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Property: Don't blame the removalists...

Moving disasters are not always the fault of the men who cart the furniture, says Robert Liebman

Robert Liebman
Saturday 28 February 1998 00:02 GMT

John Horsefield still recalls the most horrific move he was ever involved in. A removal man with 20 years' experience and now a trainer with Pickfords, Mr Horsefield was part of a team moving a young Merseyside family into an expensive new home. The removal men were about to start loading the truck in what had otherwise been a routine job.

"Everything was going smoothly until the customer received a phone call and they rushed out," he recalls. "They returned a half hour later in shock. The wife was out of control. They'd gone to their new home. The welders had been working in the loft and the insulation caught fire. The whole house burned to the ground."

Despite suddenly having nowhere to go, they still had to vacate their current premises. "We put aside some food and clothing for them, loaded the truck and took their belongings to our warehouse. We brought them to a local hotel, and later they moved into a friend's empty house."

Such extreme and extremely rare instances may tell us nothing more than that the gods have a sadistic streak. But they go some way towards dispelling the myth that when a move goes wrong, the only people to blame are those working for the removal company.

Of course, tales of hapless removalists who smash precious artefacts are common. Yet that may not always be the whole story: when a move turns into a disaster, some form of greed or carelessness is usually involved - more often than not on the part of vendors.

Anthony Ward-Thomas, the owner of Ward-Thomas Removals, explains: "We arrive at properties that have been gutted or are a building site where we don't even have floorboards to walk on. The new owners have had builders in, but the property is not ready on moving day. The owners have not inspected, and the builders have not admitted it."

Builders are but one potential source of trouble. "It is not uncommon in winter to find that the pipes have burst and the premises are full of water. As soon as they have sold the property, many vendors just want to get out. So they leave without thinking about things like the weather getting much colder," says Mike Potter, sales and marketing manager of Abels Removals.

The slightest disruption can affect the cost of a move: "Once we have allocated resources to a removal and we can't finish through no fault of ours, or can't even do the removal at all, someone still has to pay. If the men are idle, we've allocated time. There's no other job we can send them to," Mr Potter explains.

Wasps or bees can easily do the trick. "If the nest is near the front door where you need access, we may have to wait for a pest controller, and in some locales that can take hours," Mr Potter says. Also problematic are vendors who take their washing machines but fail to disconnect them properly. If the ensuing flood is limited to the kitchen area, the damage is contained, at least insofar as the move itself is concerned.

Stories abound of vendors who take the light bulbs, but this well-known phenomenon is only part of a story that can have a darker side. In addition to taking the bulbs, some occupiers take the light fixtures too. Removal men are greeted by bare wires dangling from walls and ceilings. If it is already dark, the unloading stops before it has even begun.

Things can be worse, says Mr Ward-Thomas, especially if a sale has been acrimonious. "The sellers sometimes take the fuses with them. We did a move where everything fused as soon as someone turned a light on. One of our men noticed that the fuses in the fuse box had been switched around." The individual who put a 13-amp fuse wire in place of a 3-amp wire was literally playing with fire.

Some sellers take items of far greater value than light bulbs. "People moved out taking a decorative sink with them," says Mr Potter, who cautions against decorative fittings generally. "We arrive at properties and find that thieves have already paid a visit. They've nicked fireplaces, sinks, baths, banisters. There's a lot of money in architectural fittings."

Thieves target modest as well as grand properties. "Even small terraced houses in poor neighbourhoods are not safe, if they contain cast-iron Victorian cooking ranges."

Rural properties have their own peculiarities. Mr Potter recalls one move into a house where the French windows had not been secured. Evidence, most of which was on the floor, suggested that sheep from a neighbouring farm had been making themselves at home. At least sheep eventually leave. Most removal men know of families who have moved into properties where resident cats refuse to yield the vacant possession.

Mr Ward-Thomas recalls a country move that was nearly disastrous for the movers. "Our driver drove under the bough of a tree, but after the truck was unloaded, it raised six inches and we couldn't get out. We had to let the tyres down. When trees, outbuildings, archways and courtyards are concerned, some of our customers don't always tell us of potential height restrictions."

Sarah Kampe, whose company Moving Solutions helps people in all aspects of moving home, was involved in a recent move in which people moved into their new home and found not only that the sellers had taken the chandelier but that, in removing it, they left a huge hole in the ceiling and on the landing. "This was one of those jobs where everything was gone: light fixtures and light bulbs, loo rolls and loo-roll holders."

Even though the vendors had moved overseas, they were tracked down and had to pay pay for the damage. Ms Kampe adds: "They also had to return the chandelier at their own expense."

Abels Removals, Norwich Road, Watton, Norfolk IP25 6JB, 01953 882666; Moving Solutions, 56 Denton Street, London SW18 2JS, 0181-355 4477; Pickfords, Heritage House, 345 Southbury Road, Enfield EN1 1UP, 0181-219 8000; Ward- Thomas Removals, 13 Abbey Business Centre, Ingate Place, London SW8 3NS, 0171-498 0144, or 13A Heath Street, London NW3 6TP, 0171-794 0600.

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