July 21, 2008

Moving Estimation is a lot harder than I expected

So I'm in the process of moving. I've talked about it before. One of the things that I have to do is get an estimate of how much it will cost to move stuff from the apartment I'm living in now to the new one.

Click the "read more" link to keep reading about me ... mostly complaining.

This has proven to be a much more frustrating experience than I expected.

I've have four moving companies contacted for me, and arranged to have a representative from each one come to my place to give me an estimate. So far I've gone through two of these estimate deals where I nice guy comes to my place, and I tell him what I need to have moved, and what won't be moved. Basically, all I'm moving are my clothes and some computing stuff, and a few chairs. Basically no furniture, and nothing that you couldn't easily carry around yourself. My conservative estimate is that it should take at worst thirty minutes to write up an estimate. In New York I would call one of those two guys and a van places and do the whole lot for $100.

The first estimate took about an hour and a half. It was an amazingly frustrating experience. Just thinking about it makes me angry. The second estimate just finished. It only took an hour, and was only about half as frustrating because I assumed it would be like the first time, so I was prepared. Basically, the representative comes and wants you to make a commitment to their company right now, at this very minute. They give you a number, and say "what do you think about that?" Well, I don't know what to think about that because I have no experience with moving in Japan. I've made a decision to get estimates from four companies so I can get an idea of what a competitive price would be. The first guy heard that, then called his boss, and spent a lot of time on the phone trying to argue the price down.

That's great except it is such an old ploy. It is like I am buying a used car. I also wonder a bit what he is thinking: does he assume I am listening? I am, but I don't really care what he is talking about, and since I am not a native speaker it isn't like I can pick up on subtle clues. Is this a routine that he plays out at every estimate quotation? Has he dumbed it down any for me? Explaining to the guy that I just want a quotation is difficult. He wants me to make a commitment to his company. I'm getting mad because I don't want to be manipulated and pressured into signing a contract. This is frustrating and annoying. I finally get an estimate from him, he is unhappy, and I'm pretty pissed off and unhappy. I am not asking for unreasonable things. Tell me the price that your company would would like to do this job at, and let me make decisions on my own time.

The second quotation was almost an exact duplicate of the first one, except I was able to speed things up a bit by telling him from the outset what my plan is (get two more estimates after this and make a decision), I had an initial price upper limit (the $300 from the first company), and this time I'm willing to get a bit shouty when I think I'm being played around with. I don't like shouting at all, but the first time I spoke in my inside voice the whole time, and that didn't seem to work. This second time things went quicker because I told him the upper bound I was willing to pay, and what I planned to do. He also made the same call back to his boss, but this time I really didn't listen because I had some work to do, so I got some work done while he talked about whatever he talked about. After that he again tried to get me to commit to his company, and I told him that I wasn't going to do that.

This started a ten or fifteen minute conversation that essentially amounted to "We'll match their price" which really started to grate on me, so finally I used my loud voice (I don't like doing that at all) and since Japanese was starting to frustrate me also, I threw in some English explanation. I don't know if that helped, but I finally got an estimate from him. It is a very good estimate. He says that because it is so low they might have to cancel because they can't find a truck to work so cheaply (the total is $150) so this might just be a tactic to say finally "Yep, we couldn't find a truck so it will be $200". That would really make me mad though. I'm not asking for anything unreasonable: give me a quote that you think is fair, and I'll choose the best quote (might not be the cheapest, but in this case it probably will be) from the four I get. This is basic bid economics. Why is it so difficult to get these quotes from people?

There are two more to go. I think I'm getting better at it, but I feel like I'm becoming mean and less human as we go. But these guys are making me so angry that I hardly even care. I really don't like yelling at people, but why are they being so difficult?

I had the third estimate today, from Art Movers. I can't believe how smoothly everything went. There was also a new trick added to the game: I now am trying to add the cost of moving my wife's stuff from her parent's apartment (about 800 meters away from our new place) to our new place. She has only been there temporarily, for about a month while we wait to move into our place, so all her stuff is still packed up in boxes. I don't really know exactly how much she has, but I have a general idea. 20 boxes and nothing big. Should be pretty easy.

Anyway, the guy from Art movers came at 10:00am and twenty minutes later we had finished negotiations. That is how it should go. It is really a fairly simple process, and should not take an hour. Their estimate is about twice the price of the other estimates, but it includes moving my wife's stuff which I didn't know about before. I can call the other two guys and see how that changes things, but I think that in the end this process was so much easier when the estimator listened to what I said (I am going to get one more estimate, I've had two already, and I will not agree to anything today) and then did not try to pressure me that even if this company is $50 or $100 more, I am going to go with them. If the company representatives will not listen to what I want before we even agree to anything, I don't have confidence that they will listen to me during the move. So I'm feeling good about Art movers. They also have lots of Doraemon pictures on all their promotional materials, which is cool. L. likes Doraemon. The rep also didn't try hard to push their related furniture company connections on me. The guy that came from Alice-Mark movers was almost obnoxious about giving me a fat furniture catalog that my wife and I "could look at even if you already have bought most of your stuff". I'm trying to move here and getting rid of uneccassary crap is a big part of that! Don't give me a fat catalog that I just have to throw out when you leave!

It is amazing how much better it feels to have a salesman listen to you and not try to pressure you.

In the end due to sudden commitments (mostly having to spend a few more hours signing paperwork for the apartment purchase) I wasn't able to make it home in time for the final moving estimation. I chose to go with the most expensive quote (partially due to the inclusion of moving L.'s stuff also) but even if I am paying more than I would with the two other companies, I'm very happy with the service that I've received so far.

Here's to hoping that I will not have any more competitive pressure-filled contract negotiations in the near future. I think it is likely that I'm done with those for a while, but who knows?


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