Smooth Move Moving Minus the Hassles

On the surface, moving sounds like a no-brainer: Put stuff in boxes. Move boxes from A to B. Unpack boxes. What's the big deal? But as anyone who's ever moved can tell you, it's never that simple. In fact, it's often a nightmare that leaves a trail of dead plants, abandoned toaster ovens and frayed nerves in its wake"¦ but it doesn't have to be like that. Read on and we'll tell you everything you need to know to make your move go as smoothly as possible. Moving may not be an exact science, but smart planning - and patience - can take some of the angst out of the endeavor.

Movers and Shakedowns

The first step to avoiding troubles is to choose your moving company wisely. There are dozens of companies in New York to pick from, ranging from one-man, one-truck operations to giant corporations with their own storage facilities and their own brands of packing supplies. Whatever your needs, there should be a company that's right for you - but do your homework. Ask friends for references. Get a few different bids and check out bidders with the New York City Department of Transportation at

http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/home.html, the Department of Consumer Affairs at http://www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/dca/html and the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.com to see what kind of standing they have. According to Alex Seidon, owner of Chelsea Moving & Storage in Manhattan, "Only someone with a DOT license is a legit mover, but often people don't know the difference between real movers and some guy with a truck. Not that all unlicensed guys are bad - some of them do a great job - but you're taking a chance. Where's the insurance? What if something goes wrong? Who will you complain to?"

Seidon warns that there are also a number of all-out shysters working the moving racket, and rip-off horror stories abound. "They used to just posted flyers, but now they've gotten very fancy with nifty-looking Web sites and such." Seidon recommends checking out the Better Business Bureau and consumer advocate Web sites like www.movingadvocateteam.com before you sign anything. Movingadvocateteam.com in particular publishes a "blacklist" of moving companies allegedly involved in unethical business practices.

Beware that good movers in New York City are in high demand, so start your search early and reserve your moving date as far ahead as you can. Dana Bitton, who co-owns Arthur Werner Moving & Storage, Inc., has this advice: "Try to avoid moving at the end of the month when everyone is really booked. If you have a choice, Mondays are good because movers often have Sunday off, so they're fresh. Midweek is good too because any problems have usually been ironed out by then. Fridays are the worst because of traffic."

Getting a Head Start

Once you've picked a company and nailed down a date, the real work begins. The best way to avoid moving problems is to start your preparations early. As Seidon puts it: "People lose their minds when they move - all their common sense goes out the window. They're tired; they're stressed out. They're running around doing things that make no sense. If you start getting ready early, you're less likely to panic and go off the deep end."

Start packing early. Way early. Derrick Logan, marketing director of Galil Moving and Storage, recommends that you start two months in advance. Even if you're having the movers pack your things, you're still not off the hook - you should prep by organizing, discarding whatever you're not taking, and cleaning whatever needs to be packed so you're not importing dust bunnies from your old abode. Logan offers this pearl of wisdom about possessions: "Remember, every move means a lifestyle change, so think hard about what you really need to keep. We see all kinds of mistakes - people schlepping leather couches and dark wood furniture down to Florida. What do you want with a leather couch in Florida?"

Remember, every item you move costs you time and money, so get rid of as much as you can. "Most people still have basements full of boxes unopened from the last move," Logan adds. "Dump it! If you haven't seen it in years, you don't need it."

Kathy Braddock of Braddock & Purcell, a residential real estate consulting firm in Manhattan, suggests obtaining a floor plan of your new space and mapping things out. "You might realize you don't have room for something, or that your old furniture just isn't going to work. Better to figure that out before you've hauled it to the new apartment. Take pictures or videos of your belongings too, to create a record and help you visualize where things might go."

Pack Smart

Now you're ready to start packing - and there's an art to packing right. First, make sure you have enough packing supplies, including bubble wrap, tape, markers and garbage bags. Get twice as many boxes as you think you'll need because running out at the last minute is just not worth the hassle. (Many suppliers will buy back unused boxes, too, so ask around.) Label and number each box and keep a master inventory so that when you arrive, you'll know what's what. Make sure to label boxes "kitchen," "bedroom," etc. too, so the movers know exactly where to put them. Start packing the non-essentials like brick-a-brack and books first and work in towards the essentials. Just before you reach the real basics, pack yourself a suitcase full of daily necessities to last you at least a week. Include clothes, toiletries, medications, toilet paper, pet food and supplies, paper plates and napkins, etc. "Everyone always forgets light bulbs - and then they're sitting there in the dark," says Logan. You might also set aside a box with curtains and bedding, lest you learn the hard way just how crucial they are to your comfort.

Even if you're doing your own packing, you may want to leave the furniture to the professionals, as it can be difficult to protect antiques, glass tables, and so forth properly. Just be forewarned that wrapping furniture takes time and materials, which can significantly add to your bill. "You can minimize labor costs by disassembling things yourself," Bitton suggests. "Just make sure you know how to reassemble them."

Note that even if you buy moving insurance, you're generally liable for everything you pack yourself. There are two ways around this. One is to have the movers pack all your belongings for you. The other is to pack yourself but leave your boxes unsealed, Logan explains. "This puts the responsibility on the movers. They can see if you've done an adequate job of protecting things, and if not, they'll repack your boxes properly." You may also want to find out if you're already covered by your homeowner's insurance, says Braddock. "Don't assume anything. Make sure you don't have any gaps in coverage - especially for valuables - and understand your rights."

The Family Jewels

Of course, no matter how conscientious your movers are, you should handle certain items yourself. "Take jewelry, passports, and other small valuables," Logan warns. If you have valuable artwork or something very difficult like a grand piano, you may want to hire specialty movers. Plants are tricky too, especially large ones, and most movers won't take responsibility for them. Your best bet is to take them yourself - preferably in a climate-controlled car or van to protect them from sudden temperature shocks. Move them last of all so that they don't get shuffled around a lot. They'll probably go into shock anyway, but most will bounce back after a few weeks of TLC.

Moving long distance? Then don't forget to make arrangements for your pets and car too. According to Logan, "Your moving company should be able to arrange auto transport (on one of those big trucks) or a driving service. If someone says he can hook your car to a truck and tow it, run away and find a different mover."

Socks First, Then Shoes

Of course, in between all that sorting and packing, you'll also want to plan out the logistics of your job. First scope out the new apartment, and make sure it's squeaky clean and renovated exactly the way you want it. If you suddenly notice that the floors really need a buffing, or that the closets have moths, better to deal with it before you're up to your neck in boxes. Remember to change your address at the post office at least two weeks in advance, and arrange to have all your utilities switched over. (Again, New York is the land of long lines, so call early or you could be phoneless for weeks.) Also, now's the time to eat all those canned beans you bought for Y2K; stop buying groceries, and remember that you'll have to clean the fridge before you vacate.

Next, think about scheduling. Make sure you're familiar - and in compliance - with your building's house rules regarding move-outs. Some buildings allow moves only during certain times of day, and require advance notice to the board of the event. "Make sure the board is aware of your move-out/move-in, and find out what the building's rules are," Braddock advises. "Don't forget to reserve the elevator, and tip the elevator operator and doorman in advance." Seidon adds, "If you're getting rid of big items like beds or sofas, ask the manager or super about it." The city will pick up furniture - up to six items at a time on a regular garbage day, but your co-op may have its own rules. For refrigerators, air conditioners, other items containing Freon, and large metal appliances like washing machines, an advance appointment with the sanitation department is necessary. Call the city hotline at 311 at least a week ahead for details.

Some buildings have paperwork for a departing resident to look over before leaving the building for the last time, while others are content with the keys being left with the manager. Be sure you know well in advance what the policies in your building are.

The Big Day

Now you're down to the final hours. Try to get a good night's sleep the night before your move, because you're going to need all your energy. "When the movers arrive, immediately speak to the foreman and plan out what to do," says Logan. "Make sure to tell them if something needs special handling," Bitton adds. "The key to getting the best service is to be nice," says Seidon. The person that is moving might be stressed out but the movers don't have to be, he advises.

Translation: All your earthly possessions are in their hands and you're paying by the hour. If you want them to (gently) hustle, play nice. "Make sure everyone is well tipped. Offer drinks or lunch," Braddock suggests.

Hopefully, if you think ahead and trust the mover, everything will come off without a hitch. But if something does go wrong, remember the sage words of Dana Bitton: "Look, there's no way moving is ever going to be fun. Just pick a good mover, be organized, and if something unexpected happens, don't panic - know that you're in good hands."

Alexandra Wolf is a regular contributor to The Cooperator and recently survived a move to a new Brooklyn neighborhood.

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