Shipping costs a moving experience

#282 in a series of true experiences in real estate
May 1999, Hills Newspapers

Recently we were talking to a man who is about to move from Berkeley to the East Coast. We guessed that moving so far must be quite expensive. “As much as $5,000 to $6,000 for the moving van?” we asked.

Our friend replied that he’d only gotten one bid so far, but it had knocked his socks off: $11,600!

We were astounded. Almost $12,000! That’s a lot of money to move what seems to us not a great deal of belongings. We asked if the price includes moving the two cars he and his partner own. It doesn’t. They’re driving the cars themselves.

We asked our friend what he was going to do. He doesn’t know yet; he’s still in shock. He’ll get more bids, he’ll think, and he and his partner will decide what they can leave behind.

Wondering if this moving van cost was typical, I called my friend Dana who, just last month, moved from Oregon to San Antonio. Dana and her husband have made six long-distance moves in the past 10 years, the last three with their young daughter.

Dana didn’t find our friend’s moving estimate surprising. On one of Dana’s moves, this one from New Jersey to California a few years back, the estimate was $11,000 but the final bill was $19,000! “Very poorly bid,” was Dana’s remark.

It is true that Dana and family do have a lot of stuff. She told me that on their first cross-country move, they had about 85 cartons. This number grew to the 190 cartons moved most recently. “You know me,” Dana laughed, “I’m always collecting. These days it takes a giant semi to get us to a new place.”

“Your friend needs a guaranteed bid,” she went on. “Once we had to pay $3500 out of our own pocket for a move because the estimate was low. That really upset me. But with a guarantee, if the company blows it, that’s their problem.”

All of these moves occurred because Dana’s husband changed jobs. Each time the new employer offered a moving allowance. Sometimes there was enough money to pay for the family to visit the new location to look for housing and also to have all their belongings packed and shipped (even their cars), then to fly the family to their new home. But on other occasions, the allowance wasn’t enough to cover everything.

The family drove one of their cars to San Antonio, for instance, in part because it was going to cost $1300 just to fly their 2 cats there. When Dana’s cats were smaller, they were permitted to travel in carriers that fit under the airplane seats, but the cats are too large for that now and must instead fly in the baggage compartment.

Animals cannot fly if the temperature is too hot or too cold for them so, depending on the weather, there have been times when the pets traveled on a different day than the family. Before flying, the cats must have a certificate of health from a vet. Dana has hired a company called Canine Carriers which picks the cats up, cares for them, gets them to the airport, and later, delivers them to the new house. “Fantastic people,” according to Dana.

“So, tell me how the whole moving process goes,” I asked, and here is what she told me. Usually people get 3 bids from moving companies. Naturally, the employer prefers the lowest bid, but if, like Dana, the family moving has had experience with different moving companies and has found one decidedly better than the others, “You negotiate; you say to your preferred mover, ‘Your bid is higher than the others, but I really want to use you.’ Sometimes they’ll lower the bid.”

The bid is stated in number of cartons that the estimator thinks will be required for the move. But the load weight and the cubic feet of van space are also considered. “If you have, for example, a grand piano,” Dana told me, “the cost for moving it will be higher than for some other types of goods because in order to avoid damage, nothing can be stacked on top of it. It’s the same with cars.”

Costs include packing materials and packers. “You can pack yourself, but then you are responsible for any breakage.” The packers pack absolutely everything. After one move, Dana smelled something funny coming from the boxes that had just been delivered. Investigation revealed that the packers had neatly wrapped and brought the kitchen garbage.

Dana preps the house she is leaving before the packers arrive. She cleans house, wiping down woodwork, washing windows, removing all the pictures from the walls and spackling holes. This way, after everything is boxed up, she has little cleaning left to do.

She winds up lamp cords and takes down curtains and rods. She bundles things like her spices together in plastic bags so the packers will wrap the whole bag rather than each individual bottle. “Less paper, less weight,” she points out. She establishes a place in the house for things she’ll be carrying with her: a telephone and answering machine, alarm clock, nightlight for her little girl, cat food and litter box for the cats. Also, bills and important papers.

Usually the packing is done on one day and the loading the next. During the loading, Dana herself packs the bedding and towels, runs a vacuum, and boxes the last of the cleaning supplies before the family leaves.

On this latest move, Dana took along most of the food from her pantry. “I don’t usually take my canned goods because they’re so heavy. But you can’t take anything flammable — butane for the BBQ, some kinds of cleaning products — and, of course, no perishables can go, so restocking gets expensive. This time I brought everything I could and even so, we spent $285 on our first trip to the grocery store.

The total cost of the move to Texas last month was around $30,000. About half of that was for the moving company and the balance covered plane tickets for pre-move visits, the cost of driving one car to Texas, and food and lodging in San Antonio for 3 weeks until the new house was available to move into.

There were good and not-so-good parts of this move. Driving with a full car and 2 cats was wearing. On the other hand, the moving company crew chief and driver for this move was the best Dana has ever known; not a single item was damaged or lost.

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