Monday, July 24, 2017

Moving in NYC

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Moving is my least favorite chore, bar none. Now that I've done it three times, I have enough experience to offer a few tips on in-NYC moves. I've moved between buildings in Manhattan twice, and, a few weeks ago, I moved between two units in my building. Given how much things cost, how most NYC residents don't have cars and don't know anyone with one, etc. etc., general best practices for cost-conscious moving in the city are likely a little different than elsewhere. 

One note: moving is an area in which I'm a bad minimalist. Because of the realities of how expensive it is to move and store things here, it can offer be better to throw things out and replace them later than to keep them. While I'm not especially prone to frugality while moving (convenience and not needing to lift my furniture myself wins out every time, I've always used professional movers and tipped well), frugality always beats minimalism for me when moving. Back when I left student housing, I was at least able to give away much of what I wasn't keeping, which was nice for the recipients, the planet, and also for me because I didn't have to drag things out to the curb. 

Also, this helpful post is generally accurate for the details that I can corroborate and seems to be quite useful as another data point on this topic. With that, here are my tips for moving in NYC.

1. Just say no to the storage unit rental. This isn't a concern in all moves, but it was a possibility when I briefly moved out-of-state to study for the bar exam between graduation and starting work. Normally, a NYC-dweller would impose on the kindness of friends and store things in their apartments, but my friends were all doing similar moves, so that was out. K was working and able to store some things, but he lived in a studio furnished to near-capacity, and I didn't want to crowd him in his own place. I didn't want to keep much, just the objects pictured above and an Ikea Hemnes dresser and nightstand, but I worried the dresser wouldn't fit. 

As it turns out, even a small storage unit for three months cost more than the replacement cost of the dresser and nightstand, and that was before factoring in the money I'd inevitably need to spend transporting everything to and from the storage unit. Most frugal types agree that storage units are a giant waste of money. The dresser, nightstand, and everything else ended up fitting comfortably in K's studio, so that worked out. 

2. Do what you can by yourself. This is regardless of whether one is hiring movers. Generally, moving fees correlate to how long a move will take, so if you've packed everything yourself, and disassembled overly bulky furniture, that will keep costs down. It's fine, in my experience, to keep bare-bones bedframes (like this) and most other furniture assembled, but fancier beds may need disassembling. K and I try to move ultra-fragile items that require special handling, i.e. the television, ourselves, often with the help of his parents and their car, so the movers can work more quickly. 

3. Hire movers, probably, and comparison shop. For myself and my NYC-based friends, there's no way to avoid hiring professional movers. No one is comfortable with driving in the city, certainly not enough to drive a rented Uhaul. It's really far too big an imposition on our friends to have them spend hours on a weekend helping with a move anyway, and we would never ask. Movers are the way to go.

Finding and hiring the right movers can, however, be much easier said than done, especially for a fair price. That author I linked was quoted a shocking range of prices for her move, from a very fair $418 from one company for moving one person's worth of items (roughly equivalent to a studio apartment's worth?) into a high-floor walkup, a roughly two-hour job, to $730 elsewhere, and then $900 from a company that apparently made the slightly preposterous claim that it's normal to spend a month's rent on a move (definitely not!). All for the same job! Plus, Yelp reviews don't always seem that trustworthy or reliable

I generally never call around to find movers because I mostly relied on Unpakt to comparison shop. I felt very comfortable using Unpakt because I could see a range of rates from different companies and lock in a fixed rate, rather than running the risk of the bill being based on unpredictable factors affecting how long the move takes (i.e., traffic), or that a moving company would suddenly impose surprise extra fees. The downside is the need to book very early to lock in the fair, but still slightly inflated rates I got. Unpakt's pricing algorithm was also completely unable to give me a fair price for my most recent same-building move ($550 was the best quote for a move that ultimately cost $240). I generally was paying a  premium on Unpakt, probably something like $50-$75 extra on each of my two small, elevator-building moves, compared to if I'd shopped around more. (I imagine the Unpakt premium would increase with larger, more complicated moves.) 

  • Move 1: $282 before tip, very small move, two elevator buildings, total time 1.25 hours. This was for the boxes, two suitcases, that dresser, and the nightstand. I probably overpaid for this, and I booked a month and a half early, but keep in mind that most movers require paying for a two-hour commitment even if a move takes less, so this also wasn't that overpriced. (I'd be surprised to be able to hire a company to come out for much less than $240.) 
  • Move 2: $430 before tip, fairly typical studio apartment move, two elevator buildings, total time 2.25 hours. I booked a month ahead. I'd have expected to pay maybe $360 for this move before tip if I had comparison shopped. Incidentally, the moving company proactively arranged for a partial refund because we ended up having fewer objects than we listed when we booked, which was a pleasant surprise. This move was originally $450
  • Move 3: $240 before tip, same-building one-bedroom apartment move, elevator building, total time 45 minutes. This was my first time booking a move without Unpakt. It's very possible that I'd have gotten a better rate if I shopped around more, for a company willing to forego a two-hour minimum (the $120/hour rate for movers is likely one of the lower rates out there), but I had been averse to looking more because the first company I called quoted me $700, making $240 feel like a steal. Also, I think it's fair to require paying for two hours, given that movers need to drive in to Manhattan with a truck so that they can bring dollies and moving blankets. 

Also, please do tip your movers well, as they're performing a difficult and important service. I strongly believe there's a moral obligation to tip well in this context. All of my tips have worked out to ~$30-35/person on the crew for fairly quick, small-ish, elevator-building moves. This seems a reasonable and somewhat generous rate (look at the most recent post from a few months ago, not the ones from five years ago). I would expect to tip more if I was moving to or from a walkup.

4. Ecletic storage solutions are often necessary, and may need to be replaced in the next apartment. I've been lucky enough that my apartment kitchens have always had reasonable cabinet and counter space until just now. My current apartment has an extremely illogical lack of cabinets, as you see above.

Space may be extremely limited, so it's not unusual to need something like a kitchen cart with a wooden top to create counter space for food prep or a (somewhat unattractive) set of wire shelves to compensate for a lack of cabinets. Spices, dry goods, etc. may all end up out in the open. Illustrative examples of common storage solutions are below, though in actual practice, I think these things should be fairly easy to find on Craigslist and the like, as most any apartment presents unique challenges on the kitchen storage front. These items are also quite expensive at retail!

As for K and I, we opted for the most frugal option we could find to solve our kitchen cabinet problem, using interlocking stackable wire shelves (different size online). We also got a sliding drawer mesh organizer for spices on our counter, but alas, we somewhat resent how much it cost. (Storage items are so pricey, and generally cheaply made.) These items were, at least, on the frugal end of what was available, and potentially versatile enough for future apartments. 

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