After trucking my heavy oak furniture, stacks of books, and oversize bed frame all over New York no less than seven times, I should be an expert mover. Not quite. One day last summer, after spending a harrowing, sticky afternoon maneuvering a fifteen-foot rental truck through the narrow streets of Cobble Hill, I was feeling pretty proud of myself. Then, as I was pulling into an Exxon, the truck lurched forward, and I heard a sound like an elephant with indigestion. Before I knew it, the truck had reduced the wooden divider between the gas pumps to a heap of splinters, and the rim above the front tire was fit for a Greene Street gallery.
Apparently, it isn't true that the only way to get a job done is to do it yourself. And considering the dent U-Haul subsequently put in my American Express card, going to the pros would have been much cheaper too.
Before entrusting your belongings, memories, and sanity to complete strangers, get several estimates. Find out whether a company specializes in particular kinds of moves. Companies that have never moved in and out of brownstones or non-elevator buildings aren't the ones you want if you're bound for Brooklyn Heights. Chances are, the broker who found your new place is a good source for movers in that neighborhood. And for a mere $4 charge to your credit card, it's worth calling the Better Business Bureau (212-533-6200) to see if past customers have complained.
There are plenty of solid local outfits but our favorite is Moishe's Moving Systems (449 West 14th Street, with other locations in Brooklyn, Queens, and Jersey City; 800-266-8387). Not every moving company is certified to move things like pianos -- and for good reason, as any Laurel and Hardy fan can attest; Moishe's has its own piano division. The company also specializes in art and antiques and counts Sotheby's and Christie's among its clients. Rates range from $81 to $131 per hour during peak times, depending on the size of your move and how many men you'll need (peak times are the first and last three days of each month; prices run about $10 less per hour the rest of the month).
If you're doing your own packing, the best all-around resource in the city is the West Side Movers store (644 Amsterdam Avenue; 212-874-3800; Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.). Here you'll find 23 dimensions of boxes, including ones specifically designed for lampshades and mattresses, as well as twine, tape, six kinds of bubble wrap, popcorn foam, corrugated wrap, inserts for packing crystal, mover's pads, professional dollies, and, well, you get the idea. The company also has its own moving service, which has relocated the likes of Robert Redford and Cher. Rates range from $95 per hour using three movers (studio) up to $215 per hour with as many as ten movers (ten rooms or more.)
Even with good movers, bad things happen. Most homeowner's and renter's insurance policies only cover damage that occurs if the truck gets into an accident, not during loading and unloading, when most mishaps occur. Baker International Insurance Agency (800-356-0099) specializes in mover's insurance and will insure valuables that are worth more than $5,000, or are over 100 years old, for 85 cents on every $100 (a cost of $42.50 per item). This is worth considering if you have something really valuable, like a Tiffany lamp; most movers cover an average of 60 cents per pound, so you'd be left with about $5 if the lamp broke.
Before you start thinking about where to put the sofa, you'll need to start with a clean slate. Imacuclean (1265 Broadway, at 32nd Street, Suite 802; 212-685-5461) specializes in moving jobs. It's a mom-and-pop company in business since 1949 that's grown to a staff of nearly 40. Every Imacuclean employee has at least one year's residential-cleaning experience. Rates start at $17 per hour for basic cleaning and run to $23 per hour to wash your new walls, ceilings, and floors. These folks will even unpack your dishes, wash them, and put them in your cabinets.
To avoid spending the first week changing in your closet, call the window-treatment pros at Janovic/Plaza (nine locations in Manhattan, including 161 Sixth Avenue; 212-627-1100). They'll send someone out to measure your windows for $25. Installation fees range from $4 to $5 per foot with a minimum of $40. And unless you've found a place that has exactly the same size windows as your former home, you'll need to shop for more permanent arrangements. Janovic has the biggest selection of Levolor blinds in the city, a large selection of paints, and a library of more than 450 wallpaper books.
If you're not the do-it-yourself type you might enlist Richard's Interior Design (1390 Lexington Avenue, near 91st Street; 212-831-9000) which specializes in window treatments. It has more than 16,000 yards of imported European fabrics in stock, all below wholesale prices. Bring in measurements along with pictures of the windows and other items in the room; Richard's will quote a price, then send someone to your home to do the rest. It also offers a consultation service; for $300 an hour, a Richard's employee will advise you on everything from paint hues and fabric textures to finding a reliable contractor.
Long before you get to that stage you can get started on your move by going online. Moving.com offers advice on scheduling your move eight weeks up to the day you leave, as well as tips on packing and directories that allow you to search for licensed movers by area code. You can register your change of address at movecentral.com. For the truly relocationally challenged, there are sites like buyboxes.com (if you've reached the point where the local liquor store isn't going to cut it), iprint.com (for addressed box labels), and decide.com (to review telecom options).
Finally, it's inevitable that in the course of packing you'll make all kinds of discoveries: glassware you forgot you had, sweaters that haven't seen daylight since 1992. To pare down your possessions and simplify your new life, schedule a free pickup with one of the following charities: Memorial SloanKettering Thrift Shop (212-535-1250), Irvington Institute for Immunological Research Thrift Shop (212-879-4555), or The Salvation Army (212-757-2311).