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I was recently reading one of those lists that appear in the media from time to time rating the most stressful life events. This particular one listed moving house as the fifth most stressful thing a person can experience, behind the death of a child, death of a partner, death of a close family member and being sent to prison; it outranked the death of a close friend, getting divorced, being fired or having your business fail. Clearly this was a Western-orientated list that didn't include such stressful life events as "being accidentally bombed by American aircraft after being misidentified by US intelligence", but you get my point. Moving house isn't easy.
This time last year, I was pretty content with my lot. I had graduated the previous summer and began my first "proper" job the week after passing my exam; I was learning a lot at work; I was earning enough to live on, and was due for a pay rise and contract extension in the January. As 2007 progressed however, I was getting increasingly discontent. My work was becoming repetitive, I felt I was being unfairly treated in some matters (which I won't go into here as we will never get to the actual point of this review), and it was becoming increasingly apparent that my salary was poor for both my level of qualifications and in comparison to similar jobs in other organisations. My work was also contracted, and although I had been given an extension to this Christmas, there was always going to be an element of insecurity in my job. So I began to hunt around for a new post, hoping that the experience I had thus far picked up would help me move on to something a bit better - or at least something permanent. Strangely enough, finding my second job proved trickier than finding my first. I was called to a couple of interviews, but wasn't offered a new job. Then came the Northern Rock crisis and things got a whole lot more urgent. You see, my Significant Other worked for the Rock, and suddenly his good, secure job became a whole lot less good and less secure. We decided that as much as we would like to stay in the North East, it was time to expand the radius of our search to find new work for the both of us; basically to any part of the UK barring London (where neither of us would really want to go at this point).
Last Bonfire Night, I took the day off work to travel to another interview - this time with the University of Gloucestershire. The post was not exactly what I had planned for myself, but offered work that interested me along good training, security, a significant pay rise and a pension, so I was happy to accept it…and happier still to hand in my notice at my old job! That of course left the small matter of relocating our household all the way to Cheltenham, and brings me to the point of this review. Moving house.
**FIRST STEPS…** At first the thought of moving such a distance absolutely terrified me. While I had moved addresses several times during my student years, this was just a matter of moving myself, my PC, and a few bags of clothes and books around, not moving an entire household and another person too. But this brings me to my first tip: break the move down into a series of small, clearly defined, manageable tasks and it will become a lot less stressful. The words "move house" are scary, but smaller jobs such as "hand in notice", "buy packaging materials" and "cancel utilities" are easy to complete. I got myself a cheap whiteboard and marker pen from Woolworths, and wrote down a list of tasks as they came to mind. As jobs were completed, they were erased from the board. This really helped to keep track of Operation Relocation (and keep me sane in the process).
**FINDING SOMEWHERE NEW TO LIVE** The first - and most important - job was to find us a place to live. I should point out here that we were moving from and to rental accommodation at this stage, so I shall not be covering things such as mortgages, solicitors, and surveys in this review. We both fortunately had a week of leave left before we finished in our respective jobs, so we headed down to Cheltenham in late November to begin the Great Flat Hunt. While this category in not specifically for looking for a new house, I will pass on some advice that I think may be useful to readers here: ● Work out a budget for how much you can afford to spend on monthly rent before you start looking at properties. It doesn't matter how perfect a house is if you can't afford to live there!
● Book into a Travelodge or other cheap hotel if it is too far to travel to in day trips; although they are bland, all you need is a base to go to viewings from.
● Do your preparation before you leave home. The internet is a wonderful tool for helping you find somewhere to live - you can look up local letting agents and their property lists online, which makes it possible to set up some viewings in advance and get an idea of local price ranges for the sort of property you are after. Also take a list of names, addresses and phone numbers of agents so you can find and contact them while you are in your new location if you want to arrange some last minute viewings (as property lists are updated all the time). Be aware that viewings in occupied properties take longer to organise than for empty ones (1 to 2 days in my experience), so if you spot listings for properties that don't become available until a certain date try to book viewings for them a few days before you want to visit.
● You may find websites such as www.upmystreet.com and the "this is" series of websites (in my case, www.thisisgloucestershire.co.uk) useful in highlighting specific areas you want to live in or avoid, to get a general "feel" for your new town, or to find out where local amenities are located.
● When you go out on viewings, take a notepad, pen and local area map if you are unfamiliar with the place you are house hunting in, and take notes to refer back to later. Don't be afraid to ask the letting agents questions to find out the things that matter to you, be it parking, having a supermarket close by, or being on a bus route.
● Check with the agents you contact what they will need to have from you in order to secure a property. I found this varied an awful lot between companies; some wanted a guarantor (either in full time work or who owned their own house), so make sure you have asked an appropriate person and got their permission before you start giving their name to letting agents. You will also need varying amounts and types of ID, and a holding deposit to stop viewings in the property while you are checked out by the agency (usually around £200), but check in what form you have to pay this, as some places won't accept cheques, only cleared funds (i.e. cash or debit card).
With our lovely new flat secured, we headed back up to Newcastle to mastermind the next part of our plan. Our move-in day was set for December 17th (another tip - don't attempt to move so close to Christmas, as it just makes things a whole lot more stressful than it need be!), giving us about three weeks to sort everything out. With there being such a lot to do, we decided between us that I would work a shorter notice period so I would be at home to orchestrate the move, while my Significant Other worked up until the Friday before we moved so we would still have money coming in. I'm aware that this would not be possible for everyone, but it was certainly an arrangement that worked for us. It allowed me to first of all tie up loose ends at work and finish off there, before I had a fortnight at home to concentrate solely on moving house. In retrospect I would have liked to have left more time before I moved, but with Christmas fast approaching, a later move-in date really wasn't practical.
**LEAVING YOUR OLD HOUSE** If you are living in a rental home, then the next thing you will need to do is give notice on your old home. Check with whoever you rent from, but a month's notice in writing seems to be standard condition. They should then give you instructions on what you need to do before you move out, and how you can claim your damage deposit back; your landlord or their agent should check the property after you leave, and provided you have left it in a clean state with no damage, then there should be no problems with this (see a useful "This is Money" article at: http://tinyurl.com/2t382h).
So, what else do you need to organise before you move out of your old house? Well, you will need to contact your utility providers and council tax office to inform them that you are leaving this address for one thing. BT wants two weeks' notice of your move to transfer or cancel your account, while the gas and electricity companies I called simply wanted you to take final meter readings as you left, and then phone them in so they could send a final bill to your new address. It is a good idea to check what your own providers want as soon as you can. It is also a good idea to make a list of who else has your address, as this will need to be updated or cancelled with each organisation; think of any subscriptions, financial organisations, loyalty cards, memberships and services you are signed up to. I preferred to change my addresses individually, but you may want to use an address changing service, such as the one offered by www.iammoving.com or Royal Mail (http://tinyurl.com/2mn559). I also signed up to have my mail redirected in case there was anyone I had forgotten to inform, which comes at a not unreasonable £7.10 for one month or £15.55 for three months per name redirected, and can be done online at http://tinyurl.com/2qmm2r. You will also need to update an insurance that you have. As you are changing address, you may want to use this opportunity to look around to better quotes for your policies, but I will confess that I had quite enough to deal with as it was - and as I got a £130 rebate on my home contents insurance when I informed my provider of my new address, I wasn't about to complain!
The next big thing is of course the packing of all your stuff. I highly recommend having a clear out before you attempt this, as packing is a time consuming pain, and there is no point carting junk that you will never use again to your new home. Start by getting a shredder to dispose of sensitive paperwork (we found a great manual cross-cut shredder in Tesco for only £7), then gradually sort through each room in turn and shred, throw out, recycle, or take to a charity shop anything that you don't want. Between us, we produced four bags for the local charity shop, an entire car boot full of old magazines and shredded paperwork for recycling, as well as several bin bags full of stuff to throw out - fortunately our council was very good about organising an extra collection of rubbish for after we left. This neatly solved the problem of what to do with extra rubbish after our last bin collection in our old house! While cardboard boxes will solve most of your packing needs, my next big tip is to invest in some Really Useful Boxes (see http://www.reallyusefulproducts.co.uk/uk/) as both a way to protect the more delicate of your items from the removal process and as a long-term household investment (we are using one of the big 42 litre ones as a recycling box for example, and the CD storage boxes are good for storage once you have moved in to your new house). I got mine from a large Staples store, who seem to stock the best range of sizes. They are so great I might just write a whole review on them!
Removal companies are expensive, but we hired one anyway as we had too much stuff (principally books and bookcases to be honest…) to go into a rental van, and together with his bad back and my bad joints we weren't sure we could shift all of our things safely anyway. Better to hire some burly men to do it for us! The process of choosing a rental company was terribly unscientific for us - a number of companies who have been contracted by Northern Rock offer their employs discounts to use them, so I simply called up everyone on that list to get quotes from them. We went with a company that didn't offer us the best price initially, but who came highly recommended and agreed to a not insubstantial 5% off - and more importantly, would be available at fairly short notice just before Christmas. The other big advantage of a removal firm is that many offer storage of your items - the company we used (Quicksilver) would store all of our vast pile of things for up to a week for a mere £16 - which allowed us to have things collected on the Friday afternoon and then redelivered to our new house the following Tuesday morning. As well as breaking up the move, it allowed us time to spring clean our old flat, take the long and tiring journey to Cheltenham with an overnight stay, sort out the final paperwork for our new flat and move ourselves in before all our stuff arrived to clutter the place up. Slowing the process down rather than trying to do the whole thing on one day was a very big factor in making our move less stressful and more efficient for us.
**MOVING INTO YOUR NEW HOUSE** Having got all of your stuff into your new abode isn't the end of the whole process of course, but at least there is now light at the end of the tunnel. The most important things to do now are to contact your local council and sort out your new entry on the electoral roll, and (even more fun than that) get yourself issued with a brand new council tax bill. You will also need to set up new utility accounts; your landlord or letting agent should be able to tell you who supplies your gas, electricity and water to your new home, but failing that you can call the Meter Number Helpline on 0870 608 1524 to find out your gas supply company, and call your regional water and electricity supply boards for help - they will be able to tell you which company you need to contact. You can search for local GPs and other NHS services by visiting http://www.nhs.uk/servicedirectories/Pages/ServiceSearch.aspx.
**AND RELAX!!!** It admittedly took us another four days to fully unpack and organise our stuff, reassemble flat pack furniture, buy all the little things we were missing, pester our letting agent to send out a washing machine repair man before Christmas (it wouldn't drain water - a little present form the previous tenants) and feel properly settled in - and then there was Christmas to organise! But at least then we could sit back, relax, and enjoy a rather good Christmas in a much nicer flat before we both start our new jobs in January. I am sorry that we couldn't get our new jobs and home in Newcastle, but I think that ultimately our house move was worth all the hassle - and I can only hope that the next time we move, it will be into a house of our very own!