Archive for October, 2009


Watch Out for Movers' 'Hidden Charges'

People often complain about ‘hidden charges’ on their move.

While I sympathize with them, I’m also reasonably sure that somewhere in their estimating process, the moving companies either told them about extra charges for their move, or spelled out these charges in their contract.

I’m also reasonably sure that these charges weren’t highlighted in glittering gold or shouted from the mountain-top.

For example, I got a pitch from a moving company the other day via voicemail. The company went through an extensive list of things they include in their base rate. Then at the end of the call, she said: “The only things we charge for are non-reusable packing material like tape, shrink wrap, moving boxes and bubble wrap.”

In other words: most everything for packing.

Most people either don’t catch this, or they assume these charges won’t amount to much.

Then comes moving day, and they spend a couple hundred bucks on packing materials.

So when you’re planning your move, read your estimate thoroughly. Here’s a list of particular items to look for:

Packing materials: It’s often just moving boxes, tape and shrink wrap, but if you haven’t done a good job packing, this can quickly add hundreds of dollars to your moving costs. The contract should have what isn’t covered, and how much the items cost (See this article for more on moving-day packing charges.)

Moving blankets: Most companies don’t charge for this item, because they’re reusable. However, some have taken to charging RENTAL fees for them. Look for this charge.

Shuttles: If you’re in a big city, the moving company probably can’t bring a moving van into your neighborhood, and will need to shuttle stuff in a smaller truck.

Charges for stairs: You need to do two things before you move: Make sure the moving company knows about stairs at your new and old homes. And check the contract to see if they charge for stairs, and how much they charge.

Long carries: If the movers have to walk a long distance from your house to the moving van, they’ll charge for it. Just like stairs, make sure the moving companies know the layout of your new and old homes, and look for these charges in your contract. (Also, if you’re making a local move, you’re paying by the hour anyway, so you shouldn’t be paying this charge.)

Gas surcharges: Companies can levy a gas surcharge when prices are high.

Travel time: What constitutes travel time for the mover?

Credit card charges: Some moving companies levy a fee for paying by credit card. However, major credit card companies like Visa and Mastercard do NOT permit merchants to do this. Check your credit card’s policy on it. If they forbid their merchants from doing it and you got charged anyways, dispute it to get the fee reversed (a fee can be significant on something as pricey as a move).

This last one isn’t a charge, but it’s a huge annoyance: Your delivery window.

Make sure you know when you will get your things. And be wary of anyone who gives you a specific day.

For long distance moving, it’s impossible to be precise for when you’ll get your items: there are the hazards of the road, and the movers might be making stops on the way to pick up other items to fill their truck (this is a common part of moving and nothing to fear).

However, it’s very important to check your contract.

The moving company must give you a window of when you’ll get your things. And if you don’t get your things within that window, it should spell out any compensation that is due to you for hotel rooms, etc.

Check closely: I heard from a reader who said they found the delivery window buried in a section about furniture disassembly.

I don’t know if it’s true, but it should hammer home the point:


Oh, and do it BEFORE moving day.

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Don't Get Shocked by Moving-Day Packing Charges


Psst, wanna hear a little secret about moving?

It’s not the moving charges that will kill you — it’s the packing charges.

That’s right: moving boxes, shrink wrap and tape. (Yes, tape.)

If you’re doing your own packing, you probably don’t think you need to worry about packing — you did it all yourself, right?

But you probably didn’t box some things that need to be boxed. You probably didn’t use shrink wrap on upholstered furniture. You might not have taped your boxes securely enough.

The movers will want you to do all this because they want to keep your belongings safe during the move, and make your move more efficient.

And if you haven’t done it, they’ll do it for you on moving day — and they’ll charge you for it.

Now, not all moving companies will insist on billing you for your packing materials. But some will. When you get estimates from movers, you need to ask them what’s considered extra, and what is not.

If packing materials are extra, and you’re packing yourself, you need to make sure we’ve done a thorough enough job to avoid extra charges come moving day.

If you’re packing yourself, here’s what the movers will insist on:

* Anything that can go in a box, should be in a box — it’s easier to carry, and it’s much more efficient for the moving company to load into a moving van. See more tips on what needs to go in a moving box.

* Shrink wrap is the clear film that movers use on items that are too big to go in boxes, but still need to be protected during the move. This includes upholstered furniture. See this article on what needs to be shrink-wrapped.

* Moving tape can be expensive — some readers have told me they’ve paid up to $10 a roll. The movers will use this to seal any boxes they packed, as well as any boxes you packed if you didn’t use enough of it. See this article for other reasons movers might use tape, and what kind of tape they use.

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Fewer People Bailing on California, Los Angeles

Flickr: USFS Region 5

Could California’s long slide be abating?

According to recent data from, the number of people leaving the state is shrinking compared to the number of people moving to it, a crucial gauge for measuring the state’s rebound from economic calamity.

As recently as 2005, 60.7% of the relocation activity for California was outbound – in other words, for every 2 people who were moving to California, 3 were leaving.

That kind of migration can decimate the local tax base and contribute to a further erosion in the state’s quality of life.

However, that outbound number has been slowly decreasing every year, from 58.6% in 2006 to 54.99% in 2009 year to date.

These numbers are reflected in the Los Angeles data.

We looked at the data for all moves in Los Angeles, including moves made within Los Angeles. We found that outbound Los Angeles moves accounted for 36.4% of all moves in 2009 year to date, down from 43.1% in 2008 (the earliest year for which city data are available).

However, instead of people moving to Los Angeles, we found that more people were making moves within the Los Angeles area, an indication that more people are taking advantage of housing prices to either ‘move up’ to a better home, or move to a better neighborhood.

Most importantly, of course, they’re deciding not to move out of Los Angeles.

The percentage of movers making a move within LA was 25.2% in 2008; it rose to 32.33% in 2009. utilizes real-time data from people requesting moving services, recording where people are moving from and to. It annually records over 500,000 moving requests in its database.

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Moving Day Expense: Watch for Stretch Wrap Charges

ph-stretchwrap1sAh, the humble stretch wrap.

This saran wrap-like substance is used by moving companies to protect items that won’t fit in boxes and can’t be pad-wrapped (ie, protected by moving blankets).

However, just like you have to watch for crazy charges on moving day boxes, watch out for moving day charges for stretch wrap.

First off, do your movers even charge for it? Many companies, particularly the van lines, do not.  Moving companies don’t use much of it, so stretch wrap is a minor expense and they don’t pass the cost on to the consumer.

However, some companies do charge for this. And it can be hefty – I heard from one woman who said she got charged $1 a yard. Compare that to a large roll that you can buy yourself for 5 cents a yard.

If your moving company does charge, you can wrap items yourself to save on the expense (whether they charge for it should be broken out on your contract; I’d also ask specifically WHAT materials they charge for).

Which items will the moving companies want stretch-wrapped?

* Any upholstered furniture or headboards

* BBQ grills so that no grease gets on anything else

* Lawn furniture to protect from scratches

* Children’ s toys

* Some tools

And that’s, um, er, a wrap.

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Know Your Move Lingo: What's a Van Line?

The world of moving has its own arcane and confusing language:

* A tariff sets how much a moving company charges for a move.

* The contract you receive for your move on moving day is called a ‘Bill of Lading.’

However, your confusion about relocation terminology can start even before you start searching for moving companies.

For instance, what’s this thing called a ‘van line’?

In its simplest terms, think of a van line like a franchisor. Much as McDonald’s has franchisees that own and operate the actual restaurants independently, van lines use ‘agents’ in the same way — an agent is a van line franchisee that operates on a local level.

Moving companies that are not part of a van line are labeled ‘independents.’

There are advantages to using a van line:

* A van line agent can tap into van line’s tractor-trailers for long distance moving, which usually means greater precision in delivery dates, and fewer chances that your items will be offloaded en route and bundled together with another shipment headed toward your destination.

* Also, the van lines are pretty thorough on enforcing quality control at their agents, so an agent that gets a lot of complaints can be kicked out the van line system. You’ll be less likely to face a scam operator on the van line level.

However, because of the overhead associated with a van line, a van line move can often cost more than a move from an independent.

The van lines will say, of course, that the advantages outweigh the disadvantage of cost.

There are about 20 van lines around the country, including the biggies like United, Mayflower and Atlas, with agents nationwide in most larger cities.

Related Articles:

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What You Need to Know About Moving-Day Boxes

moving_boxesTo save money on their relocation, many people are doing their own packing.

However, this can be a source of confusion and problems with moving companies when it comes to moving day — and it could cost you.

Moving companies want to be able to move things as quickly as possible out of your house and get it on the moving truck. Once on the truck, they need to be able to load thSAe truck like they’re putting together a puzzle so your items fit snugly.

The easiest way to do this is by using uniform, sturdy moving boxes.

Not only does this make the move go more smoothly and efficiently, it also cuts down on the risk of damage to your items, because a box is just a more stable way of moving things with less risk of dropping it.

So if it can go in a box, put it in a box.

If it’s not in a box, the movers will box it for you on moving day – and charge you for it, creating a sometimes hefty extra charge you hadn’t planned for.

We’ve created a list of items that customers often incorrectly leave unboxed. It’s generally anything that cannot be stacked evenly when loading the truck — for example, a statue that cannot be square with the stacked boxes.

* Clothes: Many people will put these in trash bags. They need to go in boxes. Trash bags easily rip and create a mess and they don’t stack neatly in the moving van.

* Stools and furniture small enough to fit into a box

* Lamps and shades

* Throw pillows and bedding

* Small rugs

* Fireplace equipment

* Tools

* Pictures and paintings

* Curtains and window treatments

* Children’s toys

* Vases and planters

Also, don’t try to pack items in small boxes. Some customers will pack things in shoe boxes, or they’ll pack collectibles like figurines into their original packaging.

It’s fine to do that, but those small boxes are a hassle for your mover to carry, they’re easy to drop, and they can’t be stacked neatly on the moving van. So consolidate them into a larger moving box.

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Chinese Drywall Victims' New Problem: Losing Homeowners Insurance

Is if having rotting Chinese drywall isn’t bad enough, now beleaguered homeowners are facing the prospect of losing their homeowners insurance policies.

The Wall Street Journal reports that insurance companies are starting to not renew some homeowners policies because of the drywall, which emits sulfide fumes and causes corrosion of electrical wires and plumbing.

While it might seem unduly harsh, the insurers say they shouldn’t be responsible for any damage that results from rotting drywall, and that if policyholders don’t replace the drywall (which can cost a staggering $80,000 to $100,000), their policies won’t be renewed.

“[Drywall] corrosion leads to a likely future claim for a covered peril such as fire or a water leak,” which would be the responsibility of the insurer to repair, said an insurance company spokesman.

Homebuilders who used the drywall in new homes have started allocating funds for homeowners to replace it. As many as 100,000 homes built mostly in 2006 and 2007 may be affected by the drywall, which has been alleged to also cause health problems for homeowners.

The lesson of Chinese drywall really points up the importance of home inspections for people who are undertaking a relocation. It’s not only the things that you can see that are a problem; more often than not, it’s the things you can’t see.

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Dial Back on Facebook, Twitter: Focus Social Media Efforts on Reviews


Maybe your next customer will FIND you on Twitter or Facebook, but they probably won’t HIRE you until they’ve read a few reviews about your services.

And if you’re not trolling the review sites and responding to reviews, you’ve got a gaping hole in your marketing plan.

Most small businesses overlook this simple fact in the hyperventilating over Facebook, Twitter and the like.

Many people don’t think of online reviews as social media, because they can’t engage in the type of back and forth and outreach that you see on most social media networks.

That’s slowly changing, as more online review sites allow companies to comment on reviews. Most notably, Yelp allows it.

So small businesses, and most especially moving companies, can now take part in the conversation about their business in a way that was impossible before. If it’s a positive review, they can thank the reviewer. If it’s negative, they can explain their side of the story — and apologize if they were at fault.

Either way, it demonstrates a company that cares enough about their customers to take the time to reply to what a customer has written about their experience with a company.


Companies should also be actively encouraging their satisfied customers to submit reviews — good reviews are gold for a moving company, particularly heartfelt, obviously genuine ones.

I was recently reminded of this when a customer wrote a review about a moving company she used through our network. It shows that a satisfied customer can not only shower you with kind words; they can also become an advocate for your business.

So if you’re experimenting on Facebook and Twitter, that’s great — it can be a great way to find customers.

But those customers won’t choose you just based on a cool-looking Facebook page: they will search for online reviews about how you’ve treated previous customers. So get involved in the conversation and see what customers are saying about you.

Twitter and Facebook get the customer in the door; a review gets them to buy.

(I’ve removed the moving company’s name because we haven’t yet launched our reviews section.)

“Let me begin by saying my MOVING experience. I am a woman alone who is almost 70 years old and was leaving the residence where I had lived for more than 35 years to start over in a part of the country, in a town where I did not know anyone, and from the very first interview, the movers treated me with the greatest respect and never once tried to take advantage of my vulnerability as a woman; as a senior citizen, or as a woman alone.

“Quite the contrary, because I was a senior citizen, a woman and a woman alone, the staff did everything they could to assure that my move would go smoothly — and it did. After interviewing more than 40-50 moving companies which in and of itself was a nightmare, I finally narrowed my choice down to three, and even gave a $200 deposit to one, and actually was requested to pay the second one $2,100 in full. However, at the 11th hour based on several factors which seemed very unsettling to me about both companies, in the final analysis I felt there would be a negative outcome if I went with either of them.

“I was so pleased with everything about the movers that by the time the move was over, we were like family; and unbeknown to the staff, I am the founder, President and CEO of “A Woman’s Corner” and the Executive Director of, and decided to negotiate to have the moving company be the official movers posted on the AWC website so women all over the country could hire a moving company with the confidence to know that they would be treated with respect and dignity, and would not be taken advantage of.

“1. I moved from New York to Virginia, and I liked the fact that the movers were a small/mid-sized company that does all of their own moving, and does not subcontract or outsource their long distance moves to other companies.

“2. The movers gave me a quote on the telephone based on the Inventory List that I gave them, and then followed-up with an on-site in-home interview which they conducted on a Saturday afternoon because it was the only time I was available.

“3. Their salesman gave me a binding quote of $1900 which they honored, although they spent considerably more time than was anticipated; and the second quote was only $100 more than the initial telephone quote, although the inventory list was significantly more than I submitted online.

“4. The moving company provided extra boxes, wardrobe, mirror and other essential boxes needed at the time of the move at NO ADDITIONAL COST, as well as packed the mirrors, electronics, clothes and many other incidentals that I neglected to pack in my haste. Although I would encourage customers to disconnect their own electronics and take responsibility for the cords and sensitive items — bear in mind that they are movers are not electronic technicians or computer geeks.

“5. Because my move was a six hour drive, and would involve getting caught in rush hour in the Washington DC metropolitan area, the movers arrived at my apartment at 7:00 AM so they could complete the packing, load the truck and be on the road at a reasonable hour so we would arrive at our final destination by early evening.

“6. Because I had a shipment going into storage, which I would have otherwise had to hire a small truck to pick-up after they dropped it off at my Virginia destination, the movers dropped the shipment off at my storage unit for me at no additional cost.

“7. Several hours into my drive to Virginia, the sales personal who booked the move called me to assure that everything went well and to inquire if he could be of any other assistance, and assured me that he was only a telephone call away?

“8. At the end of the move as a token of my appreciation I gave the driver a 20% tip to divide amongst the crew which I hope expressed in some small way my sincere and extreme satisfaction that I felt for their efforts and a job WELL done.


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Ways to Save on Your Job Hunt — Deduct Your Expenses

Looking for a new job – particularly when you don’t have a current job – is not a lot of fun.

Fortunately, there is a way to lessen the pain a bit, at least financially.

As you continue your job search, you are able to deduct certain job-hunting expenses. Most people know that they can deduct moving expenses for moving; I bet few realize they can also deduct these sorts of expenses.

1. Who Qualifies

If you’re a banker and wanna be a baker, you’re out of luck. The IRS only allows deductions for job searches related to finding a job in one’s current or previous occupation. It’s the nature of the job that matters; if you’re a journalist (ahem) who worked at a newspaper and now are looking at online opportunities, that’d qualify. However, looking at a marketing position would not.

It also doesn’t matter if you’re working a part-time position in another field while looking for full-time work in your chosen field; this is likely grounds for deducting job-hunting expenses.

However, you can’t deduct expenses if you’re looking at a job after graduating college (it’s considered a new occupation), or you’ve had a long period of time off for things like travel.

2. Expenses That Qualify

Some things you can write off:

* Headhunter or employment agent fees
* Travel expenses for interviewing, which includes 50% of meals while out of town. This includes airfare and lodging, but the primary reason for the trip MUST be job-hunting.
* Any expenses to do with resume preparation – a professional to help prepare them, paper costs, and postage costs.
* Driving expenses for interviews and such get the standard IRS business mileage allowance of 55 cents per mile.
* If you’re researching starting a business, that’s also an allowable deduction.

Some things you can’t deduct: Anything you might normally pay for if you weren’t searching for a job, like any personal health expenses (haircuts), or Internet or cellphone costs.

3. To get the deduction

You have to itemize the expenses as ‘miscellaneous itemized deductions.’ And these expenses (which also include other expenses like investment expenses and tax preparation services) must exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income.

In other words, you need a pretty significant amount of job hunting expenses to qualify. However, if you’ve been out of work for awhile, you might meet it because your income is lower than usual. Also, the first $2,400 of unemployment compensation benefits received in 2009 is not included in your AGI.

For more information, talk to your accountant or talk to the IRS.

Related Stories:

What Moving Expenses You Can Deduct

Negotiate a Relocation Package


Negotiating Your Relocation Package? Get Help From This Guy


Being transferred for work, or just accepted a new job in a new town?

Take some negotiating tips from a Microsoft executive who scored a pretty sweet relocation package.

Microsoft business division president Stephen Elop got a cool $4.1 million in relocation expenses for the fiscal year ended June 30. It included the usual goodies (movers, etc.), but also the sweetener that the company would take his Silicon Valley home off his hands if he couldn’t sell it himself.

Such relocation deals, while not uncommon, are becoming rare except for the upper echelons of management. It’s pretty clear why: In today’s housing market, corporations, relocation companies and moving companies that offer this service have lost of ton of money buying employee homes that have plummeted in value.

In fact, more and more employees are simply being handed a lump sum to handle their move, rather than having the company, or an outside firm, arrange it for them. Just too expensive.

And if you’re moving to take a new job, particularly if you don’t have a lot of negotiating power, you might be totally on your own for relocation costs. But depending on your situation — particularly if you don’t have a job currently — you might be completely fine with that.

But back to Microsoft’s Elop, who buy all measures did pretty well. Microsoft said it would buy Elop’s old house at a price equal to the average of three independent appraisals if he were unable to sell the home in a preset time.

If the average appraisal came in below what Elop originally paid and adjusted for home improvement projects, Microsoft agreed to pay the difference. He also was given a “tax gross up” – a reimbursement from Microsoft on any individual income stemming from the real estate sale.

Because the California real estate market tanked, Microsoft ended up owning Elop’s house, later selling it at a price “significantly below” the original purchase price. In addition to the $4.1 million in relocation expenses, the filing says he received a $1.2 million tax gross up.

Related Stories:

How to Negotiate a Relocation Package

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Renters Plot Their Next Move

Flickr: ShoobydoobyIt’s the big question — OK, the only question — in real estate: have we hit bottom?

Hard to say for sure, but recent data from a survey, coupled with recent economic data, indicate there’s light at the end of the tunnel. In our September survey, more renters took the plunge to become homeowners. Granted, it was modest: this group increased from 14% to 17% from the previous survey in June.

However, an increase is an increase, and although this group doesn’t get much press, it’s important for the health of our real estate market.

The ‘move up’ crowd gets a lot of attention in the housing market. These are the folks who own currently but are looking to move to a better home or better neighborhood. This group’s been basically frozen because they can’t sell their home, or get enough for their home, to move up to a new home.

That’s created a cascade effect that’s kept much of the market frozen. So if the renters get off the sidelines and start buying homes, which in turn frees up those sellers to buy a new home, that’s a great sign, and one that bears watching.

Other findings:

* 70% of respondents said homes are more affordable today than in recent months.

* 69% indicated they believe the economy is improving

* 19% cite declining home values as a primary reason for this improvement.

* 26% of survey respondents took advantage of these more affordable prices to move to a bigger house or neighborhood, down 24 percentage points from our June survey.

* Moving due to job loss or foreclosure stabilized at 7%.

* There’s been a 16% increase in respondents who said they hired a professional moving company, which may be another indication of an improving economy.