Explain moving/relocation like an adult to me, please.
July 3, 2018 11:29 AM   Subscribe

I'm currently in LA. I just received a job offer in San Jose. I haven't moved in five years, and then I did it mostly myself. This time around, I have lots more stuff, and money, but no time.

When I moved out here several years ago, I rented a u-haul, packed everything myself, and drove it myself. I did hire a pair of guys through uhaul to help unload everything up the stairs at my new place. Before that I moved myself, usually with a uhaul van and friends, and I had basically nothing due to grad student low-income life.

The company that's making me the offer has agreed to cover reasonable relocation costs, and I need to move in fewer than three weeks. How does this work? I assume I just call a moving company, get a quote, put everything I can into boxes, and then on the appointed day they show up and load the boxes, plus all the furniture, into the truck, and then a few days later it appears at the new place, mostly not broken?

What should I look for in a moving company? Other places I've read online suggested finding out who does corporate relocation, but I don't know these things.

What are the "gotchas" that a newbie should know to look out for? What did you wish you'd known? I am moving from a 2nd floor unit in small complex (~24 units) to a larger one (flying up this weekend or next to find a place, most likely). I have a fair amount of complex/fragile stuff and furniture (eg: a sit/stand desk, a 3d printer that I'll need to box up somehow, etc). The desk isn't fitting out the door assembled -- should I count on disassembling it myself, or expect the movers to do that (for an additional fee)? Apologies if slightly disjointed cluster of questions. Lots to think about, suddenly!
posted by Alterscape to Work & Money (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Moving companies will do everything including putting stuff in boxes, if you're willing to pay. Can you find out the budget from your new company?

I know it's a big change, but my advice is to not overthink it. (I've moved cross-country several times.) Go on Yelp. Find the three (or five) companies with the best reviews. Email all of them, ask if they're available for your dates, and ask for a quote. Pick whichever one seems right in your gut based on their response time/friendliness, quote amount, and the way the wind is blowing.

Depending on the budget, pack/disassemble what you have to. Check Facebook neighborhood groups for boxes if you need them. Make sure to at least pack your toiletries, a couple weeks worth of clothes, important papers, small valuables, etc. in a couple of suitcases. Throw those in your car. Let the movers do the rest, drive to your new place, and wait. Fingers crossed everything goes smoothly and your stuff shows up on time, but expect there to be a few delays and a few things to go wrong. Oh well, it will all work out eventually!

Good luck.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 11:38 AM on July 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

Seconding ohsnapdragon on the importance of carting the day to day essentials yourself.

...Speaking as someone who once had their life possessions accidentally shipped to the WRONG COAST of a significantly huge continent due to an hilarious “similar city names” mistake on the part of the movers, and who therefore had to live out of the contents of a purse for a span of time that became less hilarious with each passing day.
posted by Construction Concern at 11:48 AM on July 3, 2018 [7 favorites]

From personal experience, I’d favour a business that won’t quote without visiting your home to assess what you have and what level of service you want. I got significantly better service from the company that did that than from the company that was willing to quote based on a questionnaire. And I wish I‘d gone with the company who refused to do that even though it would have been annoying to find a time to be home.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:52 AM on July 3, 2018 [4 favorites]

There's a current ask on specific company recommendations.

If you have the budget, they'll do stuff like boxing and disassembling furniture, but safely wrapping a 3d printer and irreplaceable stuff is something you might want to do yourself. However, if you do the boxing, they might exclude or reduce its insurance coverage.

I'll give you my two usual moving cautions:

1. Make sure that all the data you care about is backed up either to the cloud or to an external drive that is not going with the rest of your stuff.
2. Make sure that you have insurance on what they're moving based on actual replacement value rather than weight.

And one more specific caution for you - moving allowances are almost always something the company will claw back if you leave the job within the first year or so. Unless you have the ability to raise a large amount of cash in a hurry, start setting aside savings to cover paying it back if it shouldn't work out for some reason, and don't touch it until you're past that point.
posted by Candleman at 12:04 PM on July 3, 2018

If you opt to have your stuffed packed for you. I suggest that any you care about making it in one piece you pack yourself and may wish to take with you in your vehicle.
posted by tman99 at 12:05 PM on July 3, 2018

Partial pack/unpack is also an option. For our last two moves, we had the movers pack the kitchen, which (at least for me) is the worst part, due to all the wrapping, etc. involved (we also cook/bake a ton, so there was just a lot of stuff in there.) Packing is also relatively inexpensive compared to the rest of the move- it was maybe another $200/$250 or so to do the kitchen.

There also may be a liability issue as well--for our cross-country move, the company guaranteed no breakage on anything they packed, but stuff we packed was on us. We took priceless/irreplaceable stuff with us in the car.

Seconding calls to make sure that you actually have someone come at look at your stuff to give you an estimate.

Both times we moved, the company took care of disassembly of larger furniture without being asked (but they were charging by the hour for loading/unloading, in addition to the mileage).
posted by damayanti at 12:09 PM on July 3, 2018

Have you asked your new employer any of this? Some companies will basically arrange the move for you. At a minimum they should be able to give you some budget guidance. Or they might have a preferred moving company that gives a discount.
posted by floppyroofing at 12:16 PM on July 3, 2018

I'd try to check references for the company. (Example: I'd never recommend the yahoos who just moved me!) I'd try to ask for the names of recent jobs so they'd give you my name rather than that one person who was delighted with their work back in February.

Take responsibility, to the extent possible, for protecting what you want protected. E.g., put or insist they put your mattress in a mattress bag rather than assuming that they're professionals and then (to pick a totally random example) being horrified to see the end of them dragging it down your apartment building's dirty hallway. E.g., watch them carefully wrap your mirrors and framed photos. Consider putting your valuables and most fragile items in your car.

Ask these packing questions to the people who give you bids. To get bids, you can just go on something like moving.com (I forget), type in your info, and get a flurry of six or so people contacting you to bid the job. A number did say they'd disassemble and reassemble stuff. Almost all have a special box for packing the clothes hanging in your closet so you don't have to do that. (That said, I'd wrap them in garment bags or garbage bags (just poke the hangers out the top) in case, say, your movers stink like they are coming off a three-day drinking binge and make you grossed out to think of everything that they touched. One's hands get dirty while putting things in a moving van, so you don't want them handling your fancy dress clothes.)

I didn't have time to do this, but I'd use colored tape to indicate rooms so that they deliver the box to the right room.

I got a lot of advice about packing for the first week that didn't quite work out for me, so here's how I'd do it if I did it again. I'd go room by room and pack a single box for each room with the stuff from that room I use every day. I tried to do it in one bag and basically packed like I was going on a trip involving hotels and restaurants, leaving out a ton of the things that I needed immediately upon arrival. Kitchen: a pan, a place setting (plate, bowl, cup, silverware), a sponge, the olive oil, a spatula, the salt and pepper. Bathroom: the toiletries, the shower curtain if they won't have it where you're moving, contacts and shaving equipment. Bedroom: a set of sheets and the pillow. Clothes closet: maybe a week of clothing and jewelry. Living room: maybe the speaker you want to listen to music with while unpacking, maybe a book. Etc. If possible, throw these in your car, but if not, mark them both with the room and with a special "first day" tape color so that they aren't at the bottom of the pile of boxes.

Start eating all the food in your freezer now. Finish the salad dressings and BBQ sauce. Realize that you may throw out all the food that won't pack well, such as the ripped-open bag of sugar, the jar of vinegar whose cork may or may not successfully keep it sealed, etc., and avoid unsealing anything you don't need to.

Leave yourself a ridiculous amount of time for packing stuff that you don't even remember you own. The tools and cleaning stuff underneath the kitchen sink. The gardening supplies in your shed. That drawer under your stove with the cupcake pan and paper plates in it. Or plan to hold a massive garage sale. Do you have house plants?

Consider hiring a cleaning person so that you can leave your house at the same time as the movers do. Otherwise, they might track in and out all this dirt and whatnot, and then you have to figure out if you should leave when they do to make sure you get to your new place before them, or if you have time to clean it. (I don't know how that works with a move that's fairly long distance like yours. Mine was several hours away.) If you have to do a final walkthrough with a landlord, try to figure out how flexible their timing can be, because it's hard to predict how long it will take to move out all your stuff.

The pricing kinda worked like this, for a move of about 95 miles. (Yours is longer so it might be different.) $X / hr for a crew of 2 people or $Y / hr for 3 people. They'll recommend which size based on your amount of stuff. That's what you pay for the packing and loading / unloading piece. Then you pay double that for the drive time, to account for the return trip (at least in our case -- the distance of your move might trigger a different approach on this piece). I thought it made sense to have a smaller crew so I was paying for fewer people to sit in a car for 3 hours, but it semi backfired in that it did take them longer than I wanted to get all the stuff packed. (I'd hoped to leave by noon, arrive by 2:30 after a lunch break, unload by 3:30, and have the basics unpacked by 5 in time for dinner. It was more like, leave by 1:30, arrive by 5 after a 90 minute "lunch" break, unload by 6:30 and head out to a pizza place with nothing unpacked.) They don't charge you for the truck; that's included. The super-budget places charge you a flat gas fee, whereas the eputable places include that in the hourly rate as well. I found hourly rates that varied from $75-155 for a two-person crew in Oakland.

Try to be your movers' first job of the day so that you're not at the whim of the level of preparedness of whoever they loaded before you.

Good luck!
posted by slidell at 12:37 PM on July 3, 2018 [5 favorites]

Back in the really really horrible recession that lasted during the 90's (the downturn in 2007/08 was almost as bad) I worked for a summer as a furniture mover. If my company was paying me to relocate, that's what I would do, no question.

Depending on the size of your house, it'll be between $3000 and $10000 to hire a cartage company (professional movers). They can help pack your stuff (movers prefer to do the packing because it saves time and they know how to pack).

If you have time you should get a couple of estimates from different cartage companies. Generally they're operated as a syndicate or network of affiliates. Not too sure about the States, but Atlas and Allied are the two big brands in Canada.

The estimator will come and give you a quote and then you schedule your move. I'm thinking that 3 weeks turnaround time is too tight. I wonder if you can continue to rent out your LA place for an extra month to get some leeway (and a more affordable quote).
posted by JamesBay at 12:38 PM on July 3, 2018

When I was doing a similar move, I went with one of the big national companies (I used Atlas, but there's also Mayflower and United). They will usually have local affiliates. Check the yelp/Angie's List reviews for anyone you hire, but the nice thing about going with these national companies is that they are reputable and not usually the companies operating the moving scams you occasionally hear about.

They'll give you a delivery window, usually 3-10 days depending on the time of year and distance. This is because your move will be loaded onto a truck with a bunch of other stuff, there will be other stops, etc. So you may want to also ask your new employer to pay for an airbnb/hotel until your stuff arrives.

I (well, my employer!) paid for packing and it was awesome. It only added a few hundred dollars to the cost and was well worth it. My one caveat is that, if you can swing it, you should also pay for unpacking. I found unpacking their packing job so annoying because everything was packed in so much paper! Which I had to keep contained and then haul out to recycling. Also, when you're in a new city, with a new job, the last thing you want to do is spend days unpacking.

Finally, see if you can get the company to invoice your employer instead of you paying them and then getting paid back. Moving is expensive and it may be a month or more until you get your first paycheck and/or paid back by your employer, so unless you have the savings, try to avoid having to pay it upfront.
posted by lunasol at 12:40 PM on July 3, 2018

One thing I will add to the good advice above is that many large employers have contracts with the big national moving companies which will make the overall cost of the move much cheaper. The last time I moved, that was the case, so we got bids from the three moving companies that had contracts with my employer. This would be a good time to talk to HR about this. Generally they have lots of experience and can tell you if your employer has a contract, how they reimburse (or if the mover can directly bill them), etc.
posted by bove at 12:50 PM on July 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've hired a professional organizer in the past to help with a move when I literally had zero time to pack.

Mind you, my space was small so the cost was manageable. But it was worth every extra cent and I would do it again.

They coordinated the whole thing, labelled everything, and knew to catch things I wouldn't have. Unpacking was a breeze. Nothing broken. An absolute dream.

YMMV, but if you want a completely hands off experience that's one way to go. They will have movers and supply companies they work with.
posted by OlivesAndTurkishCoffee at 3:58 PM on July 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Great advice upthread.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned yet, that we did, was to pack a first night box (or essentials box). After an exhausting day, it was *really* nice to find all the essentials we needed for a comfortable first night in one place.
posted by onecircleaday at 4:07 PM on July 3, 2018 [3 favorites]

I did this cross country last summer from the SF Bay Area. We googled for cheap moving companies and chose the one with best reviews and who were available on our dates. The loading and unloading were great and the only things broken were due to my failure to pack them really carefully (the cake platter is the only thing I remember being broken, actually).

One tip that I learned moving a lot: put any screws or assembly pieces into a plastic bag and duct tape them to the furniture with which they belong. Pack your sheets and pillows in a box that has super obvious markings because you’ll want those first.

And tip your movers well. Cold water is also recommended, especially in CA weather this time of year.
posted by guster4lovers at 6:24 PM on July 3, 2018

If you use a big moving firm:

Be aware that there are multiple people involved in coordinating the move, and they don't always communicate well with each other well. Make sure you have a phone number for someone who will be your liason, and who you can call if something goes wrong on either your side or their side. This might be a person in the office, or it might be your truck's driver (who is often the "foreman" of the job.)

The person who estimates the amount to pack/move is very unlikely to be there at the move. They will almost always underestimate the amount of packing you need, and yet somehow overestimate how much it will weigh (many companies charge you by lbs/miles). The packers will curse this person a lot. The weight overestimate is not a problem as long as you have a contract that uses this as a upper limit (and only actually charges you for the final weight.)

There will be an extensive list of what they WON'T pack. (Cleaning supplies, flammables like oil/gas, weapons, pressurized cannisters, alcohol, etc.) Some firms won't pack ANY liquids at all (not even a bottle of nail polish). It's super useful to know your firm's restrictions ahead of time.

The packers and movers may or may not be the same people.

The company should make sure they can park the truck wherever you are moving from/to, but it's worth it to check on this (and/or ask them explicitly), and definitely tell them if there's anything you know about potential problems (lots of cars parked on the street nearby, parking restrictions, hills, etc.) The most cautious version of this involves the company getting city permits to reserve the parking in front of your building/house. You probably don't need that in most parts of LA, you might if you're moving to SJ proper.

Many crews do bring their own drinks, but it's nice to have cold water on hand. Make sure you give all your packers/movers explicit permission to use the sinks and the bathroom (and make sure you stock extra toilet paper to accommodate extra people, and paper towels or hand towels for them. To be blunt, it can also help to keep a plunger handy). Shockingly, some clients don't let the movers use the facilities, and so some companies don't let their people use the bathroom unless they've asked you.

If you are a non-smoker, do not let your packers smoke in the house. The packing paper will absolutely pick up that smell like a sponge.

At the end of the move, even if you aren't paying for unpacking, they may take be willing to take away "nice" boxes like garment boxes if you unpack them yourself before the crew is done unloading the truck. Also after the move, please do advertise leftover packing materials and boxes on freecycle - you'd be surprised how many people can use them, and reuse is better than recycling.

Assuming the movers are being decently professional, please do tip. There has been at least one big moving firm that closed in the last few years, and many of the "lifer" long distance moving guys ended up having to scramble a bit. Most will work really hard for you, and some may even thank you for giving them the opportunity to work.

Good luck!
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 10:06 PM on July 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

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