Saturday, September 25, 2010

Different Ways to Move

There are a number of ways to move these days, including relatively new methods, such as ABF U-Pack moving, which uses commercial freight trailers, parked at your door.

We are moving some of our furniture to Georgia, and need to find a way to move it.  Today, there are more choices than ever for moving thing.  Let's explore the pros and cons of these moving techniques.

But first, let's make sure we really want to move this stuff.  All too often, I see people spend more money to move an item than it is worth.  Paying $25 to move $10 worth of stuff is not cost-effective.  In fact, paying money to move things that you can sell at a garage sale and then re-buy at your destination (at someone else's garage sale) doesn't make sense.

If you have time before your move, liquidate things on Craigslist, eBay, and garage sales.  There is no point in moving junk, and no point in moving things you can easily buy there for the same price you sell here.  Moving is a good time to cull your life of excess possessions.

But Beware:  Don't fall into the trap of selling off all your "good stuff" and then moving all the absolute crapola.  Decide what is worth moving - things that you cannot sell for a reasonable price (and buy at your destination) or things that have special value to you.

I've seen a lot of people moving absolute trash on the Interstates.  People actually pay money to rent a trailer to move a broken-down Camaro.  A move such as this is a good time to dump that "project car" that will never be completed.

THE BEST MOVE is one where you sell it all and take only a toothbrush.  And eventually, we will all make this move - to the rest home, or to a pine box.

Once you have winnowed down what you need to move, consider the following alternatives for moving:

1.  Traditional Movers are a dying breed and an example of how you can destroy your own industry without too much effort.  When I was a kid growing up, this was perhaps the only practical way to move.  And for many folks, the company you worked for you pay to move you to a new city if you were relocated.  My Dad did this several times and reports that they even moved their garbage, since they weren't paying for the move.

There are a number of inherent problems in using traditional movers.  These types of movers (Allied Van Lines, Mayflower, NorthWest Van Lines, etc.) show up with a large 18-wheeler and then have hired "movers" take all your stuff and pack it into the truck.  It is the most expensive and labor-intensive way to move your things, and also the most problematic.

The problem is, since few households fill an entire truck, it is likely that your truck will "share" space with someone else's move.  Worse yet, your load may be unloaded, put in a warehouse, then reloaded to another truck, perhaps more than once. In these scenarios, a lot of stuff goes missing, gets broken, or otherwise gets lost.  The complaint rate for these types of movers is astronomical.

While the idea behind such movers is great - you get curb-to-curb service, and all the labor done for you - the reality is less than ideal.  Stuff arrives broken or is missing, and despite all your complaints, little or nothing gets done about it.

My parents went through this with one van line company, whose driver went crazy and took off when his wife left him.  He sold off some of our furniture along the way to pay for fuel.  Eventually the van was found, abandoned.   Granted, it is an extreme example of what can happen.  We waited months for our furniture to arrive, and many items were never recovered.  Two decades later, they used the same company (after vowing "never again") and while no one went crazy and drove off with their stuff, many things did go missing from storage and other things were broken.

I met a former van driver for the same company, and he had horror stories to tell from his side.  He owned his rig and leased it to the company, which paid him just enough to survive on.  Many times, he would show up at a house, and find that the company had not hired any movers to load the van.  At that point he had two choices - sit at the curb while angry homeowners fumed about the lack of loading progress (with home sale closing dates approaching rapidly) and wait for the company to send movers.  Or start loading himself, and throw out his back working for the company for free.  At the other end, often the same thing happened, and he ended up unloading furniture and not being paid for it.  He eventually too the third option and quit - selling his truck.

He told me that many times, the "movers" the company hired were just people from the local labor pool or temp agency, with little or no moving and packing experience.  And many times, the company would not send enough people to load or unload within one day.  So even when the "movers" showed up, he still ended up having to help pack the truck, usually doing the lion's share of the work.

The cost of such traditional movers is staggering - in the thousands of dollars, usually.  Much of this goes to salesmen's commissions and the like, or to moving brokers who take a big chunk off the top (but never answer your calls once your furniture goes missing).

Poor service, high prices - it is no wonder that you don't see moving vans on the Interstate anymore.  And let's face it, since most people today own inexpensive Chinese-made junk, it ain't worth moving most stuff anymore.

There are a few specialty van lines left out there that deal in local area moves or special point-to-point moves (New York to Florida, for example) and have stellar reputations for their service.  But usually, they are not cheap.

For most people today, the traditional mover is not an option.  Back in the day, the company you worked for might pick up the tab.  But today?  Fat chance.  So many people look for alternative options.

2. U-Haul and the like came into being after WWII when people started moving to the suburbs.   You can rent a trailer or truck from them and move a fairly large amount of possessions.  During our last move from Virginia to New York, we rented two of their largest vans (26 feet) and a 14-foot trailer and moved everything ourselves.

It was not too bad, in terms of price, but it was a backbreaking amount of work.  In retrospect, I would have tried to move less (moving houseplants was fruitless - most died after the first year).

U-haul can be cheap - at times - and you can hire local deadbeats through them (from a labor agency or temp pool) to help you pack and unpack the truck.

Many people own large SUVs or Pickup Trucks today, and renting a trailer is one dirt cheap way of moving small amounts of possessions.  Trucks are a lot more to rent, but haul a lot more, and of course, if your only car is a Geo Metro, a truck might be your only option.

In the old days, U-Haul had some issues, to say the least.  At our local U-haul in Alexandria, if you wanted a local rental, you had to show up at 6AM, get in line, and try to rent one before they "ran out".  Today, the large moving centers, such as the one in Lorton, Virginia, take reservations for local moves, and are much better run than the Mom and Pop franchises of years past.  If your local U-haul doesn't take reservations for local moves, try reserving online for a "one way"move from your location to an adjacent city.  It sometimes works!

And speaking of which, one way to save a LOT of money on U-Haul and the like is to go online and play with the reservation dates and cities.  For example, we wanted to rent an 8-foot trailer to take from Ithaca, New York, to Brunswick, Georgia.  Plugging in the data online yielded a staggering $1000 charge for such a rental - almost enough to buy a used trailer outright.

But by changing the starting city to Syracuse, New York (an hour's drive away) and the ending city to Jacksonville Florida (ditto), the rental cost dropped to $400.  If you want to do one-way rentals to oddball or small towns, there will be extra charges, as it is likely that someone will have to hump your equipment back to a hub in a major city.  So play with locations, and you can save a lot of dough.

There are a number of complaints online about U-Haul, most dealing with equipment problems or reserved equipment that fails to materialize.  Shit happens, as they say, and if you have a narrow window for moving, things can go horribly wrong when the equipment is out of service for repair, or breaks down en route.  One way to avoid this is to avoid moving on the weekends or the end of the month, when equipment usage is at its height.  If you leave yourself only a half-a-day to move, and that day is the 31st of the month, on a Saturday, well, you've set yourself up for a fall, big time.

The advantages of U-Haul and the like are that you are in control of your things at all times - no one is unloading your possessions at a warehouse, sight unseen.  And since you loaded it, you have no one else to blame when things break.  This is not to say things won't break, of course.  And cost is another big factor as well.  U-Haul can be fairly cheap, depending on what you are renting, where, and when.

The downside is, if you are not strong enough to pack stuff yourself, you may need help.  And even then, you can throw your back out moving stuff, as we both did on our move to New York.  Is it worth back pain to own anything?  Now you see why I am becoming an anti-materialist.

3.  PODS stands for Portable On-Demand Storage and is an outgrowth of the crate packing systems used for years, particularly in the military.  But instead of wooden crates, the PODS are water-tight mini-garages that can be dropped at your door, loaded at your leisure, and then stored or moved to the location of your choice.  Since you pack it and you lock it, it eliminates the light-fingered mover problem and also puts the onus of breakage on your shoulders.

The only two problems with PODS are cost and availability.  At the time we last moved, they did not have branches in our area, so they could not move our stuff.  And the cost was nearly double that of a U-Haul truck, which seemed kind of steep.  Since then, PODS is serving more areas, but still not all.  And the cost is still fairly high.

I think they are really aiming more at the local market and the storage market as well, at least at the present time.

4.  U-Pack is a division of ABF freight company, and is shown in the above photo.  A friend of mine recently used them and reported it went very well.  They bring one of those tandem freight trailers to your home, and you pack it up, installing a load wall between your goods and the rest of the trailer.  They then take the trailer to the hub, load boxes or whatever in the rest, and put it in the system, bound for the hub nearest your destination.  Once there, they unload their freight, and then take the trailer to your home.  You have 2-3 days to unload your stuff, which was locked behind the load wall.

The rates are competitive with U-Haul, and you don't have to drive the equipment or pay for the gas. So it is an attractive option.  One nice feature is that if you need more room, you simply buy it by the foot (if you need less, you pay for less).  So the problem of not renting enough equipment is not an issue.

U-Pack also has a PODS like module called a Relo-Cube, which they will deliver to your door or to a local terminal, and you can load.  At the destination, you can either store the Cube for $99 a month, or have it sent to your door, or unload it at the local terminal.  We are using the Relo-Cube for this next move, as we have items that need to go into storage for a month or so, while we build a new studio.  Unfortunately, ABF won't bring the Relo-Cubes to the island, so we will have to do a daily local truck rental from U-Haul to unload the cube and bring the stuff to the island.

Like with the U-Pack truck, if you need more cube, they will send one.  If you don't need a cube that you ordered, there is no charge for it.  So it does provide flexibility in loading.  One reason we had that 14-foot trailer (in addition to the two 26 foot trucks) during our last move was because we realized at the last minute that all our stuff would not fit into the two trucks.  It was nerve-wracking!

* * * *

This time around we are moving a lot less stuff.  We sold a lot of our furniture to the home buyer - which is an excellent way to get rid of stuff and also to get new furniture at your destination.  So rather than move, we used the magic of MONEY (the Greatest Invention Ever) and converted THINGS into CASH and then move them, like Captain Kirk's transporter beam, across the planet.  Money is easy to carry and doesn't throw out your back!

The next move after this, I hope to move even less "stuff" than before.  But we'll see....