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Real People: Cross Country Moving Comparison – Full Service Movers vs. Moving Labor

Posted in: I'm Moving, Long Distance Moving, Moving Stories

This tale of two moves is from Gabi Logan and is the latest installment in our Real People series.

In the last few years, I’ve had the (mis)fortune of moving clear across the country, twice. Before I was engaged, the man who would become my husband relocated from Boston to California for work (a.k.a. completely paid for) without me and I had to follow a year later on my own dime. Picture of the California Coast at Sunset

Just a year after I arrived in California, he had to move for work again, setting me up for my first full-service, cross country moving experience.

To Pack or Not to Pack

To be honest, I’m pretty protective of my things. Going into my first move, I thought it would be better to hire a moving labor company, pack our things ourselves, and be in charge of the process of the movers loading everything up for us. It’s less expensive for sure, and it also seemed safer. I’ve heard horror stories from friends who’ve had all of their shoes (female) and their GameCube (male) stolen. My husband has had countless items broken, and his flat screen T.V. “mysteriously” went missing. Before my first cross-country move, I had only moved within town, where you can make multiple car trips over days or weeks and go back extra times when you have too many boxes for the “last” load. Moving cross-country is a completely different experience, and the stress of getting everything ready in time for the movers was worse than any disasters I’ve had in years of professional theater (but on stage, there’s an audience watching when you screw up).

Full Service Packing is Surprising

Too Much Packing Paper?On my second cross-country move, I was delighted to find that the packers we had were incredibly professional, cordial, and respectful. I ended up feeling comfortable enough that I let them pack some things that I initially wanted to pack myself. The environmentalist in me, however, cried throughout the entire process. When I packed my stuff myself on my Boston to California move, I used clothes, towels, stuffed animals—anything soft—as cushioning or to fill empty spaces in a box of books. Professional packers, though, seem to think that packing paper is as ubiquitous as water. Everything we own was wrapped in five to ten layers of thick packing paper. And I don’t just mean breakable items. Even our dishtowels. Unpacking in New York City (more on why the full-service movers didn’t do that later), there was so much packing paper that it would not fit, literally, in our apartment. I had to have the movers take it out with them on their way down. What’s more surprising was, even with all that packing paper, more than ten things showed up broken or damaged. When I packed my own things during my first move, not a single thing broke.

Managing the Management Can Be More Stressful Than It’s Worth

While our experience with the actual packers was pleasant, that was probably the only thing I preferred about our full-service move. From practically the first phone call (somehow they had our moving date wrong despite three separate calls to fix it), things were scary. First, the people who were supposed to “crate” (a fancy mover term for boxing things up) our T.V. never arrived, only to call us two days later and ask if it was a good time to come. We started to really feel like things were out of control when we realized that the packers were not the same people who would move the boxes. When we called to check, the movers were apparently planning to come after we had already left for New York. The real icing on the cake was move-in day. And not just the fact that it took place two and a half weeks after it was scheduled (when we had people coming to stay with us and help us move in). When the movers arrived, they refused to put down mats on the floor, as the first movers had done, despite the fact that we had brand new hardwood floors. It took three calls to different rungs on the moving company ladder to get someone to call the head of the team and get the guy bringing things into the apartment to protect the floor. As things came up the stairs, despite the fact that we warned the movers that there was wet paint in the hall, all of the furniture was covered with green paint and scratches. The hours passed and the movers, understandably, became tired, but—less excusably—became downright sloppy. They didn’t screw in the slats on our bed and broke one of the legs, a fact we unfortunately only discovered when we tried to go to sleep. And they flat out refused to bring our bookcase up the stairs and just left it in the entryway. Since the boxes took so long to bring upstairs, the movers refused to unpack our things because it was late. When another string of phone calls reminded them it was part of the job, they simply upended the boxes and dumped everything in piles on the floor.

The Overall Lesson: You Can Never Start Preparing to Move Early Enough

When you’re not doing a full-service move, this is especially true. Even though I probably spent six months dedicated (more or less, you know, on weekends and when I felt like it) to thinning my possessions, I was still overwhelmed with packing at the end. I donated a bunch of clothes I would have rather sold on eBay, packed more than we anticipated and blew the budget, and scrambled the last day even though I’d been systematically packing for weeks. With the full-service move, the preparation is subtler. I have military friends who say their full-service movers have literally, on more than one occasion, packed their trash. Full-service moves are more project management than actual work, so it’s important for your sanity and your stuff that you make sure that the whole team is on the same page and doing their tasks properly. In our case, snafus occurred because we didn’t call and confirm every single, separate service provider and tell them exactly what they would do and when. Honestly, we thought that was what we were paying someone else to coordinate. But, no one is really going to be your advocate but you. You know what they say, if you want something done right, do it yourself. I don’t think packing, moving all your own things, and driving it across the county is the answer though. In the case of moving, it’s more like, if you want things done right, pay someone to do it and then double check every step.


Photo credit to Damian Gadal and Dean Michaud


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