The Long March
Some people sell everything, pack a suitcase, get on a plane and move down. That was never going to happen for us. Not with my wife! In fairness, we had a lifetime’s worth of art objects, travel souvenirs and ‘family heirlooms’ plus a houseful of furniture which we liked and which would fit well in the new house.
I have tried to sell furniture often enough on kijiji (Canadian ebay), only to have some half-wit offer twenty cents on the dollar if I will deliver it, to know there isn’t much of a market. Unless you’re trying to buy it, of course, in which case it is either vintage or antique. Or the buyer from across the country who wants to pay full price, sight unseen, provided you supply your banking information for the funds transfer.
There was no way around it; we were going to need movers. There were several moving companies in Lakeside with experience moving people down from the north. Before we left, we obtained quotes and chose one. The quotes ranged between about $16,000 (US) and $24,000 (US) for 2000 cubic feet of volume. The methodologies used in each case differed slightly (pack yourself vs they pack etc.) and there were minor additional fees, such as insurance, that couldn’t be determined up front.
The company we chose was run by a guy named Chuck, who had originally moved himself down from the US a number of years ago and parlayed that experience into a business. He acted as a broker and offered an unbundled menu of moving services as required. His principal service provider was a large US based trucking company with a moving division that utilized 28 foot trailers in tandem. Each trailer had a 2000 cubic foot capacity.
This approach required us to arrange the packing and loading of the trailer ourselves. It was to be delivered to our location on the appointed date and picked up 3 days later. I have moved often enough in my restless youth to have learned two things; how to pack a box myself and the wisdom of hiring professionals to load the truck.
The first company I approached to load wasn’t interested in the job. Happy to hunker down at home during the lockdown, I guess. The second company wanted to charge travel time and mileage to get to our house, in addition to the labor to do the job. The third company was willing to do the work, so we hired them.
They promised the moon and delivered…….less. The foreman was put-off by our rural driveway and wouldn’t bring the truck in. Bigger trucks than that had been in there before with no problem. This necessitated shuttling and double loading, which took longer and cost more. By the end of the day, they were rushing to complete and didn’t pad the furniture properly, so there was damage in transit. When the trailer was opened in Laredo for trans-shipment to the truck for Mexico, Chuck took pictures of the shifted load to prove it wasn’t his fault. (Of the 120 plus boxes that I packed, however, only one sustained damage!)
Insurance coverage was charged per $10,000 of insured value. Using a detailed checklist which Chuck provided, we determined the total to be $50,000. This was interesting because, under our home insurance policy, the contents were covered for $550,000 (that is not a typo) as a percentage of the cost of the building for a total policy value of $1.7 million, not including the land. It was automatic, you couldn’t decouple the two line items. If I thought they would have written me a cheque for the full amount, I’d have burned the place down myself!
There was considerable documentation required by the Mexican authorities to import our household goods duty free. They pay particular attention to electrical items and we had to provide the model number and serial number for each (power tools, kitchen appliances, clock radio, the works). Nothing can be brought in that has not been in normal household use for more than 6 months or it is subject to duty. I had thought about buying a larger TV before we left because they cost less in Canada (despite being made in Mexico, go figure!) but ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the risk. Chuck and his assistant Hannia were very helpful in navigating this process.
Under normal circumstances, the shipment should have taken about two weeks to arrive in Mexico, however, this was anything but normal. Due to the pandemic, every petty bureaucrat in the entire supply chain felt empowered to concoct all manner of silly regulations. After delaying for 10 days while the trailer sat in the yard in Brampton, Ontario, (with me paying storage by the day), the internal customs broker for the company finally decided he needed a detailed inventory of each of the 120 boxes that were already loaded on the truck. This had never been required before. Eventually, Chuck had to go over his head to management to get him ‘tuned up’.
A good friend reminds me frequently that bureaucrat is French for ‘rule of the desk’. This seemed about right at that point. (He also says that, “If voting actually mattered, they wouldn’t let us do it.”, but that’s a topic for another day!)
In the end, it took six weeks for the shipment to arrive. It was delivered to our house on a Saturday evening with everyone in attendance, including Chuck and Hannia. No CERB (Canadian pandemic benefit) in Mexico; you work, you eat! The damage turned out to be relatively minor, more irritating than anything. Scratches on furniture that shouldn’t have happened etc. Nothing whatsoever to do with Chuck.
Among our furniture, we have a 10 foot tall, hand-painted native totem pole that we brought with us. In all his years of moving, Chuck had never moved a totem pole. After it was unpacked and set up, he came back to have a look!
Obviously, we arrived in Lakeside about 4 weeks before the furniture. In April 2020, Mexico had locked down for a month along with the rest of the world, before deciding this wasn’t sustainable and reopening with masks and distancing. While not a requirement, we chose to quarantine for two weeks out of respect for the locals and re-rented the townhouse we had stayed in before.
During this period, the purchase of the house needed to close. We had previously given our neighbor a Power of Attorney for just this eventuality. We had a Zoom meeting with the notary and she went in to sign the paperwork. At the time, I remarked to her, “If Russ (former owner) winds up with all our money and you wind up with our house, I’m going to be pretty pissed”! (I think she replied, “If you had my money, you wouldn’t need yours.”, or something like that!)
We moved into the house mid-July and, for the first two weeks, all we had were two lawn chairs, a patio dining set , a blow-up air bed and some borrowed dishes. You could have played floor hockey in the living room, if you were so inclined. We went out for lunch every day and played cards at night, since we had no internet yet. Kinda fun, actually!
In the end, we spent about $25,000 (Cdn) to move $50,000 worth of goods. In the alternative, I doubt we would have been able to bring just the items of sentimental value, even towing a trailer. As for the furniture, it is unlikely we could have replaced it here for what we could have sold it for there, and certainly not during the lockdown. For us, it was a worthwhile trade-off. (Hell, fair’s fair, she did agree to move to Mexico with me after all!)
Chuck Bolotin is the Principal of Best Mexico Movers. Check it out at bestmexicomovers.com.