Asking for Trouble? Pain-Free Moving Strategies

In real estate, they say the three most important things to consider are location, location, location. What about when you move from one piece of real estate to another? Moving out of your home and into a new one can be traumatic, but, says Oleh Turczak, director of workplace management for IA, a New York-based interior design firm, whether it’s the first or the 40th time, the key to a relatively pain-free move is organization, organization, organization. "If you don’t do your own research up front and plan your own move, you’re asking for trouble," he says. "You have to put the project manager’s hat on."

Be a Detective

Everyone has heard a horror story or two about moves gone bad. Weeks before you schedule your move, you should start researching moving companies. In 1999, more than 500 official complaints were lodged with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) against moving companies, putting them at number nine on their list. Major complaints involved bait and switch situations, lost or damaged goods, tardy pick-ups and deliveries, even companies holding goods hostage, says Susan McMillan, director of information and investigations with the BBB of New York which serves the Manhattan, Mid-Hudson and Long Island regions.

One way to avoid unreliable movers is to ask friends or acquaintances about their experiences. Good word-of-mouth is a company’s best advertising. Or if you’re moving out of state for a company relocation, your human resources department might have a list of trustworthy movers.

The BBB also offers a relatively inexpensive research service, profiling numerous movers – keeping track of complaints and other information over a 36 month period. (For more information on how to get this information, please see related side bar.)

A good mover probably will require a little extra investment. New York moves tend to be pricier than other areas of the country, running a couple thousand dollars for average size apartments. "New York City is a killer because there’s so much demand for movers," Turczak says.

McMillan advises, "Definitely do some price comparisons."

Now What?

You’ve got yourself the names of several movers, pulled from the BBB list or culled from knowledgeable friends. Now what? Pull out a pen and start getting things in writing.

First, make sure each prospective mover is insured and licensed by either the United States Department of Transportation (for interstate moves) or the New York Department of Transportation for moves within New York. "Get copies of the insurance and license up front," Turczak advises. These papers will be invaluable should anything go wrong and litigation becomes a possibility.

Next, the mover should come to your home and do a walk-through to determine that amount of furniture and belongings to be moved. After the walk-through, the mover should provide you with an itemized estimate. "Get the estimate down on paper and in writing," Turczak says.

Most movers base their estimates on weight, although some will base it on how much truck space the possessions will take up. According to the BBB Web site, there are two kinds of estimates: binding and non-binding. A binding estimate is a guaranteed price which the final price cannot exceed. A non-binding estimate is "the estimator’s best guess" which final prices may exceed.

If one mover comes in at an exceptionally low price, it might be wise to do a little more digging. Find out what enables him to beat the competition’s prices. Sometimes he might be cutting quality to lower the price, perhaps using one truck for three moves, endangering property or slowing the process.

Be a Project Manager

"Movers love it when things are organized," Turczak says. "The best moves occur when owners act as project managers." Organization means the movers spend less time on the job. "Remember, they’re being paid from the time they leave the warehouse to the time they return," Turczak says. "If you change your mind as the move is going on, costs go up."

Start the packing process weeks in advance to save headaches and cost later. Mark things that require special handling and let the moving company know if they’ll need a carpenter at the destination to reassemble large or unusual items. "It’s a two-week project before you even move," Turczak says. "I’m packing weeks beforehand and I have boxes ready. That ensures things go smoothly."

Turczak suggests having an itemized list of what belongs in each room–a list made once can follow you from home to home over the years. "A lot of insurance companies ask for it, but people don’t do it," he says. "You want to be able to go from origin to destination and be able to check everything off the list."

Try to create a floor plan for the movers, detailing where all items and furniture should go. "And make sure everything fits," Turczak says. "You don’t want two guys trying to fit your furniture in a room the day of the move."

If you’re moving truly unique belongings, such as a large art collection, it might be worth it to bring in movers who specialize in items of that sort. "The worst thing that can happen is if you don’t mark boxes or your items are not protected," Turczak says. "There are many company’s throughout New York whose sole purpose is to preserve, protect and transport art works."

Stay Calm–It Will All Be Over Soon

As traumatic as the whole process can be, there’s comfort to be found in the fact that most of the major headaches can be avoided. With a little planning and a lot of patience and calm, things can go smoothly. And, as they say on the wildlife shows, "They can sense fear." "Move’s tend to drive people nuts," Turczak says. "Try to keep away from panic. A bad mover will take advantage of you if you are panicking."

The right mover, however, can make your life blissfully easy. What’s not to love about other people carrying your heavy boxes? With the right preparation and honest, open dealings, the relationship between a mover and client can turn a tough situation into a mild disruption–a blip on the radar before you can settle into your new home and relax!

Ms. Lent is a freelance writer living in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

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