Guidance and help

DIY removals

Do you really want to do-it-yourself?

The enlargement of the EU means that there are now more countries in Europe where UK citizens can settle with little or no restriction. The absence of border controls and complicated trans-country procedures and documentation has meant that people could be more tempted to handle the move themselves.

Although ‘doing it yourself’ may well be the best arrangement on a small scale, for instance where the move involves a student going to study abroad for a period of time – and hiring a trailer or a van and doing the trip over a couple of days would be the most cost-effective method. However, where a more comprehensive move is required, such as a complete family relocation, when far more belongings are involved, there are some important considerations to be thought through, and some associated risks considered.

A key factor would be insurance – not just what happens if a ferry sinks or a road accident occurs, but also damage or theft when in transit. If the move involves hiring a vehicle, the associated insurance needs to be inspected to check the cover that is provided for contents, and for what risks. Normal home and contents insurance may provide some limited cover for goods in transit but there may be exemptions, especially when moving abroad. Also to be checked is the level of cover – is it new-for-old – and what excesses and geographic restrictions apply. The last thing anyone wants to add to the physical and psychological effects of a loss is to find that the lost belongings are not covered by insurance!

A common mistake when considering DIY is failing to compare all costs. Not taking into account the total period of the rental needed, including returning the vehicle to the country of origin, the return cost of fuel, road tolls and ferry costs are often forgotten until it is too late.

Another obstacle is being able to visualise belongings in terms of volume and vehicle size. It is not a skill a householder readily has, and it often results in the vehicle chosen being the wrong size. With a limit to the size that can be driven on an ordinary driving licence anyway the tendency is that the vehicle selected is too small. Then there is the problem of the legal weight that can be carried: serious accidents occur when a vehicle is overloaded. This could be simply poor weight distribution or all the weight being on one axle, or one wheel, which will affect the general stability of the vehicle and result in impaired steering and braking. Authorities will stop any obviously overladen vehicle, and apart from the possibility of prosecution, at the very least, the vehicle will be unloaded at the side of the road until it is legal and safe to proceed. This would place the offloaded belongings at risk until a carrier or other vehicle could be found.

Never presume that overloading a vehicle is only the remit of DIY – some of the less-scrupulous removers will look to save costs by overloading vehicles.

Packing is a skill, even an art. Using proper packing materials and techniques is vital to ensure the safe transportation of furniture and other belongings to the destination. Poorly packed items, which are then not properly loaded into a vehicle, may well result in damage, which is likely not to be claimable on the insurance. Removals staff spend many hours training in packing, manoeuvring and loading furniture and belongings – they have the expertise, and the experience; they know what they are doing, and even if things do go horribly wrong, they are insured.

Another consideration is time. Not only the time to drive the vehicle to the destination but also to make the arrangements, collect the vehicle, do the packing and the loading, then the unloading and unpacking at the other end, the return journey with the vehicle, and then the outward journey again once the vehicle has been returned. Although time may not be an important consideration when retired, it is probably at a premium if working or with a family.

Much of the above presumes that the move is done by road. Many people buying homes overseas are now also shipping by sea or air. Airfreight or excess baggage needs the agreement of the airline operators which will have restrictions based upon both the size and weight of consignments. Airlines also operate a volume to weight (volumetric) formula for their charges, which means bulky items which weigh little will not necessarily be inexpensive to send. Goods by sea will need to be despatched by a freight forwarding company, ideally one that specialises in personal effects. Shipping lines will rarely deal direct with a private individual due to the risks involved.

The recent implementation of security regulations by many countries means that it is unwise to send unaccompanied owner-packed items by sea or air. To avoid expensive delays and possible unpacking en-route by government officials, it is vital to check with the moving specialist in advance. This is usually overcome by having the items professionally packed, which will entail providing an extensive schedule of the goods in transit.

Moving home is accepted as one of the most stressful things done in a lifetime. The stress is magnified where the move is abroad, and involves the whole family, perhaps to a different culture, a change of job and associated dislocation from family and circle of friends. The added complications of DIY are surely not worth the money that may be saved, or the risks taken.

Having discounted DIY, the next problem is determining which of the many removals specialists can be trusted to provide a safe and valued service. The cheapest is not necessarily the best value: the old adage of ‘you get what you pay for’ certainly applies here. Companies in the UK that specialise in moving personal and household goods overseas will usually be a member of the Overseas Section of The British Association of Removers (BAR: www.bar.co.uk). The Overseas Section provides an advance payment guarantee to customers, which protects the payments made by the customer in the event of the financial collapse of the remover. The next level of specialists will be members of FIDI (Fédération Internationale des Déménageurs Internationaux – the International Federation of International Movers – which requires FAIM (FIDI Accredited International Movers) accreditation, the quality standard for the worldwide organisation for removers.