Moving home: an account

Picture by Joanna Bourne (Creative Commons)

Picture by Joanna Bourne (Creative Commons)

I’m sitting down to start this on the evening of Saturday the 3rd of August (though some later work was done on the evening of the following Thursday and it was finished the Saturday after), though I only know it’s Saturday by checking the calendar on the computer; I’ve lost any sense of the days of the week lately. I am sitting, presently, on my sofa, which is not a particularly new phenomenon for me. The sofa, however, is no longer in Sussex; it’s in London!

I managed to complete the big move yesterday and we shifted all furniture and pretty much the whole of contents of my flat out of the door, down the stairs, into 1 van and 1 car and then unload at my new place just a few miles south of the river Thames. It’s fair to say that the old adage is true; moving house is one of the most stressful things you can do in life.

To some, I have divulged the full reasons for my desire to leave Sussex behind, though to most the reasons are those of time and money. Though London rents are exorbitantly expensive, my cost of commuting is coming down by about 70% and the council tax (once it’s sorted) should be about £15-20 cheaper per month too. So even though I’ve downsized and this new place is not as fancy as my last one, the rent is over £200 more expensive. But I should still make a net saving overall.

I’d been slowly packing for more than a month. I’d go through a pile of ‘stuff’ and decide what needed to be thrown out, what could be donated to a charity shop and what needed to be stuffed into a box and taken with me. In many ways, I think my mind moved long before my body did.

There were a huge number of stresses along the way. The first was having to deal with London estate agents who made the cowboys of Sussex seem like a most respectable bunch. After I viewed the property and had taken measurements, I moved my furniture around in my old flat to see if it would fit. The location wasn’t in my preferred area. I wanted something that would be walking distance from a tube station, though I quickly realised that are few such properties within my price range. But the flat was OK and the area seemed quite nice so I paid the holding deposit and the process got under way. We fixed the moving date early on and I made all the arrangements around that date.

However, all was not quite as comfortable as it seemed. I was given a written assurance that as soon as the holding deposit was paid, the property would be taken off the market. I was also asked to provide references so that a credit check could be carried out on me. I continued to pack things in boxes and gave notice on my current property.

Because I had rented unfurnished for the last 5 years and had accumulated my own possessions, I was unable to simply use a car and I knew I’d have to hire a removal company. A few people mentioned just hiring a van and doing the move ourselves, but I wasn’t comfortable with that thought and I was much happier to pay some professionals to do the bulk of the heavy stuff for me. However, a week had gone by and now the move date was only 2 weeks away. I phoned a few of the major removals companies: Pickfords, Bishop’s Move, etc. as well as a whole host of local companies. None could do the date I needed; it was too short a notice period for them.

Eventually, a colleague (who had heard my frustration on the phone over a lunch break) recommended a company called Aussie Man & Van. I got a quote off them though I didn’t have any other quotes to compare to so I was slightly cornered into having to book them. So far so good, if a little bit frustrating on the telephone. Then I looked up the website of the estate agents I paid the holding deposit to – the property was still being marketed! I was not particularly happy about this. I also phoned my current estate agent to find out if they had been asked for the reference yet; they had not. I asked my employer if they had been asked for a reference, they had not. So I phoned up the new estate agent and asked them what was going on. They gave me some bs about “it takes time for the properties to come off the site” and “paralegal haven’t got round to sending the reference requests yet.” After prodding quite hard, they did eventually send out the reference requests though my line manager only received the employer reference 8 days before I was due to pick up the keys.

Meanwhile, each night, I took the half an hour or so I have spare each evening to do a little more packing. This is largely why the blog has been quiet as it is in that half an hour each night that I do most of my writing. Though now that I have moved, I hope it will be a little longer; and I may do something other than write. Who knows? I may even get a life!

I tried to pay over the remaining sum of the deposit, the management fees and the first month’s rent, but I was told they hadn’t got the contracts available to sign. I confirmed the removal van and then less than a week before I was due to move, I got a request to push back the moving date. The reason was that the landlord wanted to replace the carpet. What took me back about this was that the estate agent had told me that the carpet had already been changed. In other words, they lied to me.

I carefully worded my reply to demonstrate that with such short notice, the fact that I booked time off work and hired the removal van, that I was now very inflexible with my timings. They eventually relented and stated that the carpets would be replaced on the day I picked up the keys. To explain briefly, I was due to pick up the keys on the Thursday, but the removal van was arriving on the Friday.

I was told that the check-in would happen at 8:30 in the morning, whether or not I was there. I had hoped to move a suitcase full of things with me, but being a regular commuter, I wasn’t going to be so insensitive as to carry a suitcase with me on a rush hour train. So I just put what I could in a rucksack and set off just before 7 in the morning. I got there a little early so took a walk around for 15 minutes.

The check-in was incredibly rushed and I got a very curious piece of legal advice, where I was told that any photos I took could not be admissible in court, due to the possibility of digital alteration. However, the person who did the check-in (who was hired by, but was not employed by, the estate agents) said that their photos would be admissible. I don’t think this is true at all and they were simply trying to put me off.

Anyway, once I had the keys there wasn’t much need for me to stick around. The carpet fitters also arrived just before 9 and they were making a lot of banging. So I got the train back to Sussex and did some more packing whilst listening to the Test Match. I came back up to London after lunch, this time armed with a suitcase full of stuff. I emptied it at the new flat and then took the suitcase back with me. Unfortunately, this was the hottest day of the year and lugging around a suitcase that was packed to the limit was not an easy task. I got through several t-shirts that day and by the end of it I was pretty tired.

However, I still needed to finish the rest of the packing, but I couldn’t face it on Thursday night. So I went to bed and resumed packing at 5am the next morning. My dad was going to come and help my move and I was expecting him to arrive at about 10am. The plan was: let’s get as much stuff packed into his car as possible so that would clear some space in the flat and then we can put a few more things away before the removal company turned up at 1pm. My dad, however, had other ideas. He came in, sat on a chair and said, “Right, where’s my cup of coffee?” Given I’d been packing for 5 hours and was pretty tired, it’s fair to say I wasn’t impressed. Of all the things around the flat, the things he worried most about were 2 rolls of wrapping paper that were lying on the floor and which I was happy to just throw out. After all, they only cost a pound each. I think it was over an hour and a half before we were able to take a single box downstairs to the car. Eventually, we got the car filled, having rearranged a few bits to make them fit. I was very glad that I’d persuaded mum not come along as she just wanted to see the new place, but it would have meant either I’d take the train up or else we couldn’t have put the seats down in the back on the car.

Now the removal company said that they were going to phone an hour before they arrived, and they were due to arrive at 1pm. So it would be reasonable to suppose that I might expect a call sometime around 12pm. 12pm came and went without a phonecall. 1pm came and went too. So at 5 past 1 I phoned them to see where the van was. Having feared that they were running hours behind, I was somewhat comforted to hear that they were just 20 minutes or so away. Later, it turned out that they did try to phone, only they used my work phone number.

There were two chaps and a van. They took the soft furnishings first and popped a few small boxes into their bigger ones before loading those. Then came the flat pack furniture. This was all dismantled, all bits and bobs carefully bagged and then taken downstairs. Of all the furniture I have (including a sofa, a double bed, a dining table, 2 bookshelves, etc) the hardest object to move was the writing desk, which was a fairly cheap thing I picked up from MFI shortly before they went bust.

All in all, the loading into the van took 2 hours, which was quite reasonable. I was paying them by the half hour and had been hoping that they would be able to do it in an hour and a half. They were, of course, supplied with drinks and biscuits along the way. After loading up, we hit the road and headed north. Driving through south London is not the most pleasant experience in the world. There is an extraordinary amount of traffic and, combined with the frequent traffic lights, it takes a long time to move a relatively short amount of time.

Unpacking the van took half the time (though I did go from a top floor flat to a ground floor flat) then I was left with a flat full of boxes. That night I really didn’t feel like cooking for myself, so I went off in search of a takeaway. The area I’ve moved into has a lot of restaurants in it, but I was looking for something quick and  easy, rather than asking for a table for one on a Friday evening. After a bit of hunting around, I found a Chinese takeaway which was a little over 5 minutes down the road, so it didn’t go cold in the time it took to get home.

The following day I managed to do a little more unpacking, but my main aim was to head back to Sussex to do cleaning at my old place. It needed doing and I wanted to be thorough in order to preserve as much as possible of my deposit. I worked solidly for about 5 hours, at the end of which I was pretty knackered and ready to head back to London. I came and tried the same the following day, but I pretty much collapsed through exhaustion after 3 hours. I struggled for a bit but had to call it a day fairly early on.

As I come towards the end of writing this, on Saturday the 10th, I will be going back twice more. Once with a Rug Doctor carpet cleaner to get rid of the ground in dust in the carpet and once more to hand the keys back.

In the new place, though it was not wholly clean, it was passable. The only significant problem that emerged happened when the upstairs neighbours ran a bath and water started to come through the ceiling. I didn’t have an emergency contact number so emailed the estate agents straight away and I went upstairs to notify them. It seems there had been a problem there before but that all parties involved thought it had been fixed. It turns out the variable that was missed was that the upstairs neighbours had been having showers. Then, there was no problem. The issue was with the pipes that fed the bath taps. I think the problem has been sorted out now, though I don’t think the neighbours have run a bath since.

[Late update: 28 August]

I have now been in place nearly a month. The last of the boxes have been unpacked and I’m slowly settling into life in the big smoke. Though my old flat was thoroughly cleaned the estate agents are kicking up a fuss and fabricating allegations about the flat being left in a filthy condition. I would add, that my mum came an inspected the place and helped with a little cleaning before I handed back the keys. Even at check-out the estate agents stated orally that it was fine. But unfortunately, I wasn’t wearing a recording device, which, in hindsight, would have been a wise move. Am having to word all my emails carefully and am keeping all communication written and documented, whilst they are more keen to have undocumented phonecalls. Though as yet, they have refused to propose a figure as to how much of the deposit they intend to retain. I may let you know in the future how I get on with this.

In the next post, I’ll summarise what I’ve learnt from the process of moving home. I promise it’ll be shorter than this account.

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One response to “Moving home: an account

  1. Pingback: Lessons on moving home | The Alethiophile