A Cross-Country Move During a Global Pandemic

Yes, we are moving cross-country during a global pandemic. It turns out that hospitals are considered “essential,” in times like these, so Mr. Mechanic’s residency will start in Santa Barbara on July 1st as originally scheduled.

Last year we packed the car to the brim with our favorite things and drove it from Portland, OR to Albany, NY. However, this year there were a few things that came up for our move back to the West Coast that we didn’t expect.

  1. Mr. Mechanic’s schedule has him working right up until the end of the rotation, so we only have 3 days between his last day here and his first day in California.
  2. We accidentally adopted a cat.
  3. A global pandemic.

The drive back would take at least 5 days and we have to factor in our cat as well. With this in mind, we are planning to fly back to the West Coast. This means dramatically offloading our possessions, shipping our car, and booking tickets on Southwest (two free checked bags and a flexible pet policy). Now that we know how we will get there, we had to find a place where we could land.

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The House Hunt

There were a few reasons we decided to house hunt from across the country rather than waiting until we got there:

  1. Airbnbs and other short term rentals are mostly illegal in Santa Barbara without going through a lot of red tape. They still exist, but rates are quite high, so we would end up likely spending $1k just while we are searching.
  2. Mr. Mechanic’s high intensity work begins on July 1st, and I am already planning on taking a week and a half off from work for the move. We wouldn’t have much more time or energy to find a place once we arrived.
  3. We are collecting our furniture from Portland and driving it down. It would be better to have a place to put the furniture right away.

Due to our time crunch, getting an apartment right now would give us a lot of peace of mind, so we started hunting on Zillow and Craigslist for a place. Click to see the prices we were looking at:

Because of the pandemic, more realtors were willing to do virtual tours and send videos of their properties. However, this didn’t extend to every landlord. One of our favorite places refused to rent to us without meeting us in person first (“call us ‘old-fashioned’ but that’s a deal-breaker for us.”). Most property owners that we talked to were a bit hesitant about renting to us from afar, but they took extenuating circumstances into consideration.

Our Top Two Housing Picks

We ended up finding two places we absolutely loved.

Apartment #1

One was smaller, a cozy 514 ft2 Craftsman with French doors opening onto a beautiful porch. The price tag was nice too, lower than most we were considering at $2,150/month. We got to see it via a FaceTime tour with a friendly, talkative lady who held her phone like a hot potato. We tried to get a sense of the place through the jerky video, but she was quite helpful, even hopping into the shower to show us the height of the shower head.

We immediately sent over an application when we found a second option on Craigslist.

The porch at house #1

Apartment #2

We very nearly signed the lease for Apartment #1, but another property crossed our radar—a stand-alone cottage (no walls to share!) set back from a main street, with a radiant living room and office spaces for both of us, as well as a large bedroom. It was at least double the size of the lil’ Craftsman, and it was still within our budget at $2,640/month.

I referred back to my old article when weighing our two options: Why We Plan To Downsize From 1,000 sq ft. Technically, the larger place was a ‘better deal’ in terms of price for the space. However, if the small Craftsman was enough, that’s all that mattered. We kept flip-flopping on our decision, but in the end the location and office space for me as a full-time remote worker meant that the larger place won out.

Our new living room

We Have A Lot To Do

Logistically, we have a lot to accomplish before the move:

   Book the car shipment (~$1.1k).

   Reserve a trailer for moving our furniture ($206 – We left a lot of furniture in Oregon when we moved, so we are fetching it and driving it down to California).

   Book our plane tickets (I used my Southwest Rapid Rewards points, but will be paying the $95 pet fee in cash twice as I am going to make a stop to visit my folks in between).

   Buy a cat carrier (I got one as a birthday gift).

   Get MechaniCat his rabies booster (they do it for free at the local shelter).

❌   Ship boxes.

❌   Pack our bags.

❌   Sell or donate everything.

❌   Say goodbye to all of the friends we’ve made.

MechaniCat acclimating to his fancy cat carrier.

Now We Have To Sell Everything

Signing the new lease brought us a lot of relief, but now the challenge is rapidly downsizing and selling everything. Luckily, the new residents moving in to our apartment complex bought a lot of our furniture. The rest is on Craigslist waiting for a new home.

Item Sold Price (USD) What we paid
Washing Machine SOLD $100 $100
A/C Unit SOLD $20 FREE
Curtains SOLD $60 $60
5×7 Brown Stripe Rug SOLD $20 $23
4×6 Zigzag Area Rug SOLD $15 $20
3×5 Red Rug with 4 Mats SOLD $15 $5
Coffee Table SOLD $30 $30
Dining Set SOLD $100 $80
Blue Chair SOLD $20 FREE
Beanbag Chair SOLD $25 $30
Mr. Desk SOLD $25 $10
Black dresser SOLD $30 $25
Black End Table SOLD $15 $15
Bed SOLD $250 $250
Bedsheet Set SOLD $50 $50
Couch SOLD $80 $40
Vacuum No $50 $10
Microwave No $10 FREE
Toaster Oven No $10 $5
Clothes Rack No $10 $20
Ikea Side Table x3 No $10 $10
Ikea Lamp x3 No $10 $13
Mr. Chair No $10 FREE
Mech Desk No $175 $125
Mech Chair No $75 $75
Brown Dresser No $40 $40
TV Stand No $10 $10
Kitchen Stand No $75 $75
Wicker Lamp No $15 $10
Wire Frame Lamp No $15 $10
Bankers Lamp No $15 $10
Small Bedside Lamp No $10 $5
Blue Desk Lamp No $5 $3
Summary 16 items sold Total asking price: $1,400 Total price paid: $1,159

So far we’ve made back $855 of the $1,400 we spent on furniture after moving here. Thinking back, I’m pretty impressed that we furnished our entire place on just $1,400!

I also sold my bike and Mr. Mechanic’s as well. We shredded paperwork, donated garbage bags full of clothes, and filled up boxes with books we’ll be giving away. We will be shipping a few boxes via UPS, and our largest items (computer, monitors, guitar, bass) will go in the car, as there is an allowance for 100 lbs in the trunk.

Next weekend we might try a garage sale or we’ll simply donate anything we haven’t sold. Then we have a couple of days to pack and move.

Packing Up My Moving Thoughts

There are a lot of upsides to moving. You get to downsize, decide what you really need, and explore new cities. In the last 5 years, we have moved 5 times. From intra-city moves, to one short-term international move, to moving cross-country, each time we’ve done the move ourselves.

For every move we have sold things, managed work timetables, and gone the frugal route, but we have never had to move during a pandemic! We have never worried about whether there would be enough social distancing on our flights or double checked our pockets for Purell before going into the UPS store. Luckily we know the next four years will be in Santa Barbara, a gorgeous place where we can settle down– and hopefully not move again for a while.

What About You?

How many times have you moved in the last 5 years?

Have you ever moved cross-country before?

What’s your favorite moving story?

Share in the comments below!

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13 Comments

  1. That’s pretty cool that you made more money than you paid for the items in total. Actually, that’s amazing! Favorite moving story: Moving from Philly to NYC w/ help from friends and driving a U-haul. That was the last time we ever moved without paying movers. (moved 2 times withing Brooklyn) . Best $1K I ever spend. Good luck with your new adventure. Sounds exciting!

    1. We haven’t quite yet made back all the money that we paid for yet. We are asking a bit more than what we paid to hopefully make up the difference. Philly to NYC sounds like an exciting move! I will be honest that I will be tempted to hire movers in any future move.

  2. Let’s see, no moves in the last 41 years. Still in the only house we’ve ever owned. Took the one job out of college, married five months later and moved into the house a year after that. Now my son, who is a resident doc at the University of Virginia has moved I’d guess half a dozen times, and they’ve owned one house and now a four story townhouse in addition to places they rented and a couple of months living with us between city moves. I think our family is a good example of how different Boomer’s lives are versus subsequent generations. I had one job in one location for over thirty years, my kids have all had several jobs before they even got out of their twenties. Good luck, sounds like you guys are good planners, except for the cat, and I realize that boomers were maybe the last generation to feel like pets are just animals and not fur babies, but my kids don’t see it that way.

    1. Definitely an interesting generational difference there. My folks have also lived in one place for the last ~25 years and my mom held down the same job the whole time. I’m glad we moved a lot to appreciate all of the different places, and now I will appreciate not moving even more!

  3. Looks like you managed the ordeal pretty well considering the circumstances. I have moved 5 times in the past 10 years and I hate it. After every move I got rid of more stuff. This last move was a record for me. I hopped on a taxi with all my stuff and drove off to my new apartment 🙂

    Good luck in your new place!

    1. Hopped on a taxi! Nice job. I want to do something similar one day when I travel– just have my carry-on and that’s it.

  4. Good luck on the move! Impressive that you were able to recoup so much of what you spent on furniture. I love yard sales and reselling in general for that reason. We dread moving, but we spent most of our time in NYC where it’s so difficult and expensive. We recently made Jax, FL our primary residence and the move here was a much nicer experience. We bought new stuff for here so did not have a state-to-state move — that of course helped a lot!

    1. Yes I think moving here was a bit easier because we just bought new stuff when we got here, and it didn’t have to be state-of-the-art because we knew we would be moving again in a year. I’m glad the FL move was easier than NYC!

  5. Glad you were able to find a place remotely! My partner and I moved cross-country last week for her residency program and thankfully found a place online too. This was the first time we’ve moved cross-country and decided to do everything on our own. We got a trailer hitch installed on my Honda Civic and pulled a 5 x 8 U-Haul trailer for 20 hours to our new home, which I had never done before. It felt like adrenaline was pumping through my body for the entire trip.

    We were lucky enough to find a furnished place within our price range in our new city, so we were able to sell or donate most of our stuff. I love seeing how much you can sell things for on Craigslist/FB marketplace, especially when you got them for free or paid less than what you sold them for! Value in one person’s mind compared to another is a funny thing.

    And I can totally relate on the going with a bigger space because of the remote work piece. We ended up getting a three-bedroom place, so that I could have an office even though we technically didn’t need it. Sometimes the extra cost is worth the benefit.

    I hope the transition into residency goes well for both of you, and good luck with the rest of your move!

    1. It sounds like you really made it work! We were torn about finding a furnished place– I wanted to move somewhere furnished, but we stored all of our stuff with Mr. Mechanic’s family in Oregon and he was feeling bad about having them store it any longer. I think it’s smart for you though, you can get a sense of the area and live somewhere furnished first!

      It is really funny how things seem to change in value. We sometimes would list something really nice for what we got it for before realizing the actual value would probably be at least twice what we listed it for!

      I hope your transition into residency similarly goes well, good luck settling into your new place!

  6. Wow, you’ve gotten a great return on your stuff so far! We sold our house in NJ and downsized by 50% to CA in 2014. We ended up selling a very expensive / still new couch to our neighbor for $200 (ouch). But we also got rid of a bunch of other junk (VHS movies, really old electronics, magazines, books, furniture, etc). We somehow had more stuff to get rid of when we moved to TX in 2016, though we bought more furniture when we got here. We moved homes locally again last year, and squished our family of 4 into my dad’s house for 7 weeks in between. Lots of good memories now but we are NOT moving again. At least for a while!

  7. I wish I had moving stories to share but apart from the move from home to college, I’ve stayed in the same city. That said, when we moved from our old place to our current place, I got a kick out of the experience moving the cats. Both our cats HATE traveling and one in particular hates being in the crate. I remember being at the new place, unpacking, when hubby decided it was time to move them over. We only have one crate so we do one at a time. I told him to make sure he brought our eldest cat, who we have had the longest, first. Asked if he needed my help, since she’s the one who hates being crated most. Nope, he says. I’ve got this. I’m skeptical but he’s insistent so I say good enough and get back to unpacking.

    Almost an hour later, he arrives at the apartment…with the other cat. Our eldest cat was just NOT having it…and he could not get her into the crate. He had scratches on his arms from where she lost her mind. He brought our other cat because after almost an hour of trying, he wasn’t going to be coming back without at least one cat.

    We both go back to get our eldest. I get her into the crate in less than five minutes without a single scratch. Haha. Good times. Based on the photo above, it appears your cat will be a better traveler than either of ours!

    Good luck with the new adventure!

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