Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.
About six years ago, I was living in apartment 307 in downtown Seattle. A lovely little one-bedroom, it was perfect for me at the time. My wife was living in Phoenix, wrapping up selling our brokerage and getting our daughter off to college.
A year later, she moved up to Seattle, and we needed a bigger place. Apartment 304 — a nifty two-bedroom perfect for our needs — became available. Yes, it was just three doors down the hall, about 80 feet from door to door. How painful could it be to move 80 feet? Turns out, very! Moving just isn’t fun, at all, no matter the distance.
Fast-forward to last week. Regular readers of this column know we bought a home in Texas three months ago. That ordeal was chronicled in this column, from the initial stages to working with an amazing agent to closing.
Thanks mainly to the ongoing pandemic, we weren’t able to move our household goods until last week. I wasn’t going to write about the actual move until the realization came about that virtually every client you work with, be they a buyer or a seller, is going to be forced into doing something that ranks extremely high on the pain and agony chart: moving.
It doesn’t matter if you hire a team of professionals or bribe buddies with pizza and beer, everything about moving sucks. Everything. Sure, you get great joy and pleasure from being in your new digs, and starting a new phase of life. That’s great, but it’s the only great thing about moving. All the rest is torture.
As I sit here in my home office, surrounded by boxes and a to-do list that’s a mile long, chomping on Tylenol for my aching back, knees, wrists and elbows, it seems like a good time to capture what went well, and what we should have done differently.
Being the consummate real estate professional you are, taking care of your clients is part of what you do. You and I know that this involves more than just the real estate transaction. While it’s not your responsibility to ease your clients’ moving pain, sharing tips to help them through this arduous task certainly doesn’t hurt your relationship, and it might just make their new lives a little simpler — or at least more tolerable.
1. Compare pro vs. DIY
The first thing anyone needs to decide when moving is whether to hire professionals or do it yourself. As with everything in life, there are pros and cons to each method.
Growing up as an Army brat, I moved a lot during my childhood. Like many young adults, I moved plenty of times in my late teens and 20s, always chasing the elusive lower rent payment. And here I am, turning 60 next week and muttering yet again that this is “the last time I’m moving.”
In the days of my youth, my father would get transferred and the Army would take care of many moving details. I can remember going to school in the morning, and coming home to a mountain of boxes, all filled by a team of professional packers. A few days later, a huge truck would pull up, and another team of people would load it up.
Reverse that on the other end. Professionals would unload, unpack and haul away boxes. Today, such a complete moving experience is unaffordable by most. Even with full professional service, my mom would spend weeks fixing what the unpackers did. After all, no one knows exactly where to put all your items.
A major drawback to a professional move is the expense. It’s not cheap, whether you’re moving down the hall, or across the country. It is the most pain free-way to move, but it entails putting a significant dent on your available credit or checking account balance.
Things to consider with a professional move:
1. Use a legitimate company that is properly bonded and insured
While there are some wonderful small-company movers out there, there are also ones that don’t carry proper insurance and will be difficult if not impossible to work with should something break during the move. Sadly, there are also scammers and cheaters who will overcharge — or worse, steal some of your belongings.
You need to fully vet your movers; after all, they are loading up everything you own and driving away. Honesty is pretty important. Get referrals, read reviews and understand their claims process. Even the best movers sometimes break things.
2. Get multiple quotes
Any legit mover will give you a free estimate. You’ll probably never get a binding quote because things change during a move, and the weight of your items — which can only be guessed up front — is a huge component in pricing. That pricing can vary widely, so it’s important to get multiple quotes. Going with the least expensive isn’t necessarily the best idea.
3. Consider what type of insurance is included
Some will reimburse you based on weight, some give replacement cost, others use “current value.” You may be shocked at how little that 10-year-old refrigerator is really worth, and how expensive a new one is.
Some won’t fully cover boxes that you pack yourself, some will. In a perfect world, your goods will arrive intact, and you won’t need to make a claim. We don’t live in a perfect world.
4. Think of delivery timing
It’s likely that your moving truck will contain goods from multiple households. You might look at Google Maps and think, “I can make that drive in a U-Haul in three days.” Your movers might be going from Seattle to Texas by way of Los Angeles, Phoenix and Denver. That three-day drive can turn into two weeks.
Things to consider with DIY moving:
1. You break it, you buy it
It’s possible to buy an insurance policy to cover damage to your items. The vast majority of do-it-yourselfers never consider it. That’s fine, and hopefully nothing breaks. But again, even professional packers and movers break things, and they do this every day. You don’t.
2. Overnight security
Years ago, I had a friend who filled a U-Haul for a move three states away. They did all the right things when stopping for a night. They backed their truck into a spot that made it difficult to get things out, put on an expensive padlock and parked in a lit, high traffic area. Waking up on the second morning of their trip, they found half their stuff was long gone. The thieves were never caught.
3. “Hidden” costs
Unlike car rentals, some truck rentals don’t include unlimited mileage. That can add up quickly. When planning for gasoline expenses, don’t forget that a moving truck likely gets far worse mileage than what you’re used to driving.
You’re also going to need boxes and packing material — probably more than you think. Moving blankets and a dolly or hand truck are incredibly helpful, and most truck rental companies will also rent those items.
2. Plan your packing
The first thing off our moving truck was my Peloton bike. I was so excited to see it, and couldn’t wait to take a ride. Here we are, a week later, and I still can’t find the power cord or my shoes.
Yes, this is a first-world problem and hardly the end of humanity, but it highlights something critical: Make sure those boxes with important things that you’ll need right away are easily identified. Label boxes with more info than just “bedroom” and “kitchen.”
Chargers, power cords, extension cords and basic tools to assemble things should all be gathered and put in a well-labeled box. Consider putting some kitchen essentials into one box. That way, you don’t have to dig around in multiple boxes to find everything you need to prepare and cook a meal.
3. Use this opportunity to purge
You probably have things that you’ve been hauling around for years. Boxes that have lived in the garage, storage or the back of a closet for literally decades. Shirts in your closet that haven’t fit since you were at your college weight.
Moving presents an opportunity to purge. Have boxes or areas when you’re packing labeled “donate” and “trash,” and use them. Don’t fall into the, “Eff it, pack all this crap, and we’ll get rid of it at the new place.” You won’t, and it will wind up right back in a closet, waiting for the next move.
4. Use the garage as a holding area
Boxes and packing material take up significant space. Even small rooms seem to rapidly fill when they’re packed into boxes. You may be a minimalist, but you will still be surprised by the space consumed by boxes. You’ll need that space to maneuver.
I can assure you that you will often need to move boxes just to get to that one at the bottom of a stack. A garage or a second bedroom is well-utilized as a box-holding and staging area, and it helps provide precious space to get around your new place. Avoid moving a box multiple times just to get to other boxes.
5. Lift properly — always
Use your legs, not your back! You may think there’s no way that bending over to pick up a light box — say one containing two pillows — could possibly throw out your back. You would be wrong. Trust me.
If you think moving is a miserable experience, try moving with back pain. The odds of self-inflicted injury increase exponentially if you’re doing it all yourself. There are tools out there that help — dollies, hand trucks, moving straps, gloves, back and knee braces, furniture sliders and more. Rent or buy those items. Prevention is key.
6. Take COVID-19 precautions
Welcome to the age of taking precautions to prevent infection. Whether you pay professionals to do it all, do it yourself or some combination of the two, you’ll need to take extra precautions to deal with COVID-19.
Masks and cleaning supplies need to be readily available. Your new place should be deep cleaned, making sure not to miss those high-touch areas like door knobs, light switches and cabinet pulls.
Your professional movers likely have COVID-19 precautions listed on their website. A truck rental company probably cleaned the vehicle after it was last used, but wiping down things like steering wheels, door handles and dashboard buttons makes sense.
However one goes about moving, it’s not going to be a pleasurable experience. Who likes the process of moving? No one. There are ways to make it less painful. Articles like this one with tips and tricks can help ease the pain and are scattered all across the internet.
There are also moving and packing checklists and planners available. Find those via Google and make them available to your clients. Assemble a little “moving guide” that includes these tips and checklists, along with info on forwarding mail and connecting utilities. They’ll appreciate the help, and hopefully, they won’t offer you pizza and beer in exchange for manual labor.
Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree living in the Texas Coastal Bend, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. “Retired but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate.