Clicky

Moving West – Part 1

New Reader? Get free regular updates from Can I Retire Yet? on saving, investing, retiring, and retirement income. New articles about twice/month. Join more than 14,000 subscribers. Unsubscribe at any time:

Blogs are unique because they include personal experience, in addition to the facts. The backstory for this blog over the last six months has been our downsizing and relocation. So here is the first part of our moving story, plus a few financial lessons learned….

In June we sold our house. In July we vacationed to New Mexico and Arizona. In August we returned to Tennessee, staying in a short-term rental, so Caroline could finish her work obligation, and secure our retirement health benefits.

In September we visited family and friends — sampling the big cities of the northeast, strolling on Cape Cod beaches, hiking and biking and climbing in New York as the leaves began to turn.

Summer was over. Fall was in full swing. Now what?

We had fulfilled our obligations, accomplished our objectives, been a lot of places, seen a lot of people, and had a lot of fun along the way. But frankly, we were a little tired. Tired of living on the road. Tired of the constant packing and unpacking. Tired of the reorientation to new surroundings every time we changed locations. New beds, new bathrooms, new laundries, new kitchens, new grocery stores, new Internet connections….

By my count, we unpacked, slept, and packed up in, at least 19 different places between mid-June and mid-October. And that does not count the many nights during that time spent on the road or in campgrounds in our trusty camper van.

We had said we would travel until we were ready to settle down, and now we were. We were ready to have a “home” again.

We’d been looking for our ideal retirement location for years — likely a medium size, high-altitude city in one of the Four Corners states of the southwest. We were down to three contenders. We had discussed, researched, and visited them all in recent years. Now, in the final analysis, one seemed too cold, one seemed crowded and distant, and the one remaining seemed just about right.

So we had identified our ideal retirement location, or as close as we were likely to come to it. Thus, in early October, we found ourselves back in Chattanooga one last time, packing our stored belongings for the final move, out west….

Storage

When we sold the house in June we had downsized in earnest. I estimate that we sold or gave away at least two-thirds of our possessions by volume. The process was hard, physically and emotionally. We kept what was truly special to us. But many, many things that were tired, worn, outlived, or no longer meaningful, were shown the door. In the end, aside from what would fit in our vehicles and be taken with us on the road, we had only about a one-car garage full of boxes and furniture.

A few days before we closed on the house we scheduled Two Men and a Truck for half a day to move those remaining possessions to a nearby storage facility. It was basically a positive experience: they worked hard and got us moved out without major mishap. Total cost for their services, with tips, was about $780.

We moved those possessions to a 10×15 storage unit at a nearby Extra Space Storage facility. Eventually we would rent a parking spot there too, for whichever vehicle wasn’t on the road with us. I was focused on proximity, not options, when we chose Extra Space. But the entire experience with them was top-notch, from beginning to end. The facility was clean, well-maintained, and well-secured. And the price was right. The managers quickly knew us by name, and frequently anticipated our needs. They were easy and flexible to deal with as we, and various helpers, came and went over our months without a home.

(We’ve already rented space at an Extra Space Storage facility in our new location, and the managers there seem to be cut from the same cloth. It might not be the least expensive space in town, but I appreciate the continuity of dealing with a national chain, in this case, when so much else has been changing in our lives.)

Packing and Moving

Back in Chattanooga, after our fall travels, our first order of business was to arrange for our remaining belongings, currently in the storage unit, to be moved from Tennessee out west. But where was it going?

We had narrowed our location search, and had a city in mind, but we hadn’t begun to search for an actual home there yet. And until we had a home under lease, I didn’t want to burn any bridges. So we really didn’t know where we were going, for certain. We needed to move our belongings in a way that allowed us to pack up in Chattanooga without being absolutely certain about our ultimate destination, or schedule.

I’d like to write that I exhaustively evaluated all our moving options and scientifically chose the optimal moving company and moving method for our needs. But I didn’t. We simply had too much going on at the time to thoroughly evaluate all our options. So I winged it.

Given the vagaries in our destination and schedule, I leaned toward a containerized system, rather than traditional movers. I looked at sites and read online reviews for the two most prominent national companies. And without much further deliberation, I chose PODS. The deciding factor, to be honest, was probably that I had seen PODS in use around our city almost daily, giving me comfort that their system was popular and workable.

A traditional mover might well have cost us less in the end, had our schedule been predictable. I did make a quick call to United Van Lines, and they gave me a rough quote over the phone in the high $2,000’s for our move. But they wouldn’t commit to it without coming and estimating our stuff in person, so I can’t say for sure it was accurate.

And, for us, using a traditional mover would have required a leap of faith — initiating the move by phone once we had reached our final destination, trusting that our mover and storage vendor would get all the details right, without us present. Instead, I preferred to supervise the packing of our things in person, while we were still in Tennessee, confident that they would then be securely stored in a locked container until we called for them.

So PODS offered the flexibility that we wanted, though it may not have been the cheapest solution. Our all-in costs for the move out west with them look something like this:

PODS Moving Costs
Item Amount
packing supplies $190
drop-off POD in Chattanooga $455
loading help $260
storage of POD (extra month) $145
transport POD out west $1,820
drop-off POD out west $240
unloading help $260
TOTAL $3,370

In the end, we may have spent an additional $500 or more by compartmentalizing our move with PODS. But PODS has worked well for us so far, and preserved our flexibility in case our plans changed mid-move. So I have no regrets.

Note that PODS will generally make the most sense if you plan to do your own packing, loading, and unloading over a period of time. That’s because the locked and weatherproof container can be located at your property indefinitely, and you can access it as needed. That’s a key feature of their system. But we chose it for the flexibility. We did some of our own packing, but had to hire independent movers to help us load the POD. (Our days of stacking and unstacking large, heavy boxes are over.)

To locate those movers we used the excellent web site HireAHelper. They are an independent broker for companies specializing in local packing and moving. We were able to easily read reviews of, and get quotes from, a half-dozen local concerns. The most reliable and economical one stood out. We hired them through the site. They showed up on time, worked very hard and professionally, expertly packed and secured the POD, and finished on schedule. We doled out tips, approved the job via cell phone, and were done — very pleased with the entire experience.

PODS, also, has been a pleasure to deal with all along. Our phone representative, the same throughout the move, has been top-notch. A master of details, he has cheerfully and professionally responded to our every schedule change, updating computer systems and managing notifications on his and our end exactly as expected.

Moving Insurance

Everybody worries about loss or damage to their prized possessions during a move, and we were no different. Of course there are a number of companies and insurance products offering to alleviate your fears. Online sites, such as MovingInsurance.com and MoveInsure offer policies. PODS and HireAHelper have their own offerings as well.

We investigated them all, as far as our patience would allow. To make a long story short, by the time we got through all the legalese, we found little comfort or value added in any of the offered insurance policies.

Our advice: Read the fine print.

Some policies covered all manner of bizarre and unlikely events, but didn’t cover breakage, which was our primary concern. Others required exhaustive inventories of our possessions — just not practical when most of our things were already packed. Others featured limited coverage or high deductibles. Frankly, we just don’t own that much fragile stuff.

When USAA assured us that our current renter’s insurance policy would continue to cover our possessions while in transit for the usual fire, flood, catastrophic loss, water damage, or theft, we decided that was good enough, and we’d self-insure the rest.

We locked our POD in Chattanooga, and headed west….

Home Search

Fast forward a few weeks. Our possessions were safely stored until we called for them, and we were now on the other side of the country. It was time to find a new home. We threw ourselves into the effort, spending most of the first week in our new town looking at places, until we found the right one….

We’d already decided we would rent instead of buy, to start. Because our new home town is a well known vacation and travel destination, there are a number of property management companies that specialize in rentals, short as well as longer term. We began on their web sites, collecting addresses. Then we monitored Craigslist for new housing ads. Many of the same places showed up there, but so did a number of places being rented by private individuals. Lastly, once we had become familiar with the town, we drove up and down every street in several of our favorite neighborhoods, in search of “For Rent” signs for places we otherwise missed. We found a few prospects that way.

Unlike almost ever before in our lives, we had the time and inclination to find as close to “perfect” a place as humanly possible. It needed to be the right size, location, and price. It had to have the right amenities. It had to be close to our preferred activities. Most importantly, it needed to feel like “home” to us.

We made a huge effort. We drove by every possible property, and made appointments to see inside those that had curb appeal for us. All told, we evaluated 39 places before making our decision!

As you might surmise, we kept a list. As we encountered each new possibility, we wrote it down in a small notepad including the address, rent, number of rooms/baths, square footage, and contact information. We also assigned each place a two-digit ID number. Then we used a folding paper street map of the area, noting that ID number in the right location on the map.

When we had dozens of properties to view in a day, that map was invaluable for charting an efficient course. It served as our checklist for crossing off properties where we had no interest. And it also gave us a feel, over time, for which neighborhoods had clusters of places that really appealed to us. (We might have accomplished a similar objective with Google Maps, instead of a paper map, had we both been facile with it on our mobile devices. But the paper version was simple, and served us very well.)

At the end of each day of house-hunting, I consolidated our findings into an Excel spreadsheet. For each property, I entered our ID number, address, rent, contact, and any notes on viewing the property: condition, aesthetics, neighborhood, walkability/convenience, parking, noise level, and so on. Finally I assigned each place a letter grade — A, B, C, etc. — to sum up how I felt about it. (This was my own judgment, which I kept to myself: I let Caroline form her own conclusions. Then we compared notes.)

When it was all done we had looked at both urban and suburban locations. We had viewed condos, apartments, town houses, duplexes, single family homes, and guest houses. We had seen a few upscale — out of our budget, and quite a few downscale — we were willing to pay a little more for nicer surroundings.

In the end, when I scanned my spreadsheet, most of the places weren’t worth the effort of grading. But there were a few C’s, a few B’s, and a solitary A. At about the same time, we both realized that was our place! And, as soon as we knew how special it was, we jumped on it, submitting an application to the property management company.

The rest was just paperwork. More about that, and our new place, in future posts….

The Lesser Evil: Two Homes or None at All?

This major transition in our life has been heavily influenced by our decision to sell our previous home before we chose a new one. Before we even knew for certain where it would be!

Our greatest concern had been getting stuck at the start of our retirement. Given a housing market that was still showing vestiges of the Great Recession, we were concerned we could be in that family home for months or years, before we could relocate. So when we had an excellent offer in the first 24 hours, we happily accepted.

But that set us up for a stressful transition — a tight schedule at the start, and a lot of uncertainty later on, while we searched for a new home in a new town in a new region of the country.

Would we do it the same way if we had to do it again? Probably. Perhaps we’d go into it wiser, perhaps slower, if we had a choice. Most people our age would not want to be without a home for a long stretch of time. Living on the road, even if you’re experts at it, can be disorienting and tiring. And yet, we saved a load of money and preserved all our best options by doing so.

A cornerstone of our early retirement has always been frugality when it comes to big-ticket items. We live well, but we simply can’t put ourselves in a situation that potentially bleeds tens of thousands of unbudgeted dollars. Maintaining two homes for an indefinite period could do that, torpedoing our financial independence in the process. Instead, we chose a period of transience, to guarantee our expenses would remain under control.

Maintaining two homes at once is expensive and risky. Being without any home can be inconvenient and stressful. Pick your poison. With unlimited funds we’d probably choose the former. But the frugal facts of our early retirement dictate that paying for two homes at once is not an option.

So be it. That transition is over, and we are now on to new horizons in our dream retirement location!

Wondering where we settled and why? Stay tuned for Part 2….

Comments

  1. I am curious as to the size of the POD you rented and why the different costs on the POD drop off in Chattanooga versus out west. This post really coincides with what I am looking at doing. I always enjoy reading your entries and get something useful out of them. Thank you

    • Hi Linda, nice to hear from you. Our POD is 8 ft. wide by 8 ft. tall by 16 ft. long. I believe that’s their largest size, which they say can fit 3-4 rooms of stuff. I believe the main reason the fees differ between the initial drop off and the other end of the move, is the fact that you are paying for 1 month of storage up front. (Additional months of storage are charged as needed.) Also, there was a small error in my figures due to a credit we received, which I just corrected.

  2. Great news, Darrow, and nothing tests the strength of a marriage like your search for the perfect location! If you don’t find what you’re seeking in 39 attempts then it probably doesn’t exist…

    I’m glad that PODS worked out. They’re all over our daughter’s college campus during her summer break and they seem to be a popular franchise.

  3. We are following your situation with great interest, as we have very similar plans. We are perhaps 12 to 24 months behind you. I am very curious to learn which Southwestern city you chose. It is an area of great appeal to us. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Nice writeup, Darrow. You mentioned something about your health benefits, and I’m curious about that aspect of early retirement. Hope you’ll cover that topic at some point!

    • Thanks Mike. In a nutshell, my wife worked enough years in the local school system that we qualified for retirement health benefits. We have to pay for them, but it’s a group plan so the rates are “reasonable” (around $560/month for our family right now). Our early retirement was a team effort. I couldn’t have left my corporate job without Caroline’s benefits. There is some more detail in my post on Health Care.

  5. Excellent! Enjoyed reading the post. Moving is always costly. I am staying in my place for almost four years. Hope I do not have to move soon.

  6. I’m guessing the high desert of New Mexico?? Taos area maybe?

  7. Hi Darrow, another very good article…of course I so excited I skipped to the end to see where your ended up. No such luck! 🙂 I went back and read the whole article of course. 😉 Ok that’s just not fair baitin’ us along like that! Of course we will stay tuned. 🙂 You’re killin’ me! 😉

    Happy trails, Mike

  8. Hi Darrow,
    Curious, how did you rent a place without having a job? As a landlord myself, the first thing I look for is someone with a job with a monthly income that is a multiple of the monthly rent. Did you use some other form of monthly income such as from your investment portfolio?

    • Hi Gene. Good question. I actually worried about that a bit. It’s been a long, long time since I filled out a credit application. We are now both retired and have no “regular income” according to conventional thinking. No paychecks, no pensions, no Social Security (yet). But we have substantial investment assets, and a very high credit score. Fortunately our property management company had dealt with other financially independent individuals. Once we furnished proof of our assets to them, it was no problem. In fact, they seemed happy to have us.

  9. I’m guessing Sedona, AZ. I am currently vacationing here and just love the area. I love the size of the city, not too big and not too small. It is my first time visiting here and I am overwhelmed with it’s beauty and spectacular weather.

  10. Darrow thanks again for a great article. We have moved corporately 8 times in the last 20 years. Then we just sold our home, packed ourselves and used a UHaul truck to get to our retirement home. I really like the PODS idea especially when you don’t know where you are landing. My money is on your new address in Durango,CO. Looking forward to the next chapter.

    • Hi Ingrid. I grew up moving every couple of years (military family), but was out of practice. Sounds like you’ve stayed familiar with the process! Yes, the POD is especially appealing if you don’t know your endpoint, or don’t fancy driving a big truck. Durango is a good guess — pretty area — but it may be too far from a major airport for us…