Newcomer's Handbook Seattle

Moving and Storage

Before you can start your new life in Seattle, you and your worldly possessions have to get here. How difficult that will be depends on how much stuff you’ve accumulated, how much money you’re willing or able to spend on the move, and where you’re coming from.

Truck Rentals

The first question you need to answer: am I going to move myself or will I have someone else do it for me? If you’re used to doing everything yourself, you can rent a vehicle and head for the open road. Look in the Yellow Pages or online under “Truck Rental,” and call around and compare; also ask about any specials. Below we list four national truck rental firms and their toll-free numbers and websites. For the best information, you should call a local office. Note: most truck rental companies now offer “one-way” rentals (don’t forget to ask whether they have a drop-off/return location in or near your destination), as well as packing accessories and storage facilities. Of course, these extras are not free. If you’re cost-conscious you may want to scavenge boxes in advance of your move and, if you haven’t yet found your new residence, make sure you have a place to store your belongings upon arrival. Also, if you’re planning to move during the peak moving months of May through September, call or reserve a truck online well in advance of when you’ll need the vehicle—a month at least.

Once you’re on the road, keep in mind that your rental truck may be a tempting target for thieves. If you must park it overnight or for an extended period (more than a couple of hours), try to find a safe spot, preferably a well-lit place you can easily observe.

Commercial Freight Carriers and Container-Based Movers

Not sure if you want to drive the truck yourself? Commercial freight carriers, such as ABF U-Pack, offer an in-between service: they deliver an empty 28-foot trailer to your home, you pack and load as much of it as you need, and they drive the vehicle to your destination (usually with some commercial freight filling up the empty space). Information is available through their website at upack.com.

Another increasingly popular (though not inexpensive) option is to hire a container-based moving service, such as Seattle Storage and Moving Company, (888-366-7222, doortodoor.com,), Smartbox (877-627-8269, smartboxusa.com), PODS (877-770-PODS, pods.com), and 1-800-Pack-Rat (www.1800packrat.com, 800-722-5728). These carriers will deliver sturdy containers (often called storage pods), usually made of metal, fiberglass or treated plywood, to your home. At your own pace, you load the containers with the items you need to move, and the company delivers the loaded containers to your destination or to a storage facility, if you’re not ready to unpack yet. Some containers are compact enough to fit in a parking space or a driveway adjacent to your property, where you can temporarily store and access them easily. The container system allows you to compartmentalize your move, keeping the contents of a certain room in one place. Having control over the packing process may limit damage to your possessions (don’t skimp on the bubble wrap!). Containers are also a sensible option when the sale of your property doesn’t coincide with the move-in date for your new home, or if you are planning to paint or remodel the property before moving in. When pricing this option, which often costs more than hiring a conventional moving company, be sure you take careful measurements of the items you’re planning to move, since certain pieces may be too large for the dimensions of the available containers. You should also find out the maximum weight that a container can handle.

Movers

You can search for a mover in the Yellow Pages, but the best way to find a reliable mover is through a personal recommendation. Absent a friend or relative who can point you to a trusted moving company, try some of the online personal recommendation sites like citysearch.com, yelp.com, and judysbook.com. It’s not a good idea to merely do an Internet search for movers, as you’ll likely be taken to websites for online moving brokers, who do not have a good track record for steering customers to reputable movers. For long distance or interstate moves, the American Moving and Storage Association’s site (www.moving.org) identifies member movers both in Washington and across the country. In the past, Consumer Reports (www.consumerreports.org) has published useful information on moving. Members of AAA can call their local office and receive discounted rates and service through AAA’s Consumers Relocation Service.

Disagreeable moving experiences, while common, aren’t obligatory. To aid you in your search for a hassle-free mover, we offer a few general recommendations. First and foremost, make sure any moving company you consider hiring is licensed by the appropriate authority:

  • The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) regulates intrastate moves. All movers operating within the state of Washington are required to have a valid state UTC permit. The permit number must appear on the mover’s vehicles, advertisements, correspondence, business cards, and website. A licensed mover must comply with UTC safety, insurance, and service standards, and must perform its services at reasonable rates and within a reasonable time. Visit the WUTC website (www.utc.wa.gov) for a list of registered movers. To check on your mover by phone, call the WUTC consumer help-line at 888-333-9882 (toll-free in Washington), or 360-664-1234. When you call, you will be informed if the moving company is registered, and whether there have been complaints lodged against it.
  • Interstate moves are regulated by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ( FMCSA). When reviewing prospective carriers, make sure the carrier has a Department of Transportation MC (“Motor Carrier”) or ICC MC number that should be displayed on all advertising and promotional material as well as on the truck. With the MC number in hand, you can contact the Washington office of FMCSA at 360-753-9875 or check fmcsa.dot.gov to see if the carrier is licensed and insured. You can also learn how to protect yourself from scams by downloading brochures from the website www.protectyourmove.gov. Before a move takes place, federal regulations require interstate movers to furnish customers with a copy of “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move.” If they don’t give you a copy, ask for one. FMCSA’s role in the regulation of interstate carriers concerns safety issues, not consumer issues. To find out if any complaints have been filed against a prospective mover, check with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) in the state where the moving company is licensed, as well as with that state’s Consumer Protection Office.

Additional Recommendations

  • If someone recommends a mover to you, get names (the salesperson or estimator, the drivers, the loaders). To paraphrase the NRA, moving companies don’t move people, people do.
  • Once you’ve narrowed your search down to two or three companies, ask a mover for references, particularly from customers who recently did moves similar to yours. If a mover is unable or unwilling to provide such information or tells you that it can’t give out names because their customers are all in the federal Witness Protection Program…perhaps you should consider another company.
  • Even though movers will put numbered labels on your possessions, you should make a numbered list of every box and item that is going in the truck. Detail box contents and photograph anything of particular value. Once the truck arrives on the other end, you can check off every piece and know for sure what did (or did not) make it. In case of claims, this list can be invaluable. Even after the move, keep the list; it can be surprisingly useful.
  • Be aware that during the busy season (May through September), demand can exceed supply and moving may be more difficult and more expensive than during the rest of the year. If you must relocate during the peak moving months, call and book service well in advance, a month, at least, ahead of your moving date. If you can reserve service way in advance, say four to six months early, you may be able to lock in a lower winter rate for your summer move. Keep in mind that Saturdays are usually busy moving days and you might have better luck moving on a less busy day of the week.
  • Whatever you do, do not mislead a salesperson about how much and what you are moving. And make sure you tell a prospective mover how far they’ll have to transport your stuff to and from the truck as well as any stairs, driveways, obstacles or difficult vegetation, long paths or sidewalks, etc. The clearer you are with your mover, the better he or she will be able to serve you.
  • You should ask for and receive a written estimate of the probable cost of your move. The estimate should clearly and accurately describe all charges. In Washington, there are two types of estimates: A non-binding estimate is an educated guess of what your move would cost based on the mover’s survey of your belongings. In this scenario your final cost can exceed the non-binding estimate—though there is a limit on how much over the estimate the company can charge. A binding estimate is a written agreement that guarantees the price you pay based on the items to be moved and the services listed on the estimate, inventory or tally sheet.
  • Remember that price, while important, isn’t everything, especially when you’re entrusting all of your worldly possessions to strangers. Choose a mover you feel comfortable with.
  • Think about packing. Depending on the size of your move and whether or not you do the packing yourself, you may need a lot of boxes, tape, and packing material. Boxes provided by the mover, while not cheap, are usually sturdy and the right size. Sometimes a mover will give a customer free used boxes. It doesn’t hurt to ask. Liquor stores and grocery stores are also good places to ask for boxes. Also, don’t wait to pack until the last minute. If you’re doing the packing, give yourself at least a week to do the job, two is better. Keep in mind that moving companies will usually not accept liability for “owner-packed” boxes, however, so you might want to stock up on the bubble wrap.
  • Listen to what the movers say; they are professionals and can give you expert advice about packing and preparing. Also, be ready for the truck on both ends—don’t make them wait. Not only will it irritate your movers, but it may cost you. Understand, too, that things can happen on the road that are beyond a carrier’s control (weather, accidents, etc.) and your belongings may not get to you at the time or on the day promised. (See note about insurance below.)
  • Treat your movers well, especially the ones loading your stuff on and off the truck. Offer to buy them lunch, and tip them if they do a good job.
  • Ask about insurance; the “basic” 60 cents per pound industry standard coverage is not enough. If you have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, check to see if it will cover your belongings during transit. If not, consider purchasing “full replacement” or “full value” coverage from the carrier for the estimated value of your shipment. Though it’s the most expensive type of coverage offered, it’s probably worth it. Trucks get into accidents, they catch fire, they get stolen—if such insurance seems pricey to you, ask about a $250 or $500 deductible. This can reduce your cost substantially but still give you much better protection in the event of a catastrophic loss. Transport irreplaceable items, such as jewelry, photographs or key work documents, yourself.
  • Be prepared to pay the full moving bill upon delivery. Cash or bank/cashier’s check may be required. Some carriers will take VISA and MasterCard but it is a good idea to get it in writing that you will be permitted to pay with a credit card since the delivering driver may not be aware of this and may demand cash. Unless you routinely keep thousands of dollars of greenbacks on you, you could have a problem getting your stuff off the truck.
  • Above all, ask questions, and if you’re concerned about something, ask for an explanation in writing.
  • Finally, before moving pets, attach a tag to your pet’s collar with your new address and phone number in case your pet accidentally wanders off in the confusion of moving.

Those moving within the Seattle area with minimal belongings probably won’t need a huge truck to complete the task. If you (and your friends) are not interested in loading and unloading a rented truck, you may consider hiring one of the following local movers. All were registered with the WUTC and held current permits at the time of publication:

According to the WUTC, moving costs in Washington are calculated in one of two ways, depending on the distance. For moves of 55 miles or more, rates are based on the weight of your goods and the distance hauled. For moves of fewer than 55 miles, rates are based on the number of workers used, the amount of time necessary to load, move, and unload your goods, and the mover’s hourly rate. The UTC sets maximum rates that a mover can charge, but it can be worth your while to shop around among legitimate, trustworthy movers, as many will charge less than the maximum rates to get your business.

Consumer Complaints—Movers

If you have a problem with your mover that you haven’t been able to resolve directly, you can file a complaint about an intrastate move with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission. Call the Consumer Complaints section at 888-333-9882, or use the online complaint form at utc.wa.gov. If yours was an interstate move, your options for government intervention or assistance are limited. Years ago the now-defunct Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) would log complaints against interstate movers. Today, you’re pretty much on your own. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recommends that you call 888-368-7238 to lodge a complaint against a moving company. You can also contact the Better Business Bureau in the licensing state, as well as that state’s consumer protection office to register a complaint. If satisfaction still eludes you, begin a letter writing campaign: to the state Attorney General, to your congressional representative, to the newspaper, the sky’s the limit. Of course, if the dispute is worth it, you can hire a lawyer and seek redress the all-American way.

Storage

If you and your belongings are going to arrive at your destination at different times, you have a few options. Many movers have their own warehouses for storage, or contract out with other warehouse companies. If your mover is going to handle storage for you for up to 90 days, it is considered storage in transit and is regulated by the WUTC. Any storage after 90 days is considered permanent storage and is no longer regulated. The WUTC website provides more information at utc.wa.gov.

If you discover that your new abode is too small for all of your stuff, or it’s taking longer than expected to get permanently settled and you need storage beyond 90 days, you’ll want to explore a couple of options. You can go the Self Storage route (see below) or rent a container from a portable storage company. These companies will deliver as many 5’ by 8’ wooden containers as you need to your home, where you will pack them. When you’re finished packing, the company will come to pick the containers up and store them in their secured facilities until you need them. A good rule of thumb is that two containers will generally store the contents of a studio or one-bedroom home or apartment. Five containers will hold the contents of a two- or three-bedroom home. Some companies offer their services nationally, so you can pack your belongings in one state and have them delivered to your new home for less than hiring a traditional mover. Other companies only service local regions so this may be an alternative to traditional self-service storage.

  • Door to Door Storage & Moving, several locations in the Puget Sound area, 888-366-7222, doortodoorst.com
  • PODS, Portable On Demand Storage, 888-776-PODS, pods.com
  • PortaBox Storage, multiple locations, 888-269-8646, portabox.com

Self Storage

If you prefer a do-it-yourself approach and need a temporary place to store your stuff while you find a new home, self-storage is the answer. Most units are clean, secure, insured, and inexpensive, and you can rent anything from a locker to your own mini-warehouse. You’ll need to bring your own padlock and be prepared to pay first and last month’s rent up front. Many will offer special deals to entice you, such as second month free. Probably the easiest way to find storage is to look in the Yellow Pages under “Storage—Household & Commercial.” To conduct your search online, visit the site of local Yellow Pages provider dexknows.com.

Keep in mind that demand for storage surges in the prime moving months (May through September), so try not to wait until the last minute to rent storage. If you don’t care about convenience, your cheapest storage options may be out in the boonies. You just have to figure out how to get your stuff there and back.

A word of warning: unless you no longer want your stored belongings, pay your storage bill and pay it on time. Storage companies may auction the contents of delinquent customers’ lockers.

Children

Studies show that moving can be hard on children. According to an American Medical Association study, children who move often are more likely to suffer from such problems as depression, worthlessness, and aggression. Often their academic performance suffers as well. If you must move, there are a few things you can do to help your children through this stressful time:

  • Talk about the move with your kids. Be honest but positive. Listen to their concerns. To the extent possible, involve them in the process.
  • Make sure the child has his/her favorite possessions on the trip; don’t pack “blankey” in the moving van.
  • Make sure you have some social life planned on the other end. Your child may feel lonely in your new home and such activities can ease the transition.
  • Keep in touch with family and loved ones as much as possible. Photos and phone calls are important ways of maintaining links to the important people you have left behind.
  • If your child is of school age, take the time to involve yourself in his/her new school.

There are many good books and resources to help children adjust to moving. First Books (www.shopfirstbooks.com) offers The Moving Book: A Kids’ Survival Guide by Gabriel Davis; Max’s Moving Adventure: A Coloring Book for Kids on the Move, by Danelle Till; and a Kid’s Moving Kit—a colorful backpack filled with fun activities. Other good publications include Alexander, Who’s Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move by Judith Viorst; Moving with Kids: 25 Ways to Ease Your Family’s Transition to a New Home by Lori Collins Burgan, and Smart Moves: Your Guide through the Emotional Maze of Relocation by Nadia Jensen, Audrey McCollum, and Stuart Copans.

Taxes

If your move is work-related, some or all of your moving expenses may be tax-deductible—so you will want to keep those receipts. Though eligibility varies, depending, for example, on whether you have a job or are self-employed, the cost of moving yourself, your family, and your belongings is generally tax deductible, even if you don’t itemize. The criteria: in order to take the deduction your move must be employment-related, your new job must be more than 50 miles away from your current residence, and you must be at your new location for at least 39 weeks during the first 12 months after your arrival. If you take the deduction and then fail to meet the requirements, you will have to pay the IRS back, unless you were laid off through no fault of your own, or transferred again by your employer. It’s probably a good idea to consult a tax expert regarding IRS rules related to moving. If you’re a confident soul, get a copy of IRS Form 3903 and Publication 521 (www.irs.gov) and do it yourself!

Online Resources—Relocation

  • www.shopfirstbooks.com: relocation resources and information on moving to Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas–Ft. Worth, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York City, Portland, OR, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Washington, D.C., as well as China and London, England. The Newcomer’s Handbook for Moving to and Living in the USA is also available.
  • www.homefair.com: realty listings, school reports, cost-of living calculators, moving tips, and more.
  • www.moving.com: comprehensive Web portal featuring a tool that lets you compare movers’ rate quotes online.
  • www.moving.org: American Moving and Storage Association site; referrals to interstate movers, local movers, storage companies, and packing and moving consultants.
  • www.movingscam.com: provides helpful articles, volunteer-staffed message boards, and a list of “blacklisted” movers.
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