may be lost, you may want to pre-pack them in bubble wrap. The packers will wrap it again in paper. Another way to treat small items is to pre-pack them in a small box. The packers will place the box in the carton.

If there are PBO cartons that you want on top of the heap (for me, that's boxes of delicate Christmas tree ornaments), write on the box "no top weight" and then bring this to the driver's attention. You'll still have to ride herd on it, but notifying another person helps a little.

If the lampshades are nested, make sure the "harp" is removed and wrapped separately. Otherwise, the harp may puncture the shade. (The harp is the omega-shaped metal piece that supports the lampshade.) Lampshades should be loaded on the truck last, with no top weight.

Framed pictures should be packed in boxes if they'll fit. Don't let the packers tape them together (the finish on the frame will come right off with the tape!).

Plates should be packed on edge. The packers will pack several of them in a "packet," placing paper between each one and then folding the group into a packet.

Glassware should be packed rim-down or rim-up, not on its side. Insist on cartons with "divided" sections for your good crystal. (These boxes are like the ones liquor comes in and give your crystal additional protection.)

Specify to the packing team, before they start in your "glassware" department that you want them to use "plenty of paper." Stingy use of paper means less protective padding. Often women pack the dining room and kitchen, so they already will know that your dishes are important!

Books are supposed to be packed on edge, but it probably won't matter unless you have antique volumes.

It's your choice whether you ship your dresser drawers full. The packers probably will "recommend" this because it means less work for them. I prefer to have dressers shipped empty because it's so easy for drawers to slide open.

I do have my filing cabinets shipped full, however. This is not the first choice of the crew because the cabinets are heavy, but the drawers "lock" shut pretty well (without being actually locked). I think moving full filing drawers is better than re-filing everything at the other end. If I'm paying for the move, I'm going to have it done to my specifications, even if it's not as easy as the crew would like or takes more time.

In fact, this is a good attitude to take for the entire move. You're (or your company is) paying. Have it done your way. Don't let them take shortcuts. It's YOUR stuff! Be polite but firm.

Loading the Van

Keep track of your possessions as they are loaded. Check off each carton and piece of furniture on your copy of the manifest. (You'll do the same thing at the other end.)

Each piece of furniture should be wrapped in one or more quilted blankets.

Take a look at them and see if they look old and thin. Yes? Ask the driver for a "double wrap." He already knows the quilts are worn and shouldn't fuss at doing this. Do this early on, in case the driver needs to send someone backa to the warehouse. Another way to handle it is to tell the person doing the inventory before the move that you'll "need extra quilted blankets," as "they sometimes are worn and are pretty thin. I want to have plenty of padding around my furniture."

Watch as special pieces of furniture are loaded. If the crew knows you're watching them with the antique cabinet, they'll take extra care because you'll be able to identify which person it was who whacked the edge against the truck door. (That person will not be happy to be reprimanded or penalized for generating damage claims.)

Don't let "odds and ends" be tossed on the truck without being in a carton and properly labeled. Even if it's two books, insist they be put in a carton. Don't let the crew wedge them between two boxes with "they'll be just fine right here." They may be fine, but they'll also be lost! The crew may grumble, but pay them no mind. ("On my last move, some family photos were put into a diaper bag, and the bag was put into the van loose. It was lost, so I don't like things to be shipped without being in a carton.")

Make sure you know the driver's name and the truck ID number as well as the license plate number. This probably will be on the paperwork, but check. You'll also want the phone number and contact name of the moving company in case you need to communicate en route. You also might ask the driver for his cell phone number, but don't count on getting it (company policy that all communication goes through them). Worth a try, though!

Know when your shipment should arrive at your new residence.

Before the van leaves, go through each room of your home, including attic and basement. Have a tall person (you?) look in every cabinet in case something was overlooked. (This is what the odds and ends box is for.)

Before you lock up, you'll need to clean your old place thoroughly or whatever arrangement you've made with the landlord. If you're the owner, leaving a clean house for your buyers is a courtesy. You hope you'll find the same at the other end, but, if you're like most people, you'll give it a good scrub-down yourself, no matter whether they left it clean for you!

Another thing I do for my buyers is to leave all the appliance warranties, user's manuals, etc. out on the kitchen counter. I also write a note wishing the new family years of happiness in the house, as my family had there. If the weather is ok, and I know they'll be arriving in a day or so (and I can get my act together!), I'll buy a little easy-to-grow houseplant and leave it on the kitchen counter, too.

Child Care

You have been shaking your head abaout how you are going to be several places at once keeping track of packing, loading, inventory, etc. What are you going to do with the kids underfoot?

You aren't. You're going to hire childcare; off-site is best.

You might want to "bank" some childcare exchanging with a neighbor so you'll end up with a day's equivalent, and your neighbor can take your kids all day.

Another option is a drop-in daycare center. In this case, scope it out ahead of time and call references. "Practice" leaving your kids there so they're not suddenly thrust into a new environment!

If you're lucky, you have local or nearby family who can watch the kids.

What about at the other end? It might be well worth the extra expense to have Auntie make the drive with you so she'll be a familiar face at the other end to take the kids to explore their new parks! (Fly her back home as soon as it's feasible. She'll appreciate getting back to her normal life. If it's Grandma instead of Auntie, she might want to stay longer! So much the better for you to clean, paint, unpack, and arrange.)

Don't leave making arrangements for your kids to the last minute!

Pet Care

If you have a dog, put him in a crate to keep him safe and out of the way. No, a crate is not a "cage," as it appears to us humans. Dogs are den animals, and the crate is a cozy and safe place.

If you have cats, you're on your own. I am not a cat person and have no idea how to keep a cat corraled!

In-the-Car Items

Identify which items you'll carry with you in the car. (Cars can be moved, too. When I had an MG, they drove it right into the van! Large cars will be moved by rail on a flatbed car.)

In-car items will be important paperwork you can't afford to lose and which cannot be replaced or replaced only with great agony.

These are things such as birth certificates, marriage certificates/divorce papers, wills, medical records, list of family contact numbers, and so on. You may or may not want to put college transcripts in your box. If there's room, I'd say put them in.

I have a plastic "file box" with a handle that I bought at Target. That's my "move box." I keep my important papers in it all the time, so it's very easy to put it in the car; plus I know where all these papers are between moves. Something like this might be helpful to you.

Another thing you might want to take in the car would be good jewelry, sterling flatware, and so on. Each night, at the motel, bring it all in. Place your jewelry in the motel safe. If you have insurance that will completely replace lost sterling, let the company move it. Carry the jewelry, though.

Each child should have an "activity box" or tote bag. Depending on the age of the child, he can make it himself or you can do it for him. Crayons (no markers!), coloring book, card games, books, gum, long-eating candies (Skittles, Jolly Ranchers, jelly beans, etc.) or raisins, etc. are all good. If you include hand-held video games, be sure there's an earphone or you'll go nuts. A nice way to "soften" the move for children and make the physical trip to your new hometown an adventure is to go shopping together for things to put in the activity box.

Of course, you'll want maps. A good flashlight, first-aid kit, jumper cables, and things like this are also good planning.

If you have a pet, take food and water bowls, as well as food and a toy or two. Plus any meds your pet needs. Take a jug of water poer day per pet, too. (Save a couple before you move and refill them at the motel to reduce weight.) Take lots of plastic baggies to pick up doggie duties (yes, even at rest stops!).

Take your meds with you in the car. In the move box, put a list of all meds, including dosage, and a list of your medical providers and their phone numbers. You might need to have a pharmacist in a town along the way call your physician to authorize a prescription refill (better to refill them before you leave!).

Unloading

As your items are being unloaded, look for gross damage (such as a long scratch on the headboard of your bed) and note that to the driver (or whoever is supervising the unloading). State that you'll be "looking over" everything "in detail" later, but you "wanted to call attention" to this large problem now. This is a subtle way of telling the driver to watch his crew that they do not inflict more damage. True, things can be repaired, but the repaired item is "never quite right," so it's a better idea to ward off damage. You'll get a better unload if you indicate that you intend to get equitable compensation for damage and loss of your goods.

Unpacking

The company will unpack for you if you'd like. I let them place furniture, but I unpack my own china, crystal, etc. I've had packers break things during unpacking! I also unpack my books myself so I can put them where they will live. If the company unpacks, they'll just stack them on the floor or put them in the bookshelves randomly. Anything that needs to be "organized" before it's put away (linen, spices, etc.) I do myself. Yes, moving is definitely physical labor, even if you're not heaving boxes around! Prepare to sleep like a rock!

Another benefit of doing it yourself is that you can open up each piece of packing paper entirely. If the crew unpacks for you, they might miss some small things that have been nested inside other things.

Ask of there is an extra charge to pick up packing materials after the van crew leaves your new residence. Often there is. Find out. I have had good luck getting a no-charge pick up when I point out that I am letting the crew off early when I take care of most of the unpacking.

When day-is-done-gone-the-sun, the driver will present you with paperwork that indicates your stuff has arrived in a condition that is to your satisfaction. Do not let anyone else (friend, child, etc.) sign this paper for you! When you sign, write in a notation that everything is satisfactory "pending undiscovered damage or loss."

Post-Move Damage Survey

As I mentioned, when the truck arrives at your new home, on your copy of the manifest/damage report, note new damage.

The next day, carefully survey all your furniture. Where are the new damages? (Be sure to check both sides of your sofa cushions and mattresses!) Note them on your paperwork.

After everything is unpacked (don't dawdle!) by you and/or the packers, call for an adjustor to come out to examine the damages to begin the repair and reimbursement processes. Know where new damage is and what's missing before the adjustor arrives. If you are not prepared, you will be flustered and therefore easily "cozened" into agreeing that damage x was the dreaded "prior damage".

Contest everything that's out of line. Otherwise, the moving company won't pay as it should.

I've moved 27 times, and I speak from experience. Some adjustors are fair, but most, alas, want to minimize damage the company will be liable for.

Repairs

Don't dawdle in starting this ball rolling. Although you won't feel like this mountain of tedious paperwork right after this exhausting ordeal, do it anyway. There is a statute of limitations that determines when the company is no longer required to pay for replacement and repair. (Ask me how I found this out.)

Sometimes you arrange for the repairs, but most often the company will send out a repair person who's on its Preferred List. (You'll set the actual appointment, of course.) If the repair company is on the Preferred List, you don't pay anything.

If the repair company you use is not on a Preferred List, ask that the company bill the moving company directly. You should arrange this ahead of time when you phone the repair company for the appointment. Don't wait until the repair person arrives; this person may not have authority to authorize this direct pay. Pay as little out of your pocket as possible because reimbursement will take quite a while. As a last resort, pay it yourself and file for reimbursement immediately.

Make sure the job is done well. Make sure the contract on which you sign off has a notation that you can contest poor workmanship within __ days. (Normally, repair companies will do a good job for you because they want to stay on the company's Preferred List.)

If you are not satisfied with the repairs, contact the repair company and speak to the top dog. If you get no satisfaction, promptly write a letter to the moving company to the effect that you will be notifying the state regulatory commission of your dissatisfaction unless proper repairs are made within __ days (10 is good). If there is no joy, write the commission with a copy to the company. Do not telephone. Do it in writing.

Don't be unreasonable or dishonest, but don't be a patsy. Remember you're the "adversary," and the moving company wants to preserve its assets, not pay you restitution.

As before, be polite but firm. If you reveal yourself to be a push-over or a novice, they'll take horrendous advantage. In fact, under the guise of "learning" how repairs are made, you can watch the process and "ask questions" when something catches your eye as not quite right. ("Thanks so much! I am learning a great deal from you!")

Don't hesitate to go to the state consumer protection commission. And tell the company that you will do so if they don't pony up with the repairs as they should be done.

As to replacement, make sure the moving company is paying for replacement, not depreciated replacement (per your insurance coverage). Don't back down when told something is not damaged [enough] to be replaced. I once had an adjustor tell me that a mattress folded in half was not damaged! "Well, ok, it's damaged, but we'll pay only at a depreciated rate." I don't think so!! I got my new mattress and box springs.

Quick Cleaning Your New Home

If your new home has housed a pet, set off flea bombs before the movers arrive with your stuff. (Find out about pets in advance so you can pack bombs.) If the company will not move aerosols, stop at the grocery store and buy what you need. You will be most unhappy if you walk into your new home and suddenly find your ankles covered with enthusiastic fleas!

If possible, do any painting and carpet cleaning.

Wash out all cabinets before installing shelf paper. Scour toilets, bathtub, and sinks. You'll want to clean the rest of the kitchen and bathroom, but this is the bare minimum so you know the basics are clean and ready for your family. (You might want to buy bleach once you hit town, too.)

You may want to take some scouring powder, a sponge, paper towels, and an all-purpose cleaner with you in the car (in addition to your "first off" box of cleaning supplies. Or buy these items there. Any cleaning you can do before your home is "full" will be effort well spent.

If you won't have time to clean before the van arrives, grab your "cleaning supplies" box and do what you can.

Claims and Deductions

Keep your receipts from your travel from your old home town to your new one! (Put them right in your box of birth certificates, etc.)

Check with your accountant about which out-of-pocket expenses are deductible if your company does not reimburse you. There also may be limitations on deductions governed by how far away from your previous residence your new residence is.

After the move, keep all your paperwork together. Throw away duplicates and other non-essential items, but keep the manifests and other important pieces. Make notes that will help you next time.

If you have special furniture that requires a certain kind of carton, make a note of that. For example, I know that my harpsichord fits inside a single mattress box. I pad it all around and they put it in the carton. This increases the likelihood that it will not be dinged, whereas furniture just wrapped has a greater chance of this.

A move is not an easy experience. Judging from the number and variety of things that must be overseen, it will be very useful if your spouse (or dear, dear, dear friend!) helps! Have a "game plan" so each of you knows which aspects each one of you will keep an eye on.

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marbeth@marthabeth.com