Least stressful, most cost-effective way to move cross country?
January 3, 2014 11:29 AM   Subscribe

I currently live in in Pennsylvania and I just got a job in California. My new office wants me to start in the next couple weeks -- and I do too -- but I am really nervous/stressed out about finding an apartment and moving cross country.

I don't actually need any advice on moving my stuff or any of that. It's the logistics of finding a place to live while I am across the country.

My original plan was to fly there with all my clothes/toiletries about a week and a half before my start date, and stay in a hotel or something while I look for an apartment and then move into my new apartment. I am nervous about finding a place to move into right away, and I am worried I could end up needing to stay somewhere for weeks and not be settled even as I start my new job. I also don't want to ask my office for a ton of money to cover temporary housing, but by just going out there, I run the risk that it will be a long-term stay and get pricey. In negotiating it with them, they mentioned a hostile where I'd share with other people (umm... no, I'm a professional and a manager, I am not doing that) and they seemed to think it was expensive at $800 for two weeks. This is a non-profit, so I get it, but still.

The other option would be to fly there ASAP, spend a few days looking at places and sign a lease, and then come home and return later with all my stuff when the lease starts, knowing I have somewhere to go. That seems like it could delay the move a bit and add a lot of flying, which I am not a fan of (nervous flyer). It also seems to be more expensive up front, whereas the first option has only the risk of becoming expensive.

What is the best way to do this? I feel like I need to physically see an apartment before I would be comfortable signing a lease. But I don't want to be stuck there without a place to call home. I feel overwhelmed and like my new employer is kind of leaving me to sort this all out of my own. I wonder if I should push back my start date to Feb 1 because I have no clue how to make this happen. What do you think?

For the record, I've done moves all kinds of ways. For one job I secured an apartment first and came back (which turned out well, but finding an apartment was easy). For another I looked for one while I was there (and finding an apartment was hard and I was unhappy with the place I chose). For one I subletted off craigslist sight unseen (and I loved it because it was nice and furnished). But I've never moved this far away.

Key details:
-I do not need to move any big stuff (beds, large appliances, etc.)
-My office will reimburse up to $2500 for relocation, including flying there for the move and shipping stuff to myself, which is how I plan to use that $2500
-My office won't reimburse or provide housing when I first get there, but will offer me a "bonus" of cash to cover it
-Their relocation stipend doesn't cover apartment search activities, like flying there and back or a hotel to apartment hunt, but I could ask since they offered to compromise on the "bonus" check for housing
-I won't have a car in California, unless I rent it. I will be working downtown, but it's a small city and I think I will eventually need a car. For furnishing my apartment, I will definitely need to rent a car until I can buy one.
-Extended Stay-type places or long-term hotel places are not close enough to my office without a car. A car rental would be necessary and it would probably negate the savings of doing that.
-I am supposed to start in about 2 and a half weeks but still negotiating final terms.
posted by peachpie to Work & Money (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It might help to specify what city in CA you'll be moving to. There are some parts where it is nearly impossible to get an apartment without going in person because the landlord will need to meet you in order to want to choose you as a tenant.

I would strongly recommend you fly out there for a weekend and really hit the pavement visiting a bunch of apartments with the expectation that you WILL sign a lease before you return to PA. I did this when I was first planning my move to Seattle and I signed a lease on the 3rd place I saw. It wasn't the best but it was good enough (clean, safe, basically enough room) and then I upgraded to a nicer place once my first year was up.

Yes, flying out for a weekend is going to cost extra money but in the long run it is a LOT more safe and cost-effective than trying to rent a place sight-unseen that might end up being a sleazy, smelly, rathole.
posted by joan_holloway at 11:38 AM on January 3, 2014

Are you comfortable posting where you'll be moving? The resources for finding a place in (say) Santa Barbara or Bakersfield are likely to be a lot different from finding a place in San Francisco or Los Angeles.
posted by scody at 11:38 AM on January 3, 2014

Where in California? That's going to depend on a lot.

If a major city, I would say sublet something via Craigslist for the first two weeks so that you have a stable place to lay your head while you get everything settled. Also, that way you can be looking to move into an apartment on at the end of the month rather than the beginning of the month. It will also be a lot cheaper than two weeks in a hotel.

AirBnB might also be a good resource for this.

If the town is too small for either of those options, why don't you just decide on renting a car in the short term until you can buy one? I don't why you're quibbling about the car thing if it's a small enough/sprawly enough place that there isn't an extended stay hotel in walking distance to work. It seems to me like a car is just going to be part of the equation, period. I mean, how are you going to navigate getting to anything else that isn't in the walkable downtown type area?

In my experience living in California (SoCal), even if you are in a "walkable" area, that doesn't mean you can do EVERYTHING without a car.
posted by Sara C. at 11:39 AM on January 3, 2014

I would ask the new company if there were anybody, maybe someone on the team you're going to work with, who you could talk to about neighborhoods and whatnot, to help you focus the pounding-the-pavement part.
posted by colin_l at 11:39 AM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have done this on a smaller scale in the past (not moving as far away). I had to finish at one job on a Friday and start the next in a different state on a Monday, so there was no option of going out early to look for a place. I decided to stay in a hotel, but I shopped around. I paid for most of it thru Priceline, but now, I would definitely shop on AirBnB first. In the end, I lived in the hotel for 4 weeks at an average of ~$75 per night (some nights were more expensive). I felt I could afford to be fussy about my next move, based on this price, so a month might be a little long for you.

I would defer to others with specific info about the area you're moving to, but do a little investigation and the extended hotel thing might work ok. FWIW, it was really nice to have housekeeping and go out to eat a lot during the beginning of my new position....
posted by Tandem Affinity at 11:52 AM on January 3, 2014

I've done four pretty big moves: once intrastate, once cross-country, and twice internationally. In the first case I went out ahead of time overnight and set up a bunch of apartment viewings and signed a lease before moving out; in the cross-country move and one international move I stayed in short term accommodations for a few weeks while I looked and signed a lease; in the other international move I hired someone to line up a place for me before I moved.

Each one worked well, but going out ahead of time and finding a place was by far the cheapest (of course, that just meant driving to Pittsburgh from eastern PA and staying over one night, not flying to California and renting a car, etc.).

One thing that factored into my process was how soon I could move into a place that I signed a lease for. In each case the lease started on the 1st of a month, so I either had to find short-term accommodations anyway for the interim between moving and being able to move in or eat some of the rent payment (ie, lease the place beginning August 1 and move in on August 20) because I couldn't move right away.

If you need to start your job around mid-January, you'll only be able to avoid this situation if you find somewhere that has an immediate vacancy--not that common in my experience, but maybe possible?

A lot of this depends on how much you know about where you want to live. When I moved to Pittsburgh, I was already familiar with the city and knew which neighborhoods I wanted to live in. It's much tougher to nail down a lease in a weekend if you're starting from scratch in a new area.

All things being equal, I'd deal with the hostel (hostile! :) ) for the latter half of January until I could poke around the area on my own and figure out where I wanted to live.

If the hostel is a non-starter and you will just have a hotel for a few weeks instead, then the cheaper option might be to fly out ahead of time and rent a car for a few days; this option is also riskier if you don't know the neighborhoods--you'll be under such pressure to sign a lease by the end of your weekend that you could find yourself living damn well anywhere.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:01 PM on January 3, 2014

If there are any listings for sublets in your new town on Craig's List, I would suggest looking at those. A shorter term commitment like that will give you some time to get the lay of the land and figure out where you want to put down stakes longer-term.

Those of us living in California could give you better information if we knew where exactly you were moving. "Downtown, small city" could mean a lot of different things, and people might be able to share pointers about specific neighborhoods if we knew your destination.
posted by ambrosia at 12:12 PM on January 3, 2014

It's Sacramento. It's not big and it looks like there are plenty of dumpy/scary parts of town that I don't feel like putting this up to chance. I visited it for my job interview and spent a few days walking around the walkable hours. I didn't get a car so I don't know what it's like outside of those areas.

Honestly, I don't want to pour my energy into finding a non-sketchy sublet when I should actually be trying to find places to live in permanently. It's another layer of stress and another opportunity for something to go wrong. The only option I'd consider is a hotel or something designed for this, but it just seems expensive and I'll be stuck living there without any clue of when I will have my own place to settle into.

They wanted me to start in the next 2.5 weeks, and I do too, but I feel like maybe I just need to ask to start in February so I can fly there and secure an apartment. I don't know. This just seems to be happening quickly with my plan of flying there and staying feeling risky. This is a big move and a new job and I would just like to make this as seamless as I can.
posted by peachpie at 12:24 PM on January 3, 2014

I live in Sacramento! Memail me if you'd like! I'd be happy to provide info re: neighborhoods, etc.

To answer your question, I think your idea of coming here early to sign a lease is the best option. It's an added layer of stress if you need to search for a place to live while starting a new job. Craigslist is the best way to get an apartment here, although they can go quickly.
posted by brynna at 12:28 PM on January 3, 2014

Is there an AirBnB close enough to work that you could stay there for a few weeks? Cheaper than a hotel but less sketchy than a sublet.

If they're being really tight on money maybe they'd be ok giving you an extra couple of days off to do new apartment stuff so that you can start sooner?
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 1:51 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Some parts of Sac are sketchy/scary but other parts are quite good. When I lived in that area it was pretty easy to find a nice apartment in a nice part of town, but that was a couple decades ago so things might have changed. I've done a few big moves and strongly recommend that you go out there ahead of time and push your start date back to Feb. Moving is crazy enough as it is and this will cut down on the stress a lot.
posted by phoenix_rising at 1:53 PM on January 3, 2014

I don't want to live in a place with other people at all, especially while I am growing through moving and a new job and all that. That just will not work. The non-shared AirBnBs are as expensive as a hotel room. Thanks for the suggestion though.

I just really don't want to get stuck living in a crappy limbo situation while I am starting my new job and trying to start off strong in my new role. I want to be able to focus on my new job completely.

I think maybe this is being rushed more quickly than it should be. I verbally agreed to come this month but I think I need to tell them it won't work and we need to do a February start date. Would that be super awful if I told them I need an extra week or two?
posted by peachpie at 3:13 PM on January 3, 2014

Can you fly and arrange to have your important stuff shipped once you've found a place? Box it all up so it's ready to go and have a friend or family member send it to you.

Amtrak and greyhound ship them significantly cheaper than USPS.
posted by zug at 3:37 PM on January 3, 2014

Honestly, I don't want to pour my energy into finding a non-sketchy sublet when I should actually be trying to find places to live in permanently. It's another layer of stress and another opportunity for something to go wrong. The only option I'd consider is a hotel or something designed for this, but it just seems expensive and I'll be stuck living there without any clue of when I will have my own place to settle into.

Bottom line about moving cross country: you have two choices.

You can do it the risk free way, or you can do it the cheap way. You can't have both.

If you want to be 100% sure that you've selected a completely perfect short term option, stay in a hotel. I would personally opt to rent a car and stay in an extended stay type of place, because chances are you will be glad you had access to a car outside of just needing it to commute.

If you want to save a lot of money, do AirBnB or sublet and risk that something could go wrong.
posted by Sara C. at 5:45 PM on January 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

As someone who has made a few major long-distance moves, I totally understand what you're saying about wanting to get settled into something so you can focus on your job. But my experience has been that it's worth it to take the time to sublet something (or spend the money on a hotel) and then look for another apartment. Postponing your start date also sounds like a good idea.
posted by three_red_balloons at 6:03 PM on January 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, here are some more general "how to move across the country to California without a car" pointers:

- Have your things shipped to your office if at all possible. I shipped things the cheapest and slowest possible USPS service. It was unbelievably affordable -- I think I spent maybe $200 sending 10-15 boxes of books, media, and miscellaneous personal/household stuff. Everything arrived in perfect condition.

- For things you need ASAP when you get there, just pay the airline fee for excess baggage. I flew with two checked bags, a carryon, and a "personal item". Best $50 I ever spent.

- Having a car for the first week or so will be a huge help, even if you end up renting a place in walkable area and going car-free in the long term. When I moved to LA, I spent my first few days in Hollywood (totally walkable/close to transit), then found an apartment in Boyle Heights (convenient to a ton of bus routes and the metro). I could have navigated everything without a car just fine. But it was just so EASY to have access to a car. It made settling in much smoother, because I could hop in the car and find anything I needed rather than having to decipher bus schedules and bargain with the gods of "is there a Target close to public transit". Absolutely worth the $100 or so I spent on the rental.
posted by Sara C. at 6:08 PM on January 3, 2014

As far as temporary cars go, Sacramento has Zipcar. Only really useful if you work or live downtown, but that's where I personally would try to move.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:02 AM on January 4, 2014

Do remember that postponing your start date will also result in a loss of income. I think this is going to cost more money than you'd like, so you may as well start working as soon as possible.

Rent a long term stay and a car, and hunt like crazy for a place to rent.
posted by kjs4 at 10:49 PM on January 4, 2014

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