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How to Handle a Bad Move

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Everyone has heard about them. Hopefully, not everyone has experienced one, but the reality is – bad moves happen. They happen so often that there are even websites solely dedicated to the concept. Sadly, they also come with their own set of dissatisfied customers.

The truth about the moving industry is that it is largely unregulated. The few regulations that do exist are old – very old. For example, in many states, unless you buy additional coverage, the dollar value assigned to your possessions is by weight – and it’s very low. It’s typically anywhere from $.30 to $.60 per pound per article. In other words, if a light-weight, high-tech TV is broken, it’s actually worth less money than the big 90s behemoth TV that you haven’t gotten around to disposing of. The best way to handle a bad move is to avoid it altogether, but even the best moving companies screw up on occasion. The true test of the quality of a moving company is what happens when the screw up is brought to their attention. Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to help bring the situation to a satisfactory resolution.

1. Make sure your move is insured – The truth about the moving industry is that it is largely unregulated. The few regulations that do exist are old – very old. For example, in most states, unless you buy additional coverage, the dollar value assigned to your possessions is by weight – and it’s very low. It’s typically anywhere from $.30 to $.60 per pound per article. In other words, your high-tech, super light-weight LED TV is actually worth less money than the big 90s behemoth TV that you haven’t gotten around to disposing of. Even then, a 100 pound TV would only be worth $60.00 – maximum.

Talk to your mover and your home owner’s insurance company about options.

2. Take pictures and catalog your expensive items along with any damages – If there are scratches on your furniture, take those pictures too. A moving company is far more likely to take you seriously if they know you’re not trying to screw them by blaming them for old damages.

3. Stay calm – Under the best of circumstances, moving is very stressful. Add to that the horror stories many have heard (nightmare moves make much better dinner party conversations than good ones), it’s easy to see why a moving customer would get upset at the first sign of trouble.

The reality is, if you’ve done your homework, you probably have not chosen one of the nightmarish moving companies. You have probably chosen a company that is in it for the long-haul (no pun intended), not the quick buck. It is in their best interest to make you happy and they know it. If you contact them threatening to sue right off the bat, they might see you as a hopeless cause. However, if you call them asking for a resolution, they will most likely accommodate.

4. Know what you want and don’t be greedy – It’s not at all unreasonable for you to ask for damages to be fixes, monetary losses to be covered and maybe a bit extra. It probably is unreasonable for you to ask for a free move on top of all that. Keep in mind, that most movers don’t have to even cover your monetary losses, but many will out of good will.

5. Complain – Some customers see dealing with the moving company as hopeless. It’s not unusual for a company to see a negative Yelp review as the first sign a customer was dissatisfied. Of course, the first course of resolution should always be to contact the company, but when you have done that and no resolution has been found, there are channels.

Warning other Yelp or Angie’s List users is certainly one way to make your bad experience known, but neither of those sites have any authority. If you believe laws have been broken, you should contact your state Public Utilities Commission (California) or Department of Transportation. If you moved out of state, you can file a complaint with the feds.

How to Green Your Move in Seven Easy Steps

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Kermit the Frog famously complains that “it’s not easy being green,” which leads us to believe that he’s probably no stranger to moving.

Most people – even those who dedicate their lives living in an environmentally sustainable way – sort of give themselves a pass when it comes to moving. Who can blame them? When most people imagine their moving day, they see their home cluttered with cardboard boxes – most of which will never be used again. Fortunately, as “greening” has become a priority in the lives of many (especially in the Bay Area), there are several ways that you can green your own move.

1. Find a green place to live – Solar panels, insulated windows and renewable building materials all help make a home more desirable for green minded people, but greenness doesn’t have to stop with the construction. Find a neighborhood that is bike and pedestrian friendly. If possible, choose one close to work. Even more ideally, telecommute. Grow a garden or buy locally whenever possible. The Bay Area prides itself in sustainable living communities.

2. Either hire a professional mover or rent a big enough truck – One of the biggest mistakes people make when moving is renting a truck that is not big enough for their home. Part of the job of a professional mover is to determine the size of the truck needed to avoid unnecessary trips back and forth. For families, two trucks are often required, but that is still preferable to multiple wasted return trips.

3. Move as little as possibleEarlier, I advised that trying to get rid of things before your move can be a waste of time, and for most people it is. Eliminating what might fit into a box or three is typically not worth the time dedicated to sorting, however, if you are able to significantly downsize (and not have to replace everything in your new home) then do it.

4. Try not to buy new furniture – When you move to a new home, you want it to feel new. Your old furniture might not be the best fit. The temptation is to buy new. Avoid it if possible. If you must go furniture shopping, try antique and even junk stores. There are thousands of books and YouTube videos dedicated to helping make old pieces of furniture look new and interesting.

5. Get reusable moving boxes – Moving typically requires a lot of cardboard and much of it is used only once. That doesn’t have to be the case. You can purchase used moving boxes, but there are risks involved. Bed bugs can live in cardboard and they can be difficult to remove without toxic insecticides. Some movers are turning to a cleaner alternative – reusable plastic cartons. They are cleaned out after every move and can be used over and over again. Some are even made of recycled plastic. If you are moving yourself, check into renting reusable cartons.

6. Use the right packing materials – Use paper instead of bubble wrap (paper conforms better to oddly shaped items anyway). To save even more, you can use kitchen linens and even bedsheets as packing material.

7. Once in your new home, recycle.

10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Moving

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There are few things that change a life more than moving. Most people embark on a moving journey more than once in their lives, but most give very little thought to the hows and whys of the moving industry. Here are 10 things you probably never knew:

1. When most people think of moving, they think of a truck, but did you know that the first moving van wasn’t even a van? It was a covered horse drawn carriage. Goods were transported across country on rail. As the combustable engine became more common during the turn of the 20th Century, moving companies used two-cylinder, two axle trucks with air cooled engines.

2. The storage industry is rumored to have started in England, when bankers stored items for their clients, but self-storage is an all-American idea – and fairly recent. It started in Texas in the mid-1960s. It spread quickly from there.

3. Americans are very mobile. Approximately 15% of the population (or 37 million people) moves in any given year.

4. Not surprisingly, young people (ages 18-29) are the most mobile.

5. About 2/3rds of people move within the same county. Of the 1/3 of people moving to different counties, about 40% move less than 50 miles.

6. 57% of Americans have not ventured to live outside their home state. 37% have never left their hometown.

7. The most common moves are:

  • New York to Florida: 59,288 people
  • California to Texas: 58,992
  • California to Arizona: 49,635
  • Florida to Georgia: 42,666
  • New Jersey to New York: 41,450
  • New York to New Jersey: 40,815
  • California to Nevada: 40,114
  • Georgia to Florida: 38,658
  • California to Washington: 38,421
  • Texas to California: 37,087

8. The most popular reason for moving is for a job.

9. A whopping 38% of people don’t call their current place of residence “home.”

10. People are leaving cities and moving to the suburbs. Between 2005 and 2010, urban areas lost 4.4 million people while suburban areas gained 8.8 million people.

How Moving Can Affect Your Taxes

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April 15th is tax day and if you’re like a lot of Americans, maximizing your deductions is at the top of your mind? If moved during 2012, your tax bill might be a bit smaller.

If you moved for a job (or if you are moving for a job) you might qualify for “above the line” tax deductions for the move. In other words, moving expenses are deducted before the adjusted gross income is calculated, so they lower your overall tax burden. Best yet, the form for filing for the deduction is very short and straightforward.

The IRS has strict qualifications for deducting moving expenses. If you move for family reasons or simply because you like an area better, you won’t qualify. However, if you move for a job, there’s a good chance you could save some money, but only if your employer didn’t cover the move (there may be exceptions if the employer adds moving costs to your salary).

The first test is the 50-mile radius test. The distance between your new home and your new job must be 50 miles greater than the distance between your old home and your new job. It’s doubtful many people in the Bay Area would qualify. If your old home is 60 miles from work, your new home would need to be no more than 10 miles from your work.

The second test you must pass is proving that you really did move for a job – by working there. You must be employed for at least 39 weeks during the 12 months after you make the move to qualify. You can work for several employers in the area during the 12 month period, but you must be employed for 39 weeks in that area. The IRS will make an exception if you are laid off or transferred.

If you are self-employed, the first two tests apply, but so does a third. You must work full time in the area for 78 weeks during a 24 month period.

If you are unemployed, as long as you find work at your new location and are able to pass the first two tests, you will most likely qualify.

If you are filing jointly, only one spouse needs to qualify.

What is covered?

If you qualify for the moving tax deductions, it’s mostly only the direct costs associated with the move that are covered. The IRS will allow deductions for packing, shipping, insurance for your move and up to 30 days storage. They will also include lodging and mileage. You can deduct one trip to your new home before the move. They will not cover costs associated with breaking leases or other contracts at your old location.

If you are planning a move for 2013, you might want to keep the tests in mind when searching for your new home.

The Packing Advice You Won’t Hear Anywhere Else

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The most time-consuming part of any move is the packing. It’s generally recommended that you begin packing one to two months before the moving day. Personally, I like to set a goal of about two to three boxes per person per evening. At that rate, it’s not very daunting, but the results add up quickly. You’d be surprised at how often you’ll get momentum going and pack more.

In the beginning, packing starts with the best of intentions. It’s an opportunity to purge, you think. Then, as time starts to get crunched, the packing gets a bit more sloppy as everything in sight lands in a box. Now for the packing advice you won’t hear anywhere else – don’t throw things away.

For most people in the process of moving, purging is a very unproductive use of their time. Unless you belong on the show “Hoarders,” it’s unlikely a purge will save you more than a handful of boxes. You will, however, spend hours deliberating over whether items should stay or go.

You’d be amazed at how your new home will give you a different perspective. An item that looked out of place at your old home might have a perfect place in your new. On the other hand, something that seemed worth keeping might seem ridiculous in a new surrounding. More importantly, you won’t be under time restraints as you unpack.

In the same vein, don’t even open photo albums while you’re packing. Have packing paper in hand before you pick up a keepsake, so you’re less likely to mull over it. Wait till the unpack. If a box is already packed and stored in your garage, keep it sealed. One of the reasons that professional packers are so fast (other than years of practice) is that they have no sentimental attachment to your belongings. If it’s not furniture, it gets packed.

Of course, there are exceptions. If you do belong on “Hoarders,” purge away. Even if you’re moving locally, it might be a good idea to stock your new refrigerator with new food. Get rid of old paint cans and chemicals (check with your local municipality for disposal instructions). If you have papers that need shredding, rather than hand feed them through a home shredder, take the papers to a shredding company. For a small fee, they’ll shred your paper into a finer state than most home shredders and they generally recycle. If something is obvious trash, of course, get rid of it.

One thing that does make a difference in the cost of your move is furniture. If there is furniture you won’t be using in your new home, give it away or if it’s in horrible condition, throw it away (again, check with your local municipality).

Of course, you can always hire your mover to pack for you.

How To Make Your New Neighborhood Friendlier

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3302749708_e3248c1185_oBefore a move, a person has typically seen their new home (sight unseen does happen – I’ve done it – I don’t recommend it). They’ve most likely explored their new neighborhood, the schools and even the grocery stores. But how many people meet their neighbors before deciding on a new home?

In these days when we call the hundreds if not thousands of Facebook acquaintances we’ve never met “friends,” how do you define the people with whom you might share a mail carrier or a coffee shop? In a time when your average American spends more waking time at work than they do at home, how do you get to know your neighbors?

1. Smile – That might sound like advice you’d give to your third grader before sending her off to a new school, but as elementary as it sounds, a smile is the best thing you should show to your new neighbor. It’s non-commital. If you live next door to someone who seems a little off, a smile sends them the message that you’re non-threatening. It’s not needy. If you get a good vibe from them, wave. At that point, let them come to you. Remember, you are the newby.

2. After you’ve settled in, invite the nicer neighbors over – Even if you like to keep to yourself, it’s good to establish some friendships in the neighborhood. They can be great helps if your dog escapes the yard or if someone suspicious is lurking around your house.

3. Attend neighborhood functions – Block parties often sound more like a chore than a party, but they are a great way to get to know all of your neighbors. Ask if there’s a community garden. Even if you have room at home, a community garden is a good way to spread the zucchini.

4. Exchange phone numbers – Ensure that your neighbors have a way to get ahold of you if they suspect a problem around your home.

5. If your neighbors are noisy – Talk to them. There’s no reason you should have to suffer through their barking dog or their teenagers’ loud music. Be nice, but be direct. Hopefully, you’ve already established a rapport with them. Be sure that your noise level is down, especially after 10:00 PM.

6. If your neighbors aren’t so nice – Unfortunately, this happens quite often. The best advice is to be as friendly as possible and try to recruit some other friends in the neighborhood. You might find that your unfriendly neighbors are simply insecure about new people moving in or you might find that the other neighbors have problems as well. If the problems get too extreme, call law enforcement.

7. To Facebook or not to Facebook – That depends entirely on your social networking style. If you are the type who tends to share every detail of your life, it’s probably not a good idea to let your neighbor know about your latest fight with your spouse or the issues you are having with your children. Some people use Facebook as an outlet. Complaining about a neighbor who happens to be a Facebook friend is at best, passive-aggressive. At worst, it’s downright hostile. If you share a lot of political content, you probably don’t want to friend your neighbors unless you are absolutely sure they sit on the same side of that fence. Politics (or religion) can cause some tension. Of course, if you put signs on your lawn during election season, share away.

If your Facebook posts are generally upbeat and not too personal, go ahead. It’s a great way to establish an even better relationship.

8 Most importantly, the best way to make good neighbors is to be a good neighbor – Give cards or cookies during the holidays. Keep your yard groomed. Make sure your pets don’t make too much noise. If you live in an apartment, keep offensive cooking smells and cigarette smoke to a minimum. Offer your help, even if it’s just helping to unload the groceries.

How To Choose A Mover – Part Two

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Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

Once you’ve chosen the three companies to give you estimates, schedule times for them to come to your home. The estimate process should always be free. The estimator should take a thorough inventory. He or she may take measurements. They should also ask you about anything you might have had trouble moving into your home. You’ll also be asked questions about your new home, but it’s understandable if you have not yet chosen that home. If you haven’t, the estimator should ask you to call once you have to new home in case there is anything that needs to be known.

If you are moving locally, you should always either be charged by the hour or you should be charged a flat rate based on a specific inventory and specific moving conditions (like stairs and distance from the house to the truck.) Movers will also charge you for moving supplies like boxes and tape. They should never charge you for blankets unless your blanketed furniture is moving into storage.

If you are moving across country, most reputable movers will charge you by weight. Some movers will charge you by volume. Since the truck will be weighed at a federally regulated scale, weight can be verified, whereas volume cannot. With most moves, you should also have an option of a flat price or a “not to exceed” estimate, which will mean that your price will only go down, not up.

After you receive the three estimates, pay careful attention to details such as pick-up and delivery windows. You might find that one company might save you a few hundred bucks, but are those savings really worth it if you end up having to stay in a hotel for an extended length of time because you have no furniture? Look and see how much packing the mover is including. If they are packing everything, make sure that all three estimates include similar amounts of packing.

If they included no packing whatsoever, on the presumption that you will be packing everything, you might see packing charges racking up even on top of a flat moving price. Most movers know that there are certain things that are almost never packed by the customer. Those items include things like mattresses, pictures on the walls and large electronics. All movers should ask you if you plan on packing those. If the mover doesn’t address these items and doesn’t include them in the estimate, it’s a red flag. Unless you have every single item packed, except for furniture, the mover will charge you on moving day. If it was already part of the estimate, great! If not, you’ll see the cost rise and there will be little you can do about it. Technically, the mover is performing services not in the original contract. That being said, there are plenty of times where honest movers arrive at people’s homes to find that a lot of packing still has to be done. They will also charge you for that.

Often, the difference between a good move and a bad moves comes down to planning. Clearly, there are things over which no one has control, like the weather, but there are many things that you can control. Make sure that both you and the mover understand exactly what is involved in the move. Don’t try to make the move seem smaller or less complicated than it is. Guaranteed prices only apply when the inventory list is thorough and when the circumstances – such as packing, distance to the truck, stairs and whether a semi-truck can access – are specifically spelled out. Make sure that you explore their Yelp and Angie’s List reviews. Ask for more references, and ask very specific questions of that reference. Does the estimator listen to and answer your questions? Is he or she available when you call?

Remember that even with the best of movers, not all moves will be perfect. The true test of a mover is how they handle claims. Any reputable mover would much rather they be given the opportunity to rectify things than leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.

How To Choose A Mover – Part One

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Image from SF Gate

Image from SF Gate

If you mention you are moving to a group of friends, you’ll probably hear a variety of stories – mostly bad. Of course, people tend to tell their bad stories before the good (a.k.a. non-eventful) ones, but despite that little quirk of human nature, moving nightmares could probably fill a library. A little preparation and knowledge is all you really need to ensure that while your friends are regaling you with their own tales of moves-gone-wrong, you can comfortably sit back, knowing that you really had a pretty good, albeit boring, experience.

It’s suggested that you get three estimates for your move but it’s likely that once you request moving estimates online rather than through an individual company, you’ll be barraged with enthusiastic movers. Personally, I would recommend doing a little homework and targeting three companies specifically rather than plugging information into a ‘lead source’ that broadcasts your information to random movers. So how do you find a good mover?

When you ask your friends about positive moving experiences, you might be surprised at how many will raise their hands to suggest a mover. That’s a good start, but you’ll want to investigate a little deeper. Try or for more referrals or to research a reputation a little deeper.

Remember that different movers have different specialties. If you are moving across the country, you might be drawn to one of what are called, ‘major van lines.’ Major van lines are the big guys and their names have been around for decades. Despite the fact that you see a lot of trucks with their names doing local moves, the van lines themselves only do interstate moves. I’ll get to more on that in a bit. The advantages to major van lines is that they tend to be fairly well-organized and they are usually on the up and up. The disadvantages are that because they only do interstate moves, they often give you big windows of timing on both pick-up and delivery and they often charge large fees for any sort of storage or for a specific pick-up date. If you have any issues after your move, you might find you have to jump through some red tape.

You might see some companies who include “van lines” in their name but they are not considered one of the major van lines. Some of them might operate similarly to the major van lines, but some of them might not. If you are looking for a major van line, see how long a company has been in business. You can find this information through the Department of Transportation – ask for the van line’s DOT number or MC number (as opposed to the local agent’s DOT or MC number). If it’s less than 30 years, it is not a major van line. I’m not saying they are a bad company, but they are misleading you if they claim to be one of the majors.

If you decide to investigate some of the smaller names, you might find a lot of advantages, such as flexibility and the fact that you’ll probably be able to reach the same person on the phone throughout the moving process. Personally, I think the best moving experiences happen because of the personal connections you establish when you go with a smaller company.

If you are moving locally, all companies are small guys to one extent or another. As I mentioned, the major van lines only do interstate moves, so even if a truck has their name on it, if you are moving locally (and sometimes if you are moving to the next state over) you are being moved by their local affiliate (or agent). For local moves, the van line and agent have no connection other than the fact that if the agent racks up too many complaints, the van line might drop the affiliation. If you are moving across country, it will probably be the local agent who will be giving you your moving estimate, so it’s always a good idea to check out their reputation in both cases.
Watch for part two next week!

Moving With Pets

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Moving is stressful. There’s no disputing that. Moving with pets can be especially stressful because there’s no way to explain to them why their lives have suddenly been turned upside down. Fear not, though. As guilty as we tend to feel about uprooting our animals, they tend to adjust pretty well and with a few tips, pretty easily.

Relax – Your pets feed off of your state of mind. Stick as closely to your routine as possible. While it’s very easy to lose track of time while preparing for a move, your animals won’t. Keep their usual feeding and exercise schedules. If possible, pack when the pets are outside and put boxes against walls instead of in the middle of the room.

Plan – Take her to the vet. Make sure she’s caught up on her shots. Ask for her file or ask your vet to fax her file to her next vet, if you’ve made those arrangements.

Are you driving to your destination or are you flying? Discuss the mode of transportation with the vet. He might suggest some medications that might help alleviate stress. Help prepare your pet for the car ride by taking her for short trips. Get her used to the crate by putting lots of “friendly” items in there, like a toy and a shirt that smells like you. Flying a pet can be a bit controversial, but remember that for the vast majority of pets, flying is safe, although it can be very stressful. There is an airline that caters to flying pets, but as of this writing, its future is unclear. If you are uncomfortable about flying your pet and driving is not an option, there are organizations that specialize in transporting pets.

If you are traveling by car and you will be staying in hotels or motels along the way, make sure you are armed with a list of pet friendly options. If possible, make reservations in advance and confirm that you will have a pet. Here is a list of pet-friendly lodging options, but some might have size restrictions.

To find a new vet, ask friends or coworkers in your new area or check Yelp or Angie’s List for reviews.

On Moving Day – If at all possible, get your pet out of the way. It’s not uncommon for a stressed animal to run away or for a freaked out dog to bite your movers. If he is socialized, take him to doggie day care. If you have a cat or bird, ask a friend or relative to take him for the day. If you can’t take your pet to another location, crate them. Even if you aren’t moving your furniture, move some things that will remind your pet of home, such as blankets that smell like you.

At Your New Home – As a general rule, cats are attuned to their environment while dogs are more attuned to you. Both, however, want to see familiar people and familiar things. If possible, stay home for at least a couple of days to give your pet time to associate the new surroundings with you. Spread lots of comfortable things around the house, like dog beds and favorite toys. If you do need to leave home, try to make the trips as short as possible and make sure there are no escape routes. Be prepared for behavioral problems in the beginning. My dog has a tendency to get in the trash (and other things) more often right after moving. Some might urinate inside. Some might become more aggressive. Some might refuse to eat. If severe behavior lasts more than a day or two, contact a veterinarian. If you have an outdoor cat, keep him inside until he’s used to his new surroundings.

Again, the most important thing for you is to stay calm. Establish the same routine in your new home as you had in your old one. Explore your neighborhood with your dogs. Find local dog parks and remember that your pet will adjust very quickly.

For more tips on moving pets, even more exotic pets, Petfinder is a great resource.

Seeds for Your Business

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