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On the move. A crash course on how to avoid the pitfalls, perils, and puzzles of a household move

Nobody ever said about moving: ``It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.'' People are pretty unambivalent about it being the worst of times. Moving requires one to plumb hitherto blissfully unplumbed depths of character. It requires pack rats to preside over garage sales. It requires entrusting beloved possessions into the hands of strangers. It requires, if not your life, then at least your furniture, to pass before you.

In the end, the only thing you can do is to give up and decide to be extremely organized.

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This can have long term dividends. One woman packed up the contents of an entire mansion full of rickety Victorian furniture and antique china, then had it taken to her own house, plus those of her two grown children, without a single mishap. She kept a spiral notebook with a list of the exact contents of each box and its destination.

Today, if somebody wants to know where Grandfather's ostrich egg is, she can go to her notebook and tell immediately that it's now in her attic in Box No. 8.

The very best way to move, of course, is to pay to have other people do it for you.

Of course, even if the movers are doing the packing, something is still required of you. For one thing, you need to clearly label anything you do not want moved.

``They've even been known to pack garbage; they don't make decisions, you know,'' says one Connecticut lady.

Which is not to say movers are not generally thoughtful.

One big company, Allied, even sends an agent to your new home after your move to fill you in on your new community and make sure everything is OK; they do everything but tuck you into bed at night.

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On the other hand, I once moved with the help of five friends, in our three Volkswagen bugs; mine was a convertible and could accommodate one large piece of furniture perched upright in the back.

So, the question really is, how self-reliant do you want to be? And how much are you willing to endure?

One woman who drove a rental truck from Chicago to New Mexico says her truck broke down ``in the desert area of Texas. I wanted to throttle the agent because they wanted to charge us for the extra day we were holed up because we couldn't get it fixed.''

She recommends that you try to get your truck rental company to make a firm commitment as to the mileage the truck gets. ``We got seven miles per gallon and they had said 13,'' she says.

For those who choose to have a moving company do the work, there are a number of considerations to be made. The moving industry was deregulated in October 1980, and while moving companies used to offer pretty standard services, they've become very creative in their attempts to woo customers.

There are now a lot of options to choose from.

For instance, North American Van Lines has its ``We Drive'' economy plan: You pack, load, and unload the truck, with the driver supervising the loading and unloading process.

Ryder, on the other hand, has a truck rental program in which someone will come by and pack and load for you, and you just do the driving.

For the fastidious, Burnham Service Corporation in Columbus, Ga., has an option it calls ``a smokeless move.'' It will guarantee that during the packing and loading process no one will embalm your belongings in tobacco fumes.

United Van Lines offers information (800-325-3870) to customers and non-customers alike. In addition to a varied selection of brochures, including information -- like ``How to Move your Waterbed'' -- it also answers questions like whether you can buy disposable diapers in Saudi Arabia.

If you have a lot of antiques, call your local museum and ask who does its moving.

For one of my own do-it-yourself moves, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts recommended a longhaired blond man who carried my curio cabinet, a family treasure tentatively composed of mahogany and curved glass, down two crooked narrow flights of stairs as tenderly as if it were a baby.

Deregulation has also seen to it that the most common consumer complaints have been addressed. For example:

Estimates. It used to be that all the big movers charged only by weight, and they didn't know the weight until they weighed the truck with your stuff on it.

You would arrive at your new home, a thousand miles perhaps from friends, bank, or credit references. The mover would pull up into your driveway and, before unloading so much as a dish towel, inform you that the bill would be an extra $500, in cash.

These days, you can get so-called binding estimates, which means that the mover charges you whatever he agrees to charge you.

``Each agent sets his own rates -- we have no control,'' says Allied spokesman Jim Wileman. ``You could get very different figures from two Allied agents in the same area.''

In other words, it now pays to get several estimates.

You can still choose to be charged by weight, but the most you can be required to pay on delivery is the amount of the estimate plus an additional 10 percent. You have 30 days to come up with the rest. (If you request additional services, the bill for those is due on delivery.)

Moving companies still usually want cash or a cashier's check, though a few companies -- United and Aero Mayflower, for instance -- take American Express if you've made arrangements in advance.

Late delivery. That used to mean that movees were forced to either camp out in an empty house or sit in a hotel waiting for their furniture. Now, many companies have compensation plans to make up for expenses occurred if your furniture is delivered late. Usually it's about $100-$125 a day.

The mover will give you a range of pickup and delivery dates. Usually the ``window'' will be two days, though it might be as wide as five days for a very large move over a very long distance during the busy May-though-September moving season. Give yourself a few extra days in your old home in case pickup is delayed.

Damaged goods. One point of dispute is a disagreement on just what constitutes the repair of a damaged item. One consumer whose antique carved Chinese chest had been chipped during a move complained, ``We had humongous insurance and they didn't do anything.'' She said that the adjuster highly recommended covering the chip with teak stain.

In any case, all the major companies seem to offer the same policies in case of loss or damage. You can buy full-value protection, or a less expensive replacement value policy. They are legally required to pay you 60 cents on the pound (say, $6 for your 10-pound stereo) if you choose not to buy a policy: This is called ``released value.''

If an item is lost or damaged, you should describe the problem in detail on the driver's copy of the bill of lading (that's what your contract is called). Leave damaged items in the carton for company inspection. If you are shipping articles that are especially valuable, you should have a declaration of their full value in writing.

You have nine months to file a claim, but it is recommended that you file as soon as possible. (If it goes to court, you are not entitled to reimbursement of your lawyer's fees if you wait more than 120 days.) The carrier must acknowledge within 30 days and must deny or make an offer in 120 days.

``Until you file a claim, the clock has not begun to run,'' says Pat Schulze of the Interstate Commerce Commission. ``A lot of people feel that calling and complaining are sufficient, or making a notation on the driver's bill of lading. But they must file a claim.''

There seems to be a great deal of disagreement as to whether a mover is responsible for the breaking of fragile objects that you packed yourself.

Many companies have the policy that their movers are responsible for any package that they accept. In this case, however, they usually inspect packages and will either refuse an improperly wrapped one, or repack it and charge you for doing so.

So if you own a Ming vase, carry it with you. Taxes

If your move is job-related, remember that, at least according to the present tax laws, many of your moving expenses are tax deductible, even if you don't itemize.

Keep track of all your expenses, such as: traveling to your new home, moving household goods, house-hunting trips before you move, living temporarily at your new location, disposing of your former home and acquiring a new one. If you can prove mileage, you can deduct 9 cents a mile; or the actual cost of gas and oil.

Get the IRS to send you a copy of Publication 521 (Moving Expenses).

To be entitled to a deduction, your new job must be at least 35 miles farther from your old home than your old job. In other words, if your old job was three miles from your old home, your new job must be 38 miles from your old home. Packing

First, get a floor plan of your future residence and decide where the furniture is going; get rid of items that don't fit.

If you're paying by weight, sort through and eliminate books; also, mailing them might be cheaper.

Have a garage sale for things you don't need. If you don't have enough stuff for your own sale, have a sale with friends. Donate unsold items to charity; get a receipt for your income taxes.

Have a ``last box'' in which the last items you use go -- usually the items essential to survival: sheets for everybody, a pot and a pan, plastic forks and spoons. The vacuum cleaner should be accessible, too.

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