Fall Real Estate 2004

Publication Date: Friday, October 1, 2004

Pack it up, move it out
Options abound for moving and storing goods

by Andrea Chang

With unlimited time and money, moving is easy. But for everyone else, moving -- along with getting married and starting a new job -- ranks as one of the most demanding times in a person's life.

"Most people who come in are stressed or tired, whether they've moved before or not," said Karen Choy Singer, owner of The UPS Store on Middlefield Road in Palo Alto. "What they're really looking for is advice and help, how to make this as easy as possible for them."

Whether it's moving into a dorm room, apartment or new house, the multi-step process is almost always daunting, especially for first-time movers. Because they are often pressed for time, movers may make decisions regarding storage, shipping and packing without knowing the best -- or most efficient -- options available.

Packing and shipping

Like the many people who put off packing until the last minute, Phillip Goff found himself a week away from his Aug. 26 moving date -- and completely unpacked. A graduate student at Stanford for the past five years, Goff accepted a faculty position at Penn State in April, giving him about four months to pack up his apartment on Emerson Street and his office in Stanford's psychology department.

But between juggling classes and finishing up his Ph.D. dissertation, Goff said he realized he couldn't pack everything he had accumulated since moving to Palo Alto on his own.

"Moving into a new house is its own nightmare," said Goff, 27. "It takes over your life."

To help lessen his work, Goff decided to bring some of his valuables -- such as his wood carvings and framed artwork -- into The UPS Store where the store's "certified packaging experts" professionally packaged and shipped his belongings to State College, Penn.

Singer said many customers would rather pay for the cost of the service rather than do it themselves because they simply haven't learned how to pack the right way.

"Most people like to do the clothes and books themselves because it's pretty easy," she said. "Stuff they would rather have us do -- pictures, fragile things -- they don't trust themselves to do it properly. Either it's too complicated or too much trouble."

Goff planned to spend about $3,000 on his cross-country move, with his packing and shipping costs through The UPS Store totaling between $300 and $800. The cost of a 20-by-14-by-2 inch box with packing service is $15.50; to pack fragile items, The UPS Store charges $22.25, including the cost of the box ($5.25).

For those who would prefer to package their own shipments, Singer recommends using a corrugated shipping box with the appropriate strength, as determined by the box certificate printed on the bottom flap. She cautions against using moving boxes if you're planning on shipping; moving boxes are lighter and designed to be carried by hand only, she said.

It is extremely important to choose a new or almost new box -- the more wear a box receives, the more it loses its original protective qualities.

"Used boxes are cheap but if your stuff gets there broken, it's just a waste of time," said Kevin Bevilacqua, The UPS Store sales associate.

If using an old box is unavoidable, make sure it is rigid with no punctures, tears, rips or corner damage, and that all flaps are intact. Remove old address labels, hazardous materials indicators and markings from previous shipments.

The next step is insulation. Each item should be surrounded by at least two inches of cushioning -- such as bubble wrap -- and should be placed at least two inches away from the walls of the box to protect from neighboring items and also from external shock and vibration.

"Use the small bubble for things no bigger than your fist," said Singer, who added that you should use dense foam instead of bubble wrap, if the contents of a box exceeds 40 pounds. "Otherwise it'll take many more layers of small bubble to give you the same 'cush' as the big bubble."

Once wrapped objects are placed in the box, fill in the extra space -- known as void fill -- with air bags, foam or packing peanuts. Singer recommends using the figure 8-shaped peanuts because they won't compress under the weight of your items. The S-shaped peanuts will crumple and break if compressed; the popular biodegradable ones will dissolve if they come into contact with liquid.

Singer said you shouldn't try to be economical by wrapping your items or stuffing the void with newspaper or clothing.

"Newspaper is bad because it doesn't have any resiliency and once it's compressed, it doesn't (bounce) back so you'll have space again," she said, adding that newspapers add extra weight to the box. "Whereas the packing peanuts -- they're really light. They were designed for this. Even clothes require a minimum of two inches around of bubble wrap and peanuts."

Fragile objects such as glass, ceramics, electronics and artwork may require extra cushioning or double boxing, when the original box is placed in another, slightly larger box for added protection. Without the proper cushioning and insulation, boxes and their contents are susceptible to shock, compression and vibration on their shipping routes.

"Your box should pass the shake test," Singer said. "If you shake it you should not hear anything moving or rattling around. If you do, you've got space in there and it means whatever is in there could get broken."

And an extra tip for college students: Never ship a new computer in its original box because the labeling alerts others to its valuable contents.

"We recommend dropping it in a plain brown box," Singer said. "Send it in a box that doesn't identify it as an expensive computer."

When everything is secure in the box, apply three strips of tape to both the top and bottom of the box so that the middle and edges are all fastened shut with clean corners. Make sure to use a strong packing tape and not masking or duct tape, which aren't sticky or strong enough.

For shipping, Singer said she recommends ground delivery for standard or oversize boxes, which is the most economical. But send fragile or valuable by air delivery because they will be handled less and it's more secure.

There are four factors that determine cost: weight, size of box, zip code and class of service. It costs $33.60 and takes about five days to ship a 30-pound box by ground from Palo Alto to New York through The UPS Store and $52.64 for 3-Day Air shipping for a 20-pound box.

Remember to not ship spray paint, pesticides, cologne or other items that are considered dangerous, hazardous or flammable, Singer said. And just in case the shipping label gets damaged, it's a good idea to include an extra address label inside the box.

Storage units

Storage units are a popular option for out-of-town students looking for storage space for the summer, and for people who move into smaller houses and no longer have enough room for all their belongings.

When Mukund Ramkumar, a sophomore biology student at Stanford University, moved back home to Dallas for summer vacation, he decided to leave behind the dorm items he didn't need at home. After reading flyers about Stanford's summer storage option, he bought a box, stored his bed sheets, printer, water filter, dishes and bike, and carried it to the on-campus storage basement. His total storage cost was about $65.

"It was very helpful but it was very expensive," he said. "It's a $60 bike but it cost $30 to store it. Overall it was convenient."

Ramkumar, 19, said he used Stanford's storage system because weight limitations on his flight would have made it impossible for him to take everything back. He added that he also wanted to save on the cost of shipping his belongings home.

ABC and Innerspace Self Storage, located in Mountain View, offers about 1,000 storage units ranging from 2 by 4 by 4 feet to 10 by 14 by 9 feet (about the size of a one-car garage). Manager Yul Rowe said customers store everything from furniture and clothes to kitchenware and Christmas decorations.
"Sometimes if people are downsizing, they're stuck with more stuff than they need but don't want to part with it just yet," Rowe said. "The majority of people are just in transition -- moving from one place to another."

The units are rented on a monthly basis and prices range from $20 to $234. Customers bring their items to the facility and personally place them in their units; they can access their belongings from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day.

Because convenience is a huge draw for time-crunched movers, the latest trend in storage involves almost no hassle: The storage company drops off a large container in front of a customer's dorm room or house, the owner places items in the container and a week later, the company picks it up and puts it in storage. When the customer wants the belongings back -- such as at the end of the summer -- the storage company drops off the container at the customer's door.
"It's half the work," said Joe Antrim, service representative for Door to Door Storage and City to City Moving. "It's right outside your door; you can take your time. With a truck you have to do it all in one day or you start paying a lot of money."

Antrim said 90 percent of Door to Door Storage customers prefer the container option over bringing their belongings directly to the facility, located in Newark. For college students who don't have cars, the direct pickup option is a huge timesaver.

Jessica Hara, a sophomore English student at Stanford, shared a storage unit with two of her friends this summer. They decided to use Public Storage Pick Up and Delivery because the company offered the direct pickup option. She used the 10 by 5-foot plywood box to store "mostly big, bulky things" such as her microwave, refrigerator, bedding and the winter clothing that she didn't need in her home state of Hawaii. The pickup and storage service cost a total of about $500 for the summer.

"It was good because I didn't have to worry about taking it to a place," Hara said. "I didn't have to worry about anything, really. You tell them when and where to bring it back and they'll drop it off outside your dorm."

When it comes to moving, people look for all the help they can get. And because a big move can be nerve-wracking, the best bet is to plan ahead and start early, leaving enough time to weigh all options and to find a plan that is most affordable and easy to manage.

"It takes longer than you think," Singer said. "People always have more stuff than they realize."