Moving House? A Handy Guide to Stress-Free Moving

For many people, moving house can be one of the most arduous and stressful experiences imaginable. From start to finish, there can be endless decisions, unforeseen changes of circumstance or timescales, issues with solicitors, all above and beyond your usual daily routine. With some careful planning, a commonsense approach, and some helpful advice from an in-depth article, it is however possible to mitigate against many problems and ensure that the moving experience proceeds as pleasantly and worry-free as possible.

In this article we take a look at some of the most important decisions you’ll need to make throughout the move, and look at the likely timescales involved – we’ve provided a number of helpful tips from choosing the right conveyancer and removal option to things you need to do at various stages along the way. Naturally, the experience can differ for every family, and even from move to move, but we’ve aimed to cover most decisions and issues you would normally encounter.

Conveyancer or solicitor?

So you’ve identified your dream house, put in an offer and had it accepted – excellent news! By this stage, it’s also likely that you’ll have received an offer on your own property. At that stage, it’s time to make one of the most important decisions in the process – choosing who will handle the legal aspects of both your sale and purchase.

For many, the biggest decision is whether to choose a conveyancer, who will generally be a specialist in house moves, or to go with a solicitor, who may advertise a conveyancing service as part of his or her specialities. There are quite a few differences between the two, and it’s important to understand the varying roles that each might play, as well as other implications, such as cost and timescale.

In very general terms, the differences could cover things such as legal qualifications and cost. A solicitor is a fully qualified legal professional, able to handle a range of matters above and beyond that of a conveyancer, and is a member of the Law Society. By contrast, the conveyancer may be less qualified across all legal aspects, but will have undergone training specifically in this area, and will also belong to a recognised body, the Council for Licensed Conveyancers. Some solicitors actually employ licensed conveyancers, so this can be a good option.

Naturally, legal expertise comes at a cost; conveyancers are a cheaper option (usually), but there can often be additional complications which occur during a house move which may have to be handled by a specialist lawyer – for example if there are matters such as boundary disputes to handle, or complications such as a house sale being part of a divorce settlement. However in a majority of cases, a conveyancer should be able to guide you fully through the process from start to finish, and handle almost everything that arises.

Problems during conveyancing

One of the biggest issues that can arise during the conveyancing is missing paperwork. Right from the start, buyers and sellers must complete numerous documents and supply information about all aspects of their property; these will include full details of what is to be included or excluded for the sale (such as fixtures and fittings), paperwork covering payments on your lease (if applicable), documentation of any building or extension work that has happened to the property while under your ownership, and other relevant documents. Should any of this be incomplete, there are likely to be delays while you or your conveyancer follow this up.

A simple example is where you have had an extension added to your property, but forgot to notify your leasehold agent; while retrospective planning permission or consent from the leaseholder is usually easy to obtain, this can add stress and be an unforeseen cost. If you are planning a house move, it’s often worth getting together all your paperwork and records before you start the process, rather than spending time after the move is already underway.

A major issue that many movers experience is difficulty in communication; while many firms now offer online tracking software or dedicated phone numbers so you can keep on top of where you’re up to, reaching the person directly responsible for your case can often be difficult – yours will not be the only house move the conveyancer is working on. Similarly, they can even sometimes mix up cases or cause delays by failing to submit paperwork, so it’s worth keeping an eye on where things are up to, and follow up with an email or call if you have concerns.

A good tip is to make sure that any communication received from your solicitor or conveyancer is dealt with promptly and courteously – don’t wait a week to send a document or answer a simple query as this will add to timescales unnecessarily.

Hidden costs

Most reputable solicitors and conveyancers will be able to give you a ballpark cost of their services. Of course the end bill will change, but this will be due to things that crop up during the process, such as additional legal expenses or costs for retrieving paperwork; the legal folk will be able to tell you the main costs associated with the move from their side, such as land registry searches, their usual conveyancing fees, and various other costs. Solicitor rates will generally be higher but there will be some costs that will be standard across both.

It’s well worth shopping around for a good price, but beware particularly of websites or adverts which try to tempt you in with headlines such as “sell your house for £500!” These will invariably only be baseline costs and the real figure will be several times higher, especially when you are both selling and purchasing property. Similarly, avoid those advertising hourly rates, as costs could soon spiral wildly out of your budget; in all cases ask for an itemised quote, and make sure you understand what each charge is for – if in doubt, ask!

If you have elected to use a solicitor, also be aware that some practices can be a little unorthodox; it seems ludicrous in this day and age, but there are solicitors out there who will not correspond by email, or will insist on face to face meetings to update you on progress; this can add to cost and may be unfeasible to manage, especially if you are working full time and can’t make regular meetings. It’s also imperative to choose a solicitor who specialises in this area; otherwise you’re paying an extra cost for someone with less experience than a basic conveyancing service will offer. Also, don’t be shocked if your ‘run of the mill’ house move comes down the list of importance for a solicitor – they may well have urgent legal cases to deal with ahead of yours.

If the above sounds like a minefield, it is – but don’t panic. Many conveyancers operate on word of mouth, so sound out friends and family, especially ones that have moved within the past year or so. They may well have a good recommendation for you. Similarly, they may also be able to tell you who to avoid! If you are one of the vast majority of people who have a mortgage as opposed to cash buyers, your mortgage lender may have a recommended solicitor or conveyancer list – in fact, some can insist that you use one of their approved solicitors or pay an additional fee as part of the remortgaging costs; this can often run to several hundred pounds. This is worth checking out before you appoint a legal representative.

Two months from moving date – start organising your things

So the process is well underway and it’s likely that you’ll be moving into your next property soon. By this stage any unexpected legal issues that may have arisen should either be sorted or close to completion. Once your conveyancer lets you know a rough timescale for moving and you’re around two months from moving, it’s time to seriously think about the next big decision – removals! The biggest decision here is whether to book a specialist removal company, or borrow a van and do it yourself. There are of course many pros and cons of each option, and also other things to think about where your belongings are concerned.

Storing items and decluttering

Before we look at the available moving options, it’s worth considering whether this is the ideal opportunity to get rid of things you’ve been hoarding over the years. Unless you’re extremely organised, there’s a reasonable chance that you have a loft full of boxes of stuff, garden storage bursting with barely-used tools, and toys you bought for the kids two decades ago.

If you are looking to dispose of unwanted items, then you have plenty of options. You could try to make some money back by putting things on eBay, Gumtree, or similar websites, advertise in the local paper, or even try a car boot sale or two – you won’t bring in huge amounts for most things but chances are it may help towards other moving costs; note of course that you’ll need to spend time writing listings and adverts, and many items may well only bring in very small amounts. Selling or giving items away to friends and family are good options, and you may even admit that you no longer need that rusty old bike or used-once gadgets. Several trips to the local recycling centre, charity shops or even hiring a skip will seriously help with decluttering. Remember that the more unwanted items you can get rid of, the less you’ll need to pack (or pay someone else to pack), and the more space you’ll have in your new home. If the reality is that you’ll be moving items from your current loft or outbuilding into a new loft or outbuilding, it’s probably time to let go!

Storage is another important consideration, especially when there are uncertainties over moving dates or if you’re moving in with a partner and need somewhere to house everything that won’t fit in your existing place – especially if one of you sells up and needs to move out before the other. There are many companies offering secure, safe, purpose-built storage from a few pounds a week, and if you do find yourself in need of space, this is a very good option. However, make sure you weigh up the costs of longer-term storage, as delays in your move could end up costing you more than you expect.

One excellent way to use storage is to box up many items well ahead of the moving day, so that when the day arrives, you only need to move the larger items, such as furniture, white goods and day-to-day possessions. Boxing up books, clothes, DVDs and anything you will not need before the move is a huge way to save time on the day – and make good use of the lead up to the day itself. If you have paid for a storage unit, you may as well make the best use of it as possible – there’s little point in renting out a unit and just putting two bikes and some garden furniture into it! This will also free up space at your property and give you the opportunity to move, store and pack larger items at your convenience.

Removal options

Once you’ve decluttered and finalised everything you’ll be taking to the new property, there’s a key decision to be made over who will actually do the removals. The main options are: pay a specialist removal company, hire a van and move yourself, or go for an intermediate option such as a man with a van. There are of course many variables to consider here, not least the sheer volume of possessions that require moving, whether you’re physically capable of moving furniture yourself (or have a ready supply of friends who can pitch in), the distance between properties, and the cost factor.

Let’s look at the options and weigh up the pros and cons of each.

Professional removal companies

There are hundreds of companies offering professional moving services, most of whom will be able to give you a fairly accurate initial quote based on distance between properties, the estimated volume of possessions (many have websites which can work this out based on your current property size), and other factors such as whether there are specialist items to move (e.g. a grand piano) and whether they’ll need to make multiple stops e.g. at a storage facility.

Some companies also usually offer a home packing service, where they will come and box things up for you, but this of course will come at a premium. It’s an excellent option if you are unable to manage the packing yourself or if you really do want to avoid the hassle and time involved. Some companies will send a representative out to assess your belongings and give you a more accurate quote at that point.

The main pros of using a firm of this sort is that they’re experts in what they do, you can generally find reviews of their services from other customers, the quote they give you will usually be exactly what you pay, and they will include insurance in their costs. Should anything be damaged in transit, it will be covered, something which may not be the case if you insist on putting your favourite flat screen TV in the back of the family car on moving day!

On the negative side, specialist companies can be costly, and if you have a tight budget then it’s worth looking at self-moving as a better option. You are also constrained by their availability too, so if your chosen company is fully booked on your estimated moving day, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

Hiring a van and moving yourself

An option that many people turn to is to hire a van and do the move themselves. Naturally this cuts out the expense of a professional company, and if you’re able to call on a few strong folks to help, it can make the move go really smoothly and at exactly the pace you need. The process is fairly straightforward – once you know your moving day, you can assess how large a van you’ll need and shop around for the best offer. Hint, we offer a good range of options, including the Luton van on our van hire page which is very popular for removals and you get free delivery and collection of your van 😉 You’ll need to weigh up various things such as whether to hire the van the night before (to save time and stress on the day), and the cost of additional insurance. It’s vital to remember that anything that gets damaged in transit is not covered by the insurance you take out on the van rental, so you may need to arrange separate cover for valuables.

One of the big drawbacks on hiring a van yourself is that you’ll need to have people to help you move. Unless you’re simply moving a few small bits of furniture, there’s every chance you’ll need several pairs of hands – make sure you have this arranged in advance and don’t call your friends the night before! Also, make sure that those hands are available at both ends of the journey – it’s no use having help loading the van if there’s no-one to help unload it later! Some people are also tempted to start packing the van the night before, but unless you have a secure garage or property this is not recommended. Opportunist thieves can target removal vans, and if you are parked on the street or within easy view, it’s generally not recommended to leave your valuables there overnight. You may also not be able to hire a large enough van to complete the move in one trip, which means you’ll need to factor in time to do multiple round trips and several sets of loading and unloading.

If you have items stored in a local storage facility, then they usually have bays available for you to drive into for easy loading – but again factor this into your schedule for the day. It can take longer than you think getting things from your lock-up into the van, especially if your unit is down winding corridors or includes awkward items!

Middle ground – a man with a van!

If you don’t have the confidence or desire to arrange your move in its entirety, but also can’t afford a full removals service, a good third option is to hire a local “man with a van”. This comes with various advantages, such as reasonable hourly rates (often giving you the additional incentive that the faster you get everything packed and unloaded, the more reasonable the final cost), no need to organise van hire and collection, and an extra pair of hands. You may even find that these are 2 man operations, giving you even more hands. They will also be adept at packing the van to make best use of space (and thus minimise any potential need for multiple trips).

The downside of course is that if you’re on an hourly rate, you may need to book a minimum amount of time (and pay for it even if you complete quicker), and that any delays e.g. traffic jams, unexpected legal hitch on the day, will end up costing you more. You’ll also probably need to take out additional insurance to cover damages in transit. You may also find it difficult to get any reviews from people that have used the service before, so this can be a bit of a stab in the dark. As usual, word of mouth and a personal recommendation or advertised testimonials are worth seeking out if you are intending to use this approach.

Counting down to the move

Once the legal side is all in hand and you’ve worked through the various issues around moving and storage, it’s worth considering the other decisions and events that will impact you as the moving day gets closer. Here are some of the key points you’ll need to bear in mind.

The final six weeks

This is a good time to start preparing the ground for changes to paperwork. For example, your employer is just one of many people and companies that will need to be notified of your change of address. Get in touch with your employer’s personnel or HR department to inform them of the upcoming change of address, especially if you receive correspondence at home, such as pay slips. It’s also worth arranging annual leave around the moving date well in advance. If you have children who are moving schools (for example if you’re moving out of the area), you’ll also need to contact their existing and new schools to give the dates when the transition will occur.

Check with your solicitor or conveyancer to ensure they have a copy of the inventory of items that you’ll be leaving in the property. In all likelihood you will have already had the paperwork and completed this task, but make sure they have it by this time – if you leave additional items behind in your old property, you may face a nasty and unexpected bill for removal from the new owners.

Continue to declutter. Chances are, you will now be free of most of your old junk or unwanted possessions, but check again to see if there are more items that you no longer need.

One month until you move

Financial matters are of great importance at this stage of the process. Your solicitor should be able to provide details of likely costs by now so make sure you have everything in place to cover this. One thing that is often overlooked is stamp duty. This can add significantly to the cost of a new property, especially if the purchase price is above certain threshold figures. For example, there is zero stamp duty to pay if the cost of your new house is £125,000 or under, but a penny more and the costs kick in. For any amount between £125,000 and £250,000 you need to pay 2% of the purchase price as stamp duty, and if the price goes above a quarter of a million pounds, this then rises to 5% for the portion above that threshold. If you are paying more than £925,000 or £1.5 million, then there are additional bandings at 10% and 12%, respectively.

If the cost of your new house is £300,000, you would therefore pay (125,000 x 0) + (125,000 x 2%) + (50,000 x 5%) = £5,000. This is usually paid via your conveyancer or solicitor when the purchase is made, and so it’s vital that you have the funds available on the day of completion. It’s also an ideal time to arrange to switch your home insurance for the new place – speak to your existing provider and make sure you will be covered from moving day onwards.

Assuming you haven’t yet started the main packing, or moved things into storage at this stage, now is a good time to acquire boxes, tape, bubble wrap and other packaging materials. Don’t underestimate just how many boxes you will need, it’s surprising just how many books, DVDs, CDs, games and assorted things you’ll have acquired, and they take up lots of space! A great place to find free boxes is your local supermarket or even your place of work. It’s key to go and ask them in plenty of time as other house movers will also be looking for materials. If you can’t get free boxes, then make sure you buy plenty. Home or office supply stores and post offices usually have good levels of stock.

If you are buying a new build property, or even if you have a good relationship with the vendors of the house you’re moving into, it’s worth asking if you can pop in and take measurements for fittings such as carpets or curtains, if they’re not being left behind. Most will happily oblige (or provide room sizes for you), and you can thus be prepared to tick another item off the post-move list. Obviously many vendors leave carpets behind, but it’s still worth measuring up.

With a month or so to go, it’s worth setting up a redirection for your mail, so that you won’t lose any important documents or correspondence. The Royal Mail provides a good assortment of services, and can offer redirection for 3, 6 or 12 month periods. They require 5 working days notice to set this up, however, so don’t leave this until the last minute. This can be arranged in most post office branches or via the Royal Mail website.

Next on your list should be a final ruthless clear out. Once you have started to empty out kitchen cupboards and garden sheds, you’ll probably find a whole host of things that can be thrown out or recycled. Unless you’re moving in the height of summer, give the garden a final cut and tidy then that’s another job out of the way.

Notifying everyone of your new address

Once you have sorted out your mail direction, it’s time to make a list of all the contacts and companies that you need to notify regarding your change of address. Many of these are extremely important, such as your bank or building society, the Inland Revenue, pension and other financial account providers, companies from whom you’ve bought insurance, TV licensing, and the DVLA so you can get driving licences and car registration documents updated. It’s also worth making sure you cover anyone from whom you receive correspondence on a regular basis – for example book or magazine subscriptions, television and broadband providers such as Virgin or Sky TV, and of course your friends and family! Don’t forget to pass on details to your doctor or dentist too, particularly if you are moving out of the area and need to find alternatives. If you take medication, make sure you have enough supplies to last through the moving period.

Your utility companies will also require details of your moving date, so you can ensure a seamless transition in your accounts between properties. This could actually be a perfect opportunity to shop around or haggle for a better deal, especially if you’re not tied in for a fixed period. Canny consumers can save hundreds of pounds annually by shopping around for utility and telecoms quotes, so check your paperwork and, if it’s possible, see if you can make some big savings. It usually takes around two weeks to switch gas or electric provider, so a sensible tack is to aim to end your contract with existing providers on moving day, if at all possible.

The final two weeks

With a couple of weeks until moving date, you probably think there’s plenty of time to finish everything, but you’d be amazed just how many things are still left to arrange. At this point pretty much everything should be boxed up – a really sensible tip here is to make sure you label every box clearly, both with its contents and the room it is to be placed in when you move. You’d be amazed how many people pack up boxes and then have no clue as to their contents until they unpack! Good labelling will save a huge amount of time in the new property.

One of the more important things to think about now is document storage and safety. Even if it’s just a binder containing your important documents such as passports, medical documents, insurance etc. it’s useful to make sure everything is together in a safe place. Make sure you have all emergency contact numbers written down and kept there too – if there’s a last-minute hitch on moving day, there’s nothing more frustrating than having to search through boxes to find contact details for solicitors or removal firms.

Another useful tip is to clean shelves and kitchen cupboards as you empty them. It’s both courteous and decent to leave your old property in a clean state – imagine how frustrated you’d be if you arrived at your new house all excited and then had to spend hours dusting and cleaning before you could unpack. Clean the cupboards as you pack up, and then you’ll only need to give them a quick once over the day before you move out. While sorting through your kitchen cupboards, don’t forget to check freezer contents too – you’ll almost certainly need to defrost your fridge and freezer ahead of the move, if you’re taking them with you, and so it’s a good chance to use up any food in there rather than see it go to waste – don’t throw away money for the sake of it! Obviously food with decent shelf life such as tinned goods or pasta can be packed away any time.

The final week

As you move into the final week, it’s time to prepare things for the day itself. A good idea is to put together a box of essential items that will get you through your move. The important documents and phone numbers should be put here, along with emergency food supplies, some cleaning materials, spare batteries and fuses for the new house, a torch, keys, a kettle and any items you may need to get you through the day – if you’ve got kids for example or it’s a long journey, pack things to keep you and them entertained. The day will be almost certainly be tiring and stressful however well you have prepared, so make sure you have something fun to keep you occupied on the trip. You can put in food and drink for the day closer to the time as well as medicines, phone chargers etc.

If you’re using a removal firm, contact them to confirm final details and any last minute instructions, and make sure they have the address of the new property as well as yours! If you are moving yourself, make sure you remind anyone who has volunteered to help you. It’s also the right time to cancel any deliveries, for example a newspaper, and make sure you have settled your account.

With a couple of days to go, turn off your fridge and freezer and make sure they are defrosted and cleaned thoroughly – this should be done whether they are coming with you or remaining in the property. Use up any perishable foods at this stage too. Furniture that must be taken apart prior to moving should also be taken apart and put in an accessible place – whatever you do, make sure you package up any instructions, screws and fittings and keep them clearly labelled and with the furniture in question.

Make sure that arrangements for moving day are read over, and that you know exactly what will happen with the handover of keys and paperwork for each property. Top up the car with petrol and take out some spare cash in case you need any on the day itself; don’t leave these until moving day as it will only cause delays. Now is also the time to give the kitchen and bathroom a final clean, and that should pretty much be everything you need to do in advance of the day! Although it’s an exciting time and naturally you’ll be filled with adrenaline, try and get a good night’s sleep before the move.

Moving day is here!

After the weeks and months of planning, moving day will arrive before you know it, and there are several useful tips that can help get you and your family through the day with a minimum of hassle and stress. Before you get on with the big stuff, pack up your bedding and make sure that you have a decent breakfast – even if it’s just some toast and a drink, it will give you some energy and ensure that you’re fuelled up for the move ahead. Put a flask and some biscuits in your emergency supplies box – you may well need them through the day, and you can even use them as a sweetener for your removal men or helpers.

Before you start loading vans, it’s important to give the house an initial once-over and make sure that all the electrical items are turned off and unplugged – even those that are staying in the property. If it’s winter, make sure the central heating is off too. This is also a good time to take final gas and electric meter readings, and a water meter reading if applicable. Make sure you have these written down and put with your important documents, as you’ll need to notify your utility suppliers of the readings as soon as possible.

If you are collecting keys at an appointed time, make sure you aren’t running late – it will cause unnecessary stress and may even lead to a delay, particularly if you’re collecting from a solicitor who may have other appointments lined up. When you have the keys, it’s worth sending someone ahead who can unlock the new place and be ready and waiting when the van arrives; obviously this is trickier if you are moving some distance, but for local moves, it’s worth ensuring someone is present at both locations through the process.

If you are moving yourself, start loading up the van as soon as you can – don’t underestimate how long it can take to fill the van, and if you are likely to need several trips it’s worth getting on with the first load early; make sure you stretch properly before lifting heavy items, and don’t attempt to lift or carry anything too heavy – an injury will not only cause you distress, it could ruin the entire day.

As soon as your old house has been fully cleared, walk round one final time to check that nothing has been overlooked (make sure to check in cupboards and wardrobes), confirm that all electricals are unplugged or switched off, turn off any lights, and make sure you lock up the property. You’ll need to pass the keys and any spares over to your solicitor or conveyancer at this point too.

Now all that remains is to get to the new place and unload everything. Take initial meter readings and put them with the ones you recorded for your old property. Once the unloading is finished, we recommend popping the kettle on, putting your feet up and enjoying your new surroundings!

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