If forced to choose between
getting a cavity filled by a Novocain-stingy, garlic-loving dentist who insists on drowning out the sound of his drill with Captain and Tennille songs sung by The Chipmunks, or packing up all your belongings and moving to a new home, many of us would choose the first option. Even the thought of cleaning out the reptile and invertebrate exhibits at Riverbanks Zoo, suffering through a full blown case of the willies as creepy crawly creatures slither across our hands, can sound more appealing than the hassle of boxing up every earthly possession. Moving is so painstakingly avoided because of the associations with extreme stress and tears due to mountains of poorly packed, inadequately labeled boxes; a shortage of time to pack everything before the movers arrive; and lost or broken heirlooms.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way. With planning and organization, transitioning from one home to another can be accomplished with only a twinge of anxiety and the occasional sentimental tear that comes with saying goodbye to the old and embracing the new. The following is a timeline of helpful tips.
Several months out: You have decided to relocate
If your goal is to move with the least amount of stress possible, then a reputable real estate agent is a must. Don’t be pushed into using an agent who is anything less than wholly qualified. Now is not the time to curry favor with a great-aunt by using her next door neighbor’s third grader’s teacher’s boyfriend. Set up an interview, talk with recent clients, check references, and make sure a prospective agent is absolutely familiar with the home’s area. An agent who suggests an asking price far above what other houses in your locality have sold for — as if your home was the celebrity superstar of houses surrounded by lowly fans and wannabes — is clearly not familiar with your neighborhood.
Avoid hiring an agent for whom real estate is not a full time gig. If she is also a dog walking, yoga instructing, haunted house tour guide giving barista, she may be spread a little too thin to give clients and their homes the attention they deserve. And if there is a canine crisis or a new paranormal sighting, she won’t be available at all.
Once selected, your agent can help you wade through the cryptic, complex world of purchasing a new home and/or selling your old one. Buying a new place can be overwhelming, and, even when you find the home of your dreams, you might fret over what can’t be seen. Is there mold? Lead paint? Termite damage? That’s where your advocate, your agent, will step in, making sure that these types of hidden maladies are revealed before a deal is made. You’ll know before you buy if your new home is a popular new addition on your rejected agent’s haunted house tour.
Your agent can also help show off your soon-to-be-old residence in the best possible light. While the thought of strangers walking through your home can be intimidating, and you might be tempted to stay to supervise, prospective buyers will not feel comfortable looking in your closets — and, like it or not, they need to look in your closets — if you are hovering over their shoulders. Vacate the premises and leave any showings in your agent’s capable hands.
Before you leave, however, make sure your soon-to-be-old house is tidy and inviting. That weird crochet afghan you got from someone whose name you can’t remember that reeks of spilled chicken soup and Vicks VapoRub because you only use it when you are sick does not need to be prominently displayed across the living room sofa. Potential buyers should be looking at the house and not your furnishings, but they will have a difficult time separating the two. Look around your house as if you were seeing it for the first time and put away anything that seems ratty or out of place. And seriously, throw that afghan out. It’s time.
Leave on all lights and make sure the thermostat is set to a comfortable temperature. If your neighbor’s front lawn resembles a junkyard, close the blinds that face that direction but open the rest of the blinds to let in as much natural light as possible. And don’t try out that strawberry and eucalyptus scented candle you won at last week’s Bunco game. In fact, avoid all scented candles or home-fragrance sprays because visitors might be adverse to the smell or have an allergy.
If you insist on having some aroma wafting through your home — perhaps you are attempting to cover that foul odor emanating from your weird afghan — bake some cookies before a showing, then leave them out for potential buyers to enjoy. Do not leave pets in the house during a showing, even those that live in cages. That parrot that likes to catcall and learned most of its words from late-night standup comedian shows might be amusing to you but could be off-putting to buyers, especially those with kids in tow. The same is true of any art work that would not pass the PG-13 rating system. And this is most certainly not the time to be political. Put away any banners and yard signs, for example.
Two months before your move: Retail stores are already displaying decorations for the month your move is set to take place.
You’ve sold your old home and have purchased a new one. And while relocating may seem far enough away to pretend it isn’t happening, now is the time to get the moving ball rolling. If you’ve decided to hire a moving company, do some homework. Booking the cheapest crew possible off a questionable website might mean an elderly woman and her 14-year-old grandson show up at your doorstep on moving day. Or you may have a reasonably strong team come out, one that does an adequate job on the front end, but then holds you for ransom at the new house, refusing to unpack the truck until they get their “tip,” costing you hundreds or even thousands of dollars above the agreed to price.
Moving is not something most people do every day, so moving crews generally are not looking for repeat customers. To avoid a shakedown, be sure to use reputable companies with verifiable references. Get three estimates from three different companies. All should be in approximately the same price range; a quote that is too low could foreshadow problems yet to come. Check their reviews and insist on complete, in-writing documentation.
Now is the time to evaluate your existing furniture and belongings to consider how they will be assimilated into your new home-to-be. Any items that are not going to fit, or that will be replaced soon after the move, should not be put on the moving truck. Hold a garage sale or haul them to a nearby donation facility.
This two-month mark is also an excellent time to declutter your home. Those ugly lipstick colors and weird facial masks you are never going to use are not going to look any more appealing in the new house. Neither is that chipped tea set, the stack of self-help books you have never opened, or that smelly afghan you were supposed to have thrown out four weeks ago. Dump it all or put it in the garage sale pile.
One month before moving day: You can actually see the date on your current calendar page.
Use this month to start notifying other organizations about your upcoming move as well. Some excellent checklists available online identify important parties in need of notification. Most people remember to alert the post office, but what about your stockbroker? Health care provider? Nonprofits who send you donation reminders? The berry picking farm that sends you a notice once a year when the blueberries are ripe? Make sure you don’t spend the next year missing out on important announcements or seasonal fruit. Think about any other accounts or memberships you have that will need an address change, and definitely remember to call Columbia Metropolitan and update your magazine subscription!
Get good strong boxes — you do not want the bottom falling out of your underwear box in the middle of your lawn while your new neighbor watches, horrified expression on her face, welcome casserole in hand.
Remember to pack for the house you are moving into, not the house you are leaving. If your old place has three bathrooms and your new one has only two, writing bathroom number three on a box is just going to create unnecessary confusion.
Label every box in ridiculous detail, and create a master list of numbered containers while you pack. Using different colored tape for different designations can be useful because it makes box-to-room sorting that much easier; however, still write as much detail as possible about the contents of each container. Do not count on remembering that the box with the smudge on the side belongs in the kitchen, because you may end up with a carton full of sharp cutlery deposited in your 2-year-old’s bedroom.
Two weeks out: The phrase “Saturday after next” may cause minor heart palpitations but breathe through it. You are almost there.
The number of days to launch date is getting smaller, but fortunately, so are your tasks. If you have stayed within the general guidelines, you do not need to panic. Keep packing. Use wardrobe boxes for hanging clothes, and put masking tape on mirrors and glass to help absorb any jolts from the moving van. Arrange for the cable and alarm systems to be activated in your new place, and start settling any outstanding bills. It is not too late to weed out more belongings, so keep making runs to the local donation depot. Nonprofits often need whatever you can spare, except perhaps for that smelly afghan. Nobody really wants that.
Moving Week: You’ve got this!
Take a picture of the electronic setup on the back of all computers and televisions before unplugging. If you’ve ever removed one video cable from your television set for even a moment, then wondered if it goes back into the blue, green, or red outlet, you know how important this step can be.
Pack an overnight bag for the day of the move. Even if you are just traveling across town, you don’t want to spend that first night searching in all the “bathroom” boxes for your toothpaste and toothbrush. A box filled with “first arrival” materials is also recommended. This might include toilet paper, soap, light bulbs, flashlights, and bedding — anything to make the inaugural night more comfortable.
Moving Day: Wake up knowing that, at the end of the day, you will be in a new home.
Eat breakfast and breathe deeply. Send the kids off with the relatives and the pets to the sitter. Have one person in charge of dealing with the movers to avoid conflict and confusion, and make sure that person carefully supervises both the loading and unloading of the truck. Before the movers depart for your new home, do a sweep of the entire property to make sure nothing was left behind.
Surrender your old keys to the landlord or real estate agent, and move on to the new house. Make sure the movers put the boxes in the proper rooms — you spent hours color-coding and labeling for a reason. After everything is properly placed, take a moment, or two or three, to relax and celebrate. You survived! You don’t have to unpack everything right away. Do the essentials first: kitchen, bathroom, bedroom. Just don’t be too surprised when you open that container marked “dishes” to discover that there, folded neatly atop the everyday dinner plates, is your old smelly afghan. No matter how organized you are, stuff like that never really goes away.