The Complete Guide to Moving Across Country (in 9 Steps)
Moving to a new place is exciting, but it can also be super stressful. But don’t freak out—you can do this. Just follow some basic steps that I’ve honed during both of my cross-country moves (from Arkansas to New York to Texas).
1. Finding A Place to Live
This shouldn’t need saying, but here it goes anyway: the first step to moving is deciding where to move. It doesn’t matter if you’re moving to a new section of town or a completely new state, the rules are basically the same. Figure out what you’re looking for and what you’re willing to pay for it. Do you want a townhouse or an apartment? One or two bedrooms? Roommates or living alone?
Once you know the preliminaries, you can get down to research mode. Is what you’re looking for available in your desired area, and in your price range? If not, you may need to do some adjusting to either your expectations or your budget. Stick to what matters most to you. Some people may be happier paying more to get want they want, while for others the budget may be non-negotiable. As long as you go into the hunt solidly set in your resources and your priorities, you won’t find yourself regretting your decision down the line.
2. Crossing Your T’s and Dotting Your I’s
So you’ve found the apartment or house of your dreams — now what? The process is a little different depending on your area and type of living situation, but I believe it all boils down to this: Figure out the steps and make sure to follow them through to the letter. Does your new apartment complex require you to put the utilities in your name before your move-in date? Make a note of this and don’t wait until the last minute. Nothing can throw a wrench in the excitement of a new home like bureaucracy.
If your new lease or deed requires you pass a credit or background check, know that these things take time to complete and may require some documents on your part. Find out what these documents are beforehand and make sure to have them with you when meeting with your landlord or realtor. It’s always better to have what you don’t need than to need what you don’t have.
Reading through a lease or contract carefully can also help to shed light on something that might otherwise come as a nasty surprise on move-in day. For example, one of my leases stated that the landlords would retain the right to use a bedroom on certain holiday weekends, which turned into an awkward situation when we moved in and their son was still living in my roommate’s room. I beg you, read the fine print.
3. Tying Up Loose Ends
As you’re getting ready to leave your current lease for the next, don’t forget to fulfill any last agreements in the lease. Basically, this just means be a nice tenant. Don’t leave the place dirty. If your lease states that you must hire a professional cleaner after you move out, or that you must pay to fill the propane tank on your last day, do it.
My mother taught me to leave places cleaner than I found them, and this is a good rule of thumb for many situations. Don’t leave belongings behind just because you don’t want them anymore, and don’t forget to pay your last bills even if you don’t receive them until after you move out.
Even though security deposits are there for a reason, don’t force your landlord to use them. You want that money back, and trust me, your landlord would rather give it back to you than have to call in professional painters or cleaners or whatever because you were a crappy tenant. That’s time that they can’t live there or rent it out to someone else, and it’s a hassle for everyone.
4. Getting You (And Your Stuff) There
The further away you’re moving, the more difficult this becomes. If you’re going to need a U-Haul or someone to help you transport or move, arrange it ahead of time. So many things can go wrong during a move, but you don’t want getting your stuff to be one of them. And as lovely as doing everything online can be, I advise you to talk to a person when arranging this. From personal experience I can tell you that the U-Haul website is not helpful, and when you have questions (and you will have questions), it’s much better to talk to an actual human being who can answer them all at once rather than rely on sorting through FAQs.
You’ll need boxes and bubble wrap and tape and all sorts of materials just to get everything packed, and these are not things you want to be running around town for when you were supposed to be packed and moved out two hours ago. Buy them ahead of time, start packing sooner than you think you need to, and have all your transportation/hired or bribed help set before you even start packing boxes.
5. Speaking of Stuff, Do You Really Need It?
Moving time is a great time to re-evaluate your life, or at least all your crap. Got some clothes you don’t actually wear? Goodwill will take them. Got some books or movies you thought you’d reread or rewatch, but don’t? Hastings or used entertainment stores will give you store credit or even money for them.
Is your laundry hamper looking a little worn or your kitchen towels ragged? Throw them out and buy new ones when you get to your new place. It’ll save you the effort of moving them and it’ll help you spruce up the new digs.
6. Talking Money
One of the most important things for you to have under control is the money. How much do you owe, and when? Does the new place require a security deposit and the first month’s rent? Did you already pay your last month’s rent at your current place? When are all these things due, and do you pay them electronically or by check? Whatever you do, don’t wait till the last second. Moving money around or sending a check can take time, and being late on your first payment could mean your lease is forfeited. You don’t want to suddenly discover that you promised more than you can pay.
This goes for utilities too—when negotiating your new place, don’t be afraid to ask questions about what utilities you’re responsible for and how much they average. One of the worst situations to be in is getting settled in your new home only to discover that the bills are far higher than you’re prepared to pay.
7. Jumping Through Hoops
I’ve already touched on this a bit, but I want to call it out because I think this is the part most of us like to forget about. If you’re moving to a new state or town, this especially applies to you. Don’t take it for granted that the way of renting or home-ownership is the same as where you come from.
I moved from Arkansas to Long Island and discovered very quickly that the two ways of life are very different. I’d never had to worry about paying for trash pickup or special trash bags or propane before. There’s a lot more that goes into living up here than down in Arkansas, where it’s mostly all rolled into one bill or your taxes. That meant a lot of extra hoops for me to jump through each month and if you don’t keep on top of them, you’ll be buried in hoops made of blue Southampton trash bags (oh wait, that’s just me). Don’t let this happen to you.
8. Unpacking Dos and Don’ts
So you and all your stuff have reached your new place. Yay! But don’t celebrate just yet. Now it’s time to unpack. Some people (like my fiancé) like to unpack slowly, but I like to get it all done at once. It doesn’t feel like a home until I’ve put up all my wall art and organized the furniture just so.
Unpacking doesn’t have to be a colossal weight on your shoulders, as long as you’re smart about it. Don’t just open boxes willy-nilly and let them spill out until you can’t find a place to walk. Do essentials first: the bathroom and bedroom. The rest, like the kitchen and living room, can wait until tomorrow or the next day, but you’re going to want to sleep or use the toilet pretty soon after arriving.
If you didn’t pack things like toilet paper or trash bags, make a trip to the store before you start unpacking. Once you’ve done all this, you can unpack at your own pace. You won’t be overrun by trash or have that horrifying experience of digging through all the boxes for a towel or something to wipe with. You will thank me. And then you can make the place your own, and trust me, the sooner you do that, the sooner you can start feeling like you belong in this new place.
9. Throwing a Housewarming Party
Now you can celebrate. If you’ve moved within travel distance of friends and family, invite them to come see your new habitat. If not, then here’s your chance to make new friends by inviting neighbors, new co-workers, or anyone who strikes your fancy. Even if it seems awkward at first, you’ll see the wisdom later when you can actually call your neighbors by name and your co-workers feel comfortable inviting you to their homes. It will also give you an excuse to locate the nearest liquor store, game store, party store—whatever kind of store sounds fun to you.