My wife, daughter, and I moved from Michigan to Cambridge, when I took a new software-engineering job there. I've recorded our various mistakes and hurdles, as well as thoughts on how we could have planned better now that we have hindsight in our favor.
My initial idea of the steps for finding an apartment were:
What I did not know:
Most apartments worth renting in Cambridge are usually only on the market for less than a week.
I also learned that most of the apartments listed on Craig's list are put there by agents not landlords. So when you call on one, you will likely talk to an agent who can find other listings that may meet your needs as well.
The agents work off of a fee that is usually one month's rent. The landlord may or may not pay half of the fee, but it is all built into the rent anyway, so you have to make comparisons based on total cost. I found that rent can be negotiable, but only by $25 or $50 per month. After talking to a few agents I found one whom I liked--he was very attentive to meeting our needs, he was a competent negotiator/facilitator, and he didn't try to push us into something beyond our budget as another agent had done.
A revised plan for finding an apartment would be:
The biggest mistake I made was to rent a U-HAUL Truck. My family helped us load the 24 foot truck with a three bedroom house worth of stuff. As soon as I started driving on the highway a warning light began flashing along with a beeping alarm. I pulled off at a gas station about 5 miles from my house, called U-HAUL, and to make a long story short, eventually found out that the power steering pump was bad and that we would have to switch trucks. So we drove to another U-HAUL location and spent three and a half hours loading our stuff into another truck without any help from U-HAUL. The most annoying sight was a U-HAUL worker just standing around smoking a cigarette and watching us. Thankfully nearby friends and family came and helped us out. The only compensation from U-HAUL was a promised $200 + $100 in U-HAUL coupons, which is much less than it would have cost to hire moving help on short notice. I'm still waiting for my money.
Looking back I think it may have been worth spending the extra money on Portable On Demand Storage [PODS] or something simlar. I know someone who moved and had a lot of water damage, so inquire whether the pod is water proof or not and pack appropriately. Here are the steps I would take:
Schedule your move-in time so that it overlaps with the hours that the traffic department is open. This way if someone has something in your spot, you can call the traffic department and ask what to do. We encountered a door-to-door storage container in our reserved spot. I called the number on the pallet-box and they claimed the container was supposed to be there even though the posted permit was expired. We had to work around it because they weren't going to move it and the traffic office was already closed.
One choice we were happy to have made was to hire help from a local moving company, B-Movers through emove.com. The guy who helped was friendly and a hard worker. We were unloaded in under two hours.
Here is a list of all the random tasks that you may have to take care of:
The electric and gas company in Cambridge is NSTAR. I tried to use their web site to put the utilities in my name, but they lost the order and I ended up having to call them. I think it's best to avoid the web site and call them up directly. When you call them you should ask if they can send you something right away that shows your address and shows that you are customer. You will want to have this piece of paper showing your Cambridge address as soon as possible, because you will need it to get a driver's license, a bank account, and residential parking permits.
Comcast charges an installation fee, and they will send you a bill, which will also come in handy for proving your residency.
To open a bank account you will need to prove your residency, so bring along that utility bill, or a copy of your lease, and just to be safe it wouldn't hurt to call the bank and ask what you need to bring.
Your insurance agent will give you paperwork that you will need to take to the Massachusetts registry of motor vehicles to get your registration and plates. Again, call ahead and ask what you need to bring. Get more than one quote and compare.
The RMV's web site did not contain an accurate description of the documents we needed. We ended up having to make two trips. Here is what we had to prove and documents we use to to do it:
And bring your social security card because they will probably want that too.
Avoid the Watertown RMV. The one in Boston in Chinatown is more efficient in my experience. The current wait times are online here.
Massachusetts requires vehicle inspections, so you have to find an inspection station and pay the $30 to have your car okayed. The O2 sensors for our catalytic converter were bad and we got ripped off by Broadway Gas to have them replaced so we could get our sticker. Looking back I would go to one place for the inspection, and if you don't pass, you get a special sticker that allows you a month or so to get your car fixed. Have them give you something in writing telling what needs to be fixed. Call a couple of other places to get a quote, choose the best, and then bring the car back to the inspection station. If you have the inspection station fix your car, there's just too much incentive for them to milk you because they know you want that sticker. See Inspection Station Locator.
The residential permit will allow you to park on side streets around Cambridge. We paid $8 for the year and got a visitor pass too. The big mistake I made was to bring in my cable bill that was in my name, not realizing the the registration for the car was in my wife's name. So instead of a utility or cable bill, I had to bring in two pieces of mail addressed to my wife at our Cambridge address.
IKEA is 20+ miles from Cambridge. If you plan on buying a lot of stuff that you know won't fit in your car, make one trip to pick everything out and make a list of all the products you want to get. I say this because there may be something that you think you just have to have and they could be sold out. So make your list on the first visit and then plan a second visit where you will rent a truck. Before you leave call to make sure they have everything in inventory. Also avoid going on a weekend. If you can go in the middle of the week it is much less of a headache.
If you've read this far then I think it's safe to assume you are
someone moving to Cambridge. I hope you were able to get
some ideas from our experience. Good luck with your move!
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