How to safely move during a pandemic
Is it fun? No. Is it possible? Yes.
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Ah, moving. Is there anything less fun than moving during the summertime, when the air outside is sticky and the heat is nearly unbearable? Turns out yes—moving during a pandemic is exactly as fun as it sounds, which is to say it’s not at all. Compound the stress of moving with the fear of catching COVID-19 and you’ve got yourself a great adventure ahead.
My husband and I decided in May that we would move from Boston to Nashville. At that time, Massachusetts was nearing 100,000 coronavirus cases, so I hadn’t left my house (aside from going to the grocery store) since early March. We wanted our move to be easy, quick, and—above all—safe. We wanted to limit our runs to brick-and-mortar stores and avoid all contact with other humans, if possible.
There were lots of bumps in the road (sometimes literally—we drove 18 hours), but we ended up making a cross-country move, loading up on all necessary supplies, and even buying a new house all with limited face-to-face contact and a significant amount of online shopping.
If you need to move during the COVID-19 pandemic, here are some tips based on my own experience.
If hunting for your new place virtually, be thorough.
My husband and I ended up selling our house and buying a new house all without seeing a single human in Massachusetts. All our interactions with our real estate agent happened over the phone and over email, so we felt pretty safe leaving our old home.
However, we still needed to buy a new home, which meant we were facing two challenges—buying a home in a new state, and buying a home during the coronavirus pandemic. We couldn’t fly to Tennessee to house hunt but we wanted to start looking immediately—so we did it all virtually.
We relied heavily on sites like Zillow and Redfin, then coordinated with our realtor to tour them. She Facetimed us in the houses, walking through each room and zooming in where we needed it. We found that “Virtual Tours” set up on different sites were fine, but definitely didn’t showcase the nitty gritty flaws that deterred us from certain houses (one house had siding that was literally melted—MELTED—that we didn’t see until a Facetime tour).
Apartment hunting is similar right now. If you’re working with a realtor or agent, request a Facetime tour and do your due diligence to make sure they catch every nook and cranny you care about. If you’re working without an agent, you could request a virtual tour from the seller, but know that the seller has different motives than you—that won’t be an impartial tour.
Our audience manager Rachel Moskowitz just hunted for an apartment and said the experience was truly wild. She did both in-person touring (with masks) and virtual touring. Here’s how she describes her experience:
“It was tricky to find what we wanted because property management companies had to abide by social distancing rules so there were several apartments we couldn’t see in person, only virtually, and it’s hard to get a full read on the size of the place that way. And they could be rather selective in what they chose to show you, leaving out major details. We were able to see privately owned properties in person, but we had to wear masks and gloves (understandably). Only two of the three of us could tour at a time.”
Order your moving supplies ASAP
Once we decided to move, we knew the first hurdle would be actually finding the supplies we needed to make it happen. Nearly every online retailer has struggled to keep up with shipping times this year, so we weren’t banking on getting any supplies in a timely fashion. We started by figuring out what supplies we actually needed, then hopped between online stores to see who could get them to us quickly.
If you’re anything like me, you have no idea how many boxes you really need or what a “mattress bag” is (spoiler alert—it’s pretty great). I ended up using Home Depot’s moving calculator, which is essentially an interactive page that allows you to enter the size of your living space, how many rooms you have, and what kind of things you’ll be moving. From there, it recommends all the supplies you may need for your move, as well as how much they cost at Home Depot.
It recommended about $700 worth of supplies to me, and I ended up spending around $300, because truthfully, I don’t need three sizes of bubble wrap and four different ways to separate my dishes. Here’s what I actually ended up buying (and if I’d buy them again):
- Moving boxes: I ordered 30 small, medium, and large boxes. When we were done, we had about 30 left, so I probably should have ordered 30 small, 20 medium, and 20 large. I skipped all the fancy extra-large boxes, wardrobe boxes, dish boxes, and TV boxes. And I actually ended up getting my boxes at Lowe’s, not Home Depot, because their shipping times were significantly better.
- Bubble cushion: Somehow I ended up buying three massive rolls of bubble cushion in two sizes, and as much as I made fun of myself when I got them, I did end up using every piece. I skipped all the fancy dish separators and dividers and just used the bubble wrap.
- Stretch wrap: Look, I don’t really know what stretch wrap is, but I figured it would be good for dressers and couches. Unfortunately, after I added it to my cart, it showed up as out-of-stock, so I ended up not using it. I do wish I had something better to protect my furniture during the move, so even if the answer wasn’t stretch wrap, I should have picked up more moving blankets.
- Moving blankets: I ordered one moving blanket and honestly, it was not useful. Mainly because I only ordered one—I have several pieces of large furniture, what am I going to do with one blanket? I ended up just draping it over a couch, but it didn’t do much.
- Mattress bags: OK now for the surprise winner—mattress bags were incredible. I got two for each of my beds and they were not only easy to put on, but made dragging the mattresses outside much less terrifying.
I opted to order all my supplies online and have them shipped to my door. That way, I wouldn’t have to go to a store and awkwardly push around a ridiculous amount of moving supplies, then have to deal with a cashier touching every item to scan it. The boxes came first, so we packed everything that wasn’t fragile while we waited for the rest of the supplies. It took a good two-to-three weeks for all our supplies to arrive, so I definitely recommend shipping your supplies early.
But be wary of curbside pickup
Lots of major retailers have offered curbside pickup services since the pandemic started, and while it’s a great idea in theory, my experience is that it hasn’t been all that good in practice.
About a week before we needed to move, we realized we needed to do some basic home improvement—plaster a few holes, touch up some paint, etc. We didn’t need much, but we did need it quickly, and the two-to-three week shipping window wasn’t going to cut it for us. We opted for curbside pickup, thinking it would be ready within 24 hours.
After two days of no word from Home Depot, I called and they let me know it was ready, but one of my items—a 99-cent paint tray—was out of stock, so it wasn’t officially “fulfilled.” I told them they could just cancel the paint tray, so we went to pick up the order. We ended up going in the store to grab it because we had a few more things we needed to buy anyway (and didn’t want to risk curbside again). The store was limiting customers, practed great social distancing measures, and had plexiglass between all cashiers and patrons, so we ended up feeling more safe than we anticipated.
I talked to our editor-in-chief Dave Kender about my curbside pickup debacle the next morning and he said he experienced almost the same thing—he tried to order curbside pickup, didn’t hear for days, and ended up canceling. He had better luck with Ace Hardware, who were able to swiftly fulfill his curbside order on the same day.
Bottom line, curbside pickup is kind of a crapshoot right now. Everyone’s overwhelmed, so if you need something, but aren’t impressed by shipping times, you may need to venture in store.
Know if you need movers (or if you can skip them)
I am a woman of many talents, but physically lifting things is not one of them. My husband is much better at lifting (and not complaining) than I am, so I know without a shadow of a doubt that I would hire a moving service if he were not with me. But in the time of COVID, hiring movers is a little different (and potentially terrifying).
Many major moving companies, like Two Men and a Truck and All My Sons Moving & Storage have COVID-19 disclaimers on their home pages. Companies are committing to sanitizing equipment, wearing protective gear, limiting face-to-face interactions, and practicing social distancing.
If you are considering using movers, I would recommend finding local or national companies with strong COVID disclaimers or statements on their site, then calling the company to talk through their coronavirus precautions. On moving day, stay out of the way as much as possible. Keep your mask on at all times and try to avoid contact. The CDC says the coronavirus primarily spreads from human contact—not surface contact—so keep your face-to-face interactions brief. And please—wear a mask.
Personally, I purchased a storage container from PODS. I set everything up online or over the phone, which means I didn’t have to see a single other human throughout the process (other than my husband, of course).
Bottom line, it’s not easy to move right now, but it is possible. Take your time, follow local guidance, and stock up on household essentials.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.