Removals guide

Moving house can be a stressful operation, especially when you are moving to a different country. The best advice is to be as organised as possible. Planning your move with military precision will lessen the number of nasty surprises upon your arrival, allowing you to relax and enjoy your new home. Kirsty Macaulay reports.

Start thinking about the logistics of your move fairly early on. The quantity of furniture and belongings to be transported may be dependant on whether your new property is a holiday home or a permanent move. If it is a holiday home you may want to buy larger items of furniture locally, unless you have excess furniture at home or donations of unwanted wardrobes and tables from family members.

There tends to be less urgency to furnish a holiday home, unless you intend to rent it out. If, however your new home is the start of a new life in France then you will probably be considering how to transfer your life’s possessions to your new destination. It may feel like a mammoth task to move yourself lock, stock and barrel to a foreign country but take heart, you are not alone.

Removal companies across the UK have seen an increase in the number of customers moving to Europe, France in particular. Bishop’s Move Group has been transporting customers’ belongings to Europe for the past 150 years. They report the number of people choosing France as their new homeland has risen dramatically over the past five years and has really boomed in the last couple of years. Moving all your worldly goods can seem like quite a challenge, but now is the time to consider whether you really need to take everything.

Most people see the move to France as a new beginning and what better excuse to sort out your wardrobes, the attic and the cupboard under the stairs. You might even make some money out of it! Car boot sales are ideal venues for selling such items, books can be sold to second hand bookshops and charity shops are always grateful for clothes and knick-knaks.

Abels Moving Service offers a unique option to customers who have items they do not want to take with them. Any unwanted furniture or other belongings are picked up with the rest of the load to be transported and taken to the depot where they are stored and then taken to the Multiple Sclerosis Society. The goods are auctioned and proceeds go straight to the charity – the last auction raised over �3,000.

Take a long hard look at your belongings and try to decide what you really need to take with you. According to Jane Clarkson, of The Old House removal company, people often sell the majority of their furniture before moving, with the intention of buying new items in France. This dramatically minimises the amount of packing, as well as the removal costs, and means you are able to buy furniture specifically with your new property in mind (the size and style might be vastly different from your UK home).

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Many people take the opportunity to buy new furniture for their main home and use the old stuff to furnish a holiday home. If you prefer to save yourself the trouble of shifting large items of furniture across the Channel there are plenty of options for buying new items locally. France has many modern furniture companies, IKEA has branches in France if you want to stick to what you know, or if you prefer your furniture ready assembled and with some character you can scour the d�p�t-ventes, flea markets or brocante shops for second- hand furniture.

If, however, your furniture will suit your new home, you cannot bear to part with it or furniture shopping doesn’t fit in with the image you have of your new French lifestyle then you will have to think about how to move your belongings. Once you have slimmed down your worldly possessions you have to decide who will be moving them.

Whether to hire a removal team to pack and move your goods, self-pack for a removal team, employ a man with a van or hire a van and move your belongings yourself is an important decision.

Removal companies

Lee Pierpoint, of Bishop’s Move Group, recommends talking to removal companies at least two months before your move in order to get quotes and give you time to choose. It is a good idea to get quotes from three companies (make sure you give them all the same instructions). Don’t be tempted to just go with the cheapest quote.

If you have a large load a representative from the company should visit your house to talk you through the moving process and survey the items you want to move. During the visit you should be able to deduce what kind of service you can expect from the company.

It is possible to get a removal team to pack everything for you, or just the delicate items such as glass and china goods or simply supply you with boxes and packing materials for you to pack yourself. If you are undecided ask for two quotes, one for the price of removal with full packing and another for just the removal. Check whether the insurance will cover items that are selfpacked. Make sure you start preparations for your move in plenty of time, as removal companies do get booked up. Although they are busy throughout the year, summer is peak time, according to Jane Clarkson, but the lead up to Christmas can also be hectic with people keen to be in their new house before the festivities start.

Steve Almandras of Britannia Movers International said they are moving so many people to France that trucks returning from French deliveries are loading up, turning round and going straight back out there.

One of the worst problems drivers face is gaining access to French properties, particularly in rural areas where country lanes can be very narrow, according to Steve Almandras. Lee Pierpoint however, claimed that the worst area for access problems is Paris, where traffic and parking can cause difficulties. If you think there might be problems gaining access to your French property it is best to warn the removal company in advance, they are more likely to be able to find a solution if they have some warning. Discovering delivery problems when the truck arrives can cause delays and incur extra costs.

Most removal companies offer full and part load deliveries. The majority of customers want a part load delivery as they are not moving enough stuff for a full load (trucks can be 70ft long). “Full loads are few and far between,” commented Steve Almandras. “They tend to be the people who are moving lock, stock and barrel, but the majority of our clients are moving goods to a second home.”

If you require a part load delivery you will need to be flexible as a specific delivery date or time are unlikely to be offered. Steve Almandras explains: “Once the load has been scheduled and booked in it is typical to give a three-day delivery slot. Although we cannot offer a specific day the client is given the driver’s mobile telephone number so they remain in contact and gain a good idea of when the delivery can be expected.” The timescale for delivery of your goods will be dependent on where your property fits in with the other deliveries to be made en route. Jane Clarkson likened trying to organise part-load deliveries to doing a jigsaw puzzle. It is a good idea to ask how frequently the company travel to your area in France, for part loads, especially if you are keen to get your belongings delivered as soon as possible. Having a short period of time before delivery can be advantageous as it gives you time to thoroughly clean the property before moving anything in or to do any minor refurbishments such as decorating, which is much easier to do in an empty room.

Many of the large removal companies offer storage facilities. This is ideal for people who have sold their UK property but are not ready to move their belongings over to France, either because they are renting before buying or because they have yet to find a French property. Check if your belongings will be insured (particularly for fire damage) while in storage and also what level of insurance is offered during the move (full replacement or new for old) and enquire how much the excess is and whether the cover includes lateness. (You should also check how your possessions will be stored – one FPN reader was shown lovely photos of a modern storage facility, but in the event his belongings were stored in a leaky old building.)

There is often a time limit for making insurance claims so it is advisable to unpack as soon as possible to check everything has arrived intact. If something has been broken or damaged in the move contact your removal company immediately.

The regulations for any company offering insurance changed on 15 January this year after new EU regulations came into force. Now only companies who are FSA regulated can offer an insurance contract direct to the client. Companies who are not regulated can offer extended liability through their own insurance policy.

The British Association of Removers (BAR) has 690 members, which it monitors to ensure they meet certain criteria in customer care and operational efficiency. Pauline Aston, of BAR, describes the association as ‘selective’ and explained that each company undergoes an inspection, which not all prospective members pass. “We do not accept every company that applies,” she added. The Overseas Group of BAR has 577 members. Membership of such an organisation offers a safeguard to the client if the company fails to offer the service they expected, and BAR has a consumer affairs department to resolve any complaints.

In France there are restrictions on HGV trucks (over 7.5 tonnes) operating at weekends. This applies to general freight; exceptions are made for those carrying essential items such as food. Trucks are not allowed to travel on motorways across France between 10pm Saturday night and 10pm Sunday night throughout the year. In addition, during the main holiday season (generally the last week of July and all of August) these trucks are forbidden from travelling on motorways during weekends. “It is quite restrictive,” admits Steve Almandras, “but we work around it.”

Man with a van

The alternative to using a removal company is the ‘man with a van’ option. Barretts offers a Luton van with driver. Bob Barrett said: “I attract people who don’t want to use the big companies, for whatever reason. My customers are generally moving to smallish properties and don’t tend to have enough stuff to fill a large truck. Some people take so little over you wonder how they’ll manage. “My customers would generally rather not transport their goods as a part load with the big companies as they don’t want to have to wait for their belongings to be delivered within a two-week window. I can pretty much deliver to order.” Barretts does offer a part-load service but there are limits to how small a load can be, although Bob did say that if he was passing by he would drop it off.

Ask if insurance is offered, if not then insurance for the goods being transported will be your responsibility. Check if your home and contents insurance will cover goods in transit. Bob said not many customers seem that bothered about insurance.

The man with a van option will rarely offer a packing service, and be prepared to help with the loading and unloading, as this is just one man with a van, not a removal company. Be warned that you will need to make an inventory of all the goods you have packed. The inventory is to be held by the driver and shown, if necessary, at customs. Bob said: “I ask for an inventory in advance, it helps to know what you’ll be moving. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked for it by customs but they invariably have a look in the van.”

Trying to work out how much space your load will need can be quite tricky as removals are calculated by volume, which is why Bob devised his easy-to-use volume calculator for customers. Simply fill in which items you will be transporting on the Excel spreadsheet and it calculates the volume. “People often haven’t got a clue what volume their belongings will need,” said Bob. “I have received nothing but positive feedback regarding the spreadsheet, one woman referred to it as my wonderful calculator.”

One of the advantages of using the man with a van service is that the smaller vans are not restricted by French truck driving rules and are less likely to experience access problems. Bob has found he is most commonly required to travel to the south of France, the west coast and centre. “It is a great way to see the country,” said Bob. “I often take my camera, but just wish I had someone sitting next to me to share it with.”

DIY van hire

This may seem like the simplest solution. Hire a van, load it, drive it and unload it yourself, then you can do it all in your own time without being reliant on anyone else. However you should be prepared for it to be slightly less simple.

For a start, some van hire companies will not permit their vehicles to be taken out of the country. Those that will demand that the van be returned to the UK depot from which it left. It seems that no van hire companies will permit one-way rentals, even international companies with depots in France. If you were to get someone else to drop the van back in the UK that person would need to be present when you collect the van. The dedicated drivers must show their driving licenses when hiring the van. This option might work if you are taking friends over with you to help unload and they are willing to drive the van back to the UK for you.

You should consider what size van you will need to hire. Obviously it is preferable to fit everything in so you make just one trip, although if you are also taking your car over you will have some extra room. Having hired a van do not underestimate the cost of taking it on the ferry, as fares are higher than for cars. Another consideration is the cost of fuel and motorway tolls, which are higher for vans than for cars.

The main disadvantage to hiring a van is returning it, which is generally not a problem for those visiting holiday homes (as long as you don’t mind driving around in a transit van while you’re there). It can be very annoying for those who are making a permanent move and do not necessarily want to return to the UK to deposit their van.

If you are planning on making several trips back and forth to your new property over the coming months or years it might be worth buying a cheap secondhand van, which will be at your disposal if you decide to take items over on a whim.

Children

Try to leave children with friends or family on the day of your move. This should make the day less stressful for you, as you can concentrate on the move, and also for the kids.

Children are surprisingly resilient, but moving house can be an uncertain time. Some might find the move unsettling and start behaving unreasonably or out of character; this is usually short-lived while the child adjusts to their new home. It may help if you already have plans in place for friends and relatives to visit, familiar faces will help your children realise they have not moved to the end of the earth and that people can easily visit.

Pets

How you move your pets will depend, to a certain extent, on how you are moving yourself.

If you are using a removal company and flying over yourself then you might want to put your pet on the same plane (only the major airlines take animals, budget airlines do not generally allow animals onboard). You do not have to be on the same flight as your pet, if it is travelling as cargo you simply drop it off and pick it up. If you are driving over to France you can take your pets with you on either the ferry or Eurotunnel.

With the introduction of the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) it is relatively easy to take your animals across the Channel. In order for your pet to travel between the UK and France it must comply with PETS: It must be microchipped, vaccinated against rabies (after the microchip is fitted and 21 days before you leave the UK) and have an EU pet passport.

There is no limit to the number of pets you can take into France, unless you have a house full of animals, in which case it might be wise to check with the French authorities. Take a copy of your pet’s veterinary records with you, the DEFRA website has a link to the Pages Jaune list of vets in France. For your pet to return to the UK it must have a blood test (six months prior to travel) and veterinary treatment for ticks and tapeworm (between 24 and 48 hours before check-in for travel).

Pets are easily stressed in chaotic surroundings, Bishops Move suggest easing their anxiety by maintaining routine as much as possible and giving them plenty of TLC in the run up to the move. Keep cats inside on moving day, as you will need to be able to find them easily when the time comes to put them in their travel container. It is a good idea to familiarise your pet with the container prior to the move, put favourite toys or bedding inside it.

Some of the big companies offer a pet transfer scheme alongside their furniture removal, although it is often subcontracted to a specialist company. If you choose to organise your pet’s move yourself be sure to mention that your pet will be travelling with you when booking your travel arrangements. Some airlines restrict the number of animals they carry on each flight. The IATA (International Air Transport Association) does not recommend tranquilising animals for air travel. Ensure your pet’s container is secure and big enough for them to stand, lie-down and turn around in. No part of the animal should protrude from the container.

It is advisable to give your pet a light meal not more than two hours before the journey, in case they get travel sick. Make sure your car is well ventilated and if you stop for a break do not leave the animal unattended for a long period of time. Once you arrive at your destination it is advisable to keep cats inside for three to four weeks to give them time to adjust to the new surroundings. When you do let them outside make sure they haven’t just eaten. Show them a plate of prawns or similar delicacy then let them see you put the plate up on the side before opening the door. Try and keep an eye on them while investigating their new territory and call them back in for the food after a short while. Continue this until you feel they are confident in their new surroundings.

If you have a dog check the grounds of your new property to see if there are any gaps in the fences where it might escape before letting it out. Although dogs adapt quickly, if its owner is happy the dog generally will be. It is a good idea to keep your dog on a lead for the first couple of weeks when you take it for a walk.

All cats and dogs leaving the UK will be microchipped, which will help identify them in the unlikely event they abscond from their new home.

Garden

If you are moving to a sunny region of France you may be looking forward to leaving behind the plants in your English garden for the more exotic species you will be able to grow in the warmer climes you are moving to. However, if you want to transport certain plants, those you are particularly fond of or which hold sentimental value then do not panic. It is possible to bring plants over from your UK garden to put in your French garden.

According to Roger Jones, of the French Garden Club, the French authorities do not seem to worry about people transporting plants from private gardens. There are some species of plants that cannot be brought into the country and the authorities have the right to impound and burn such plants, but they rarely do. Jeremy Hobson, of FPN’s Rural Riddles, explains that as a rule all plants should be shown for inspection by officers of the Plant Health Inspection Service upon entering the country but French customs seem very relaxed about it. According to the Gardeners’ Royal Benevolent Society the key to a successful garden move is to start propagating new plants from old as soon as you start thinking about moving house. If you grow seedlings and cuttings in pots they are easier to handle and transplant. As the plants are young they are also more likely to grow well once settled in.

Removal companies are accustomed to transporting plants and many have racks installed in vans to aid their move. Check whether they will be stored outside and watered.