Moving On Up

Other than one's wedding day -- and with none of the attendant joy -- the most stressful day in an adult's life is probably moving day.

Movers, we all know, rank just above car salesman on most lists of least trustworthy service providers.

Urban legends abound about couples whose furniture was held hostage until they coughed up extra cash for charges well above the agreed-to price, or truckloads of precious goods that never made it to that new homestead because the movers were, in fact, con men.

And some of these stories are no doubt true, or so my friends tell me, as they know people who know people to whom this really happened. (Friends, I should note, who swore, after they helped me move last time in exchange for pizza and beer, that they wouldn't be my friends if I asked them again, and rightly so.)

It's enough to make sore backs, dinged desks, broken china and scratched new floors seem like a quite acceptable outcome.

Still, fatalism is rarely a winning strategy, nor is it necessary for those willing to approach the matter with the care and forethought it so richly deserves. My wife, Lorraine, and I are in the midst of just such a move, from Brooklyn, N.Y., to the Hudson Valley, and have found it to be, if not exactly a pleasurable experience, at least a manageable one.

Our first, untutored move was -- surprise! -- to get references.

We were fortunate enough to know an unfortunate friend who's moved three times in the metropolitan New York area in the span of a year, and for the latter two he happily employed Scanio Moving. Two good experiences, in my book, are worth more than twice as much as one, but at the same time I did solicit the name of another well-known local company from a different nomadic friend.

We contacted each firm via email for a free estimate. Scanio called back in 10 minutes; we are still awaiting word from the latter. Don't call us, of course, and we won't call you.

Like many reputable movers, Scanio (which has also worked with several top museums, always a good sign) will provide an over-the-phone estimate, and I ran through each room in our two-bedroom apartment with a sales rep while on the phone.

Although the thought did leap to mind, "Underreport and they'll have to overdeliver!" good sense got the better of me. Plus, I soon learned that for two-bedroom apartments (such as ours) and larger, Scanio recommended a free, on-site estimate that would fine-tune the phone estimate and lock in a final fee that was guaranteed to be the charge plus or minus 10%, which set my mind at ease that there would be no surprises on the big day.

By that time, my mind would be already shot, consumed with address changes, dealing with the closing on the house and so on.

I spoke with James Betta, a Scanio sales manager, to inquire what the movee should be asking the mover, and how to best approach a move overall. He was kind enough to share his wisdom.

  • Beware low-ballers. Yes, it may sound self-serving, but the people who quote the lowest prices are more likely to (a) not guarantee their fee in any way (and overcharge) and (b) break stuff. "There are lots of fly-by-night operations around," Betta says, "and you usually get what you pay for."
  • Do your research. Getting references, as I did, is a good start, but you should also contact the Better Business Bureau to check on a company's record, as well as the Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to make sure your prospective mover has the appropriate licenses. You'd also do well to ensure that the company you choose has a track record of at least several years.
  • Leave enough time. Moving companies should be contacted at least one month in advance. Also, be aware that June and August tend to be the busiest moving months, and that the middle and end of months are when moves take place, as that's when leases come due.

    "Leave enough time" obviously refers to packing, too. Betta notes that approximately 25% of Scanio's customers choose to have the company do all the packing and unpacking, a pricey proposition that I wasn't in a position to use, deliciously tempting though it sounded. Still, for the deep-pocketed, it's no doubt a brilliant idea.

    For the even more deep-pocketed, Scanio offers a "total relocation solution," which bundles moving, storage, boxes, locksmiths, painting, flooring, cleaning and personal organizing into one service -- Moving Depot.
  • Understand the meaning of time. Betta says that many customers misconstrue what travel time is: It includes not only the time it takes for movers to drive from the old residence to the new one, but also the time it takes to get to point A from the company's headquarters and back to it from point B.
  • Check your insurance. In the haste of moving, people often forget to check whether they're covered by their current insurance before purchasing coverage from the moving company. Alas, our renter's insurance did not cover potential losses or breakage during a move, and we will thus fork over another $70 for that added protection.
  • Safe and Sound

  • Pack smart. Scanio, to my delight and relief, always packs artwork, mirrors, lamps and electronics, including computer equipment, as part of its fee, and provides wardrobe boxes so that clients don't need to box hanging clothes. Still, that didn't get us entirely out of the woods.

    Betta recommends smaller boxes for books and CDs (charges are by volume of stuff, not total boxes) and double-thick cardboard, preferably the boxes designed expressly for dishes and glasses, for kitchen breakables. He also reminded me to clearly mark all boxes to indicate which room each should be put in. "Any mover worth its salt should put everything in the appropriate room as part of its service," he points out.
  • Be ready for the big day. Just as you demand the movers be on time, so you should be raring to go at the appointed hour -- with the fee, as well as cash to tip the big, strong, yet oh-so-careful movers who will help you begin your new life. Betta declined to name a percentage, but 10%-15% is the norm for good service.

A few days after my phone consultation, Scanio's estimator arrived at the appointed hour to solidify the final fee.

I was expecting a guy in a stained shirt and jeans, but Nir Shuminer, "relocation consultant," per his business card, was wearing a suit and tie -- I was the one in the stained shirt and jeans.

If our moving day turns out as professional as the lead-up, my wife and I will be happy campers; there may not be wedding bells, but doorbells will certainly be ringing.



Enjoy the Good Life? Email us with what you'd like to see in future articles.

Evan Rothman is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. A former executive editor at Golf Magazine, his work has appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Esquire, Men's Journal and other leading publications.

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