One night last month, while I was in the midst of moving out of the house where I had lived for nearly a decade, I found myself trying to make dinner with two pans, one fork and one knife — the only things I had not yet packed that were useful.
To distract myself from this sorry state, I turned on an episode of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and saw a father and son suddenly thrown into moving mode. A house flipper had knocked on their door and offered them cash to get out ASAP. But they were shown calmly putting random items into boxes that didn’t look as if they had been salvaged from a grocery or liquor store — as were most of my boxes — after which they stopped to have a leisurely heart-to-heart talk.
“That’s not how this works,” I yelled at my iPad, which was on top of the TV tray where I would eat while sitting on a paint-splattered folding chair, since I had just sold my dining-room set on Craigslist.
The move was one of the most stressful experiences of my life, in part because of all the moving parts involved — I had sold my house much more quickly than expected and needed to find a rental and storage on short notice — but also because moving isn’t something most of us do very often.
Richard S. Citrin, an organizational psychologist and a writer of “The Resilience Advantage,” said: “We build routines to make things as efficient as we can. When we move, we do something very foreign to us.”
We don’t have a routine for hiring a mover. We don’t have a routine for how to pack the dishes or bed linens. We just don’t have a routine for upending our lives.
It all “takes a lot of mental and physical energy, and that expenditure of energy is very exhausting,” Mr. Citrin said.
While you probably can’t stop the stress that comes from the process, you can make your move easier — and also do your best not to get ripped off by moving companies.
Whether you’re paying friends with pizza and a six-pack, or hiring a company to handle packing and moving, the process still takes time — and typically much more time than you anticipate.
If you’re hiring a mover, Scott Michael, president and chief executive of the American Moving and Storage Association, an industry trade group that offers advice on its website, Moving.org, suggests calling at least three companies two months ahead. This gives you enough time to evaluate their estimates, research them through the Better Business Bureau and look them up on consumer review websites like Angie’s List and Yelp.
Mr. Michael advised looking for a physical address and, if it is a local moving company, drive by the business. (The Haggler, The New York Times’ business column, has delved into hellish moving-related experiences some have had with companies that exist only on the internet.) You can also search for complaints against moving companies on the Department of Transportation website.
When Amanda Goldman-Petri and her family moved from Conroe, Tex., to Bradenton, Fla., in 2015, they went through three movers.
The first company gave them a quote and, on moving day, showed up late and doubled the charge. She fired them. The second left half the family’s stuff behind and sent an invoice for more than the quoted price. “We, of course, refused,” Mrs. Goldman-Petri said. “They then held our items hostage in a warehouse.”
Mrs. Goldman-Petri then hired a third moving company to pick up their items from the warehouse. She said they overmeasured (and overcharged), and broke some items.
She said that if she ever hired movers again, she would check the company on the Transportation Department website.
Mrs. Goldman-Petri said her family had moved a few times before, but this was their first move across state lines. “We weren’t educated on the difference between local versus national movers, so didn’t expect it to be an issue,” she said.
The next time they moved (from their rental into a home they bought last year), they did it themselves.
I thought negotiating a sale price for my house with buyers would be the toughest part of the process. Not so. My broker and the buyer’s broker were in constant contact about everything, from what repairs I would make to whether or not the buyer wanted to buy any of the furniture in the house.
My broker ended up being a shoulder to lean on, and sometimes to cry on.
“Sometimes Realtors have to be psychologists in order to evaluate and understand their clients’ situation and react accordingly,” said Bill Brown, president of the National Association of Realtors.
So when I sobbed about my buyer’s change in financing, my broker knew that I wasn’t upset just about that, but also about this being yet another unexpected bump on the road to selling the home, one that already included the death of my Jack Russell terrier, Emily. I had bought the home, in part, so she would have a yard.
(The financing hiccup involved the buyer’s deciding to switch from a conventional mortgage to one through the Federal Housing Administration, which meant another appraisal. This could have moved back the closing date. But I had already signed a lease for my next place that started on the scheduled closing day, which could have meant that I’d have to pay both a mortgage and a lease at the same time. Fortunately, none of the feared upheaval came to pass.)
‘‘Anytime you have been living in a place, memories are there,” Mr. Brown said, adding that you should be able to rely on your broker for almost anything during the process (mine also helped me find a plumber to fix two faucets and a contractor to replace broken window panes). The only thing a broker should not give, Mr. Brown said, is legal and accounting advice.
In some places, like where I lived in southern New Jersey, buyers and sellers don’t bring lawyers into the process. In New York City, though, a lawyer will almost always be involved.
As for the part a lawyer plays in the transaction, Douglas P. Heller, a real estate lawyer at Herrick, Feinstein in Manhattan, said: “For the buyer, the role is to get what you paid for. For the seller, the role is to make sure nobody can come after you at the end of the day because you screwed up.”
For co-ops, being approved by the board can be another hurdle, Mr. Heller said. Buyers should seek co-op approval as soon as possible, especially if they want to close their deal in June, for example, and the board meets only twice a year.
Deals can still be scuttled on the last day — or wind up costing someone more money. When John Shabe and his wife, Tracey Randinelli, did the final walk-through of the home they were buying in South Orange, N.J., in 2001, the place was broom swept, “but you definitely saw little piles of dirt on the kitchen floor where they didn’t use a dust pan to pick it up,” Mr. Shabe said. That was just the start: they also found food in the refrigerator, rolls of paintings and canvases in the basement, and oil drums loaded with junk in the garage.
The couple didn’t feel as if they could back out of the deal because their things were already loaded onto the moving truck. “We weren’t going to not move because of this,” Mr. Shabe said, so they asked for a credit at the closing to pay for junk removal, which in the end cost double what they expected.
One bright spot: In sorting through what the previous owners left behind, they found a print by Walt Kelly, the cartoonist of the comic strip “Pogo,” rolled up and left behind. They had it appraised and framed, and it still hangs in their home. (The 2004 appraisal was $300.)
Because my house went into contract just a week after I listed it and the deal closed in two months, and I was still paralyzed with grief over losing my dog, I moved most of my stuff into a storage unit, and myself into a furnished, short-term rental in Cape May, N.J.
After signing what seemed like 10,002 papers to release a home I had loved to someone else, I got into my old Jeep Wrangler and drove, white-knuckled, through snow and howling wind to the condo. I dumped my duffel bag and backpack in the living room and promptly realized taht the sheets I brought didn’t fit the supplied bed.
I still haven’t completely unwound, and I haven’t 100 percent unpacked either — I’m writing this at a kitchen counter with my laptop on top of an old dynamite crate that used to hold my paper recycling.
At the end of my two-month lease, I’ll have to figure out what’s next. At least I won’t have to worry about a buyer changing his financing this time.