Ankita Sharma, a 29-year-old celebrity manager living in Mumbai’s Malad, was in for a shock on July 1 when her landlady suddenly asked her to vacate the apartment that she had called home for three years. Sharma’s rent agreement had expired a few months ago, but because of the national lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, she had been staying in the house with her landlady’s permission.
But her landlady changed her mind after three months, giving the tenant just one night to vacate the house. “You can imagine my horror. The best option in this case was to move out with all my stuff. This was the same day when a strict lockdown was announced in Maharashtra. Any movement beyond a 2 km radius was prohibited. I had spoken to a couple of cops as well, who advised me to not move,” Sharma told HuffPost India.
Not only was shifting houses difficult during a pandemic, the manner of eviction also left Sharma traumatised. Luckily, she had already found an apartment before the lockdown, but had been unable to move because the tenant staying there was in the same situation.
Sharma isn’t alone. Many people who were thinking of moving houses, or were in different stages of it, were left in limbo because of the pandemic and subsequent health restrictions. But if your rent agreement has expired and landlord isn’t cooperative, or you need to shift for some other reason, there is sometimes no choice.
Moving homes can be a difficult process even under the most normal circumstances, but the risk of contracting a disease without a vaccine is now an additional burden, especially if you have vulnerable people in your household. To add to that, there are hurdles with each step of the way because of different government rules.
Siddhant Sharma, a 24-year-old fixed income trader living in Mumbai, said he moved from Parel to Prabhadevi after his rent agreement expired and had difficulty even finding a house. “The actual act of finding the house was very tough, especially as most societies didn’t allow us to enter. Interacting with multiple brokers, taking cabs (kaali-peeli and also Ola or Uber) also was problematic while trying to maintain social distancing.”
Siddhant is now happy that he is able to sleep peacefully in his new home, but he called the process of moving “jarring” and he was glad that it was all over. With Mumbai being one of the worst-hit cities in the country, Siddhant found that most of the apartment complexes where he looked for houses were turned into containment areas at some point.
“It's surreal, the feeling that you are actually moving during a pandemic. It somehow makes a task that's second nature to you a bit more difficult,”
While Siddhant came out of the entire process safe, Gayatri Manchanda, a 44-year-old painter and jewellery designer, who moved from Gurugram to Delhi wasn’t that lucky. She tested positive for Covid-19 right after moving, as the area she moved to had a high number of cases, something she wasn’t aware of. She thinks she may have contracted the virus on one of her market visits to buy groceries in the new area.
The only thing, Manchanda said, that kept her going through the entire process was support from family and friends.
Mental toll of moving during Covid
Stress is part and parcel of moving homes, but even those who have done so many times are feeling daunted by the coronavirus. Subha J. Rao, a 45-year-old journalist who plans to move from Mangalore to Mumbai, said she is feeling anxious about something she has done many times.
“There is of course a great deal of panic and worry this time around about a process I have done many times before, thanks to the fact that we relocate during every transfer. It’s surreal, the feeling that you are actually moving during a pandemic. It somehow makes a task that’s second nature to you a bit more difficult,” Rao said.
They’ve currently decided that Rao’s husband, who has a transferable job, will move first, with her following in a month or so. Her elderly parents, who fall in the high-risk category, and her teen son are staying put for now.
Troubled times for business
Life is difficult not just for people moving house but also for those in the business of moving and packing. Sanjay Rawat, the owner of Gurgaon-based Vaishno Movers and Packers, said that business has never been this bad in his 21 years of being in the profession.
Shortage of workers, new rules for truck movement and different conditions placed by different resident welfare associations (RWAs) means crossing many hurdles for each job he takes up. “I can only send three people in the truck, earlier we would send at least five people, sometimes even six.”
While the number of clients he was getting had increased right after lockdown, business has become slow again. Rawat said, “The peak moving season is over. Usually during normal times, I would have at least 10-12 moves in a day, now I hardly have two or three.”
Rawat said he ensures his employees take the highest possible precautions before they enter someone’s home, including wearing masks and using sanitisers and hand wash.
Things to keep in mind while moving
The best thing to do right now would be to stay put where you are unless it’s completely unavoidable. But if there’s no choice, make sure you plan down to the smallest of details to minimize the stress. HuffPost India spoke to several people, who all had their own little ways listed below, by which they ensured that the process was seamless and safe. But remember that none of this is foolproof, and make sure you take as many precautions as possible.
Ask your real estate agent to send you photos of the houses they plan to take you to. You may have to still visit in person, but you can do some culling from the photos and cut down the number of places you physically visit.
Keep safe distance, wear protective gear
While wearing masks is an absolute necessity, wearing a face shield can add a layer of protection. Also be mindful of what you touch, and sanitise your hands at regular intervals. While entering the house, maintain at least a 6 feet distance from the real estate agents or house owners if they are around.
Do all transactions online
Once you manage to find a house, try to do all your monetary transactions online so that it saves you trips to the ATM and physical meetings with people. However, you may have to still step out to get your rent agreement done.
Ask to get repairs done before you move in
Siddhant, the Mumbai-based fixed income trader, said that finding repairmen in a new neighbourhood was difficult due to lack of familiarity and the shortage in workers due to large-scale migration. Ask the owners to get the work done before you move in. But be prepared for other repairs that may be needed once you move in. Siddhant said he used an app to find people.
Find out lockdown rules in your area
Does the city you live in allow trucks to move during the day? Are there lockdown measures? Does your new home or old home fall under a containment zone? You can find all the information online on state government, municipality or state police websites.
““We are allowed 20 kg per person in the flight and one of our two bags is just full of vessels and salt and sugar and things we need immediately”
Ask your new house owners for help
While this may be a new place for you, asking your landlords to help out can make things easier. Ankita said, “My new landlords showed so much empathy when I called them to ask if I could move in earlier than we had discussed because I was being kicked out. They cooperated, took permissions from the RWA and made sure I was comfortable.”
Find movers and packers
With everything functioning online, it should be fairly easy to find one that suits your needs. But before you take the decision, find out clearly about the safety methods they take for your packing. Also, be in touch with them about transport or RWA rules because they may have a fair idea. “We were regularly in touch with our Delhi-based movers for a possible window for move. Once our condominium’s RWA gave a go-ahead for the move and the mover confirmed that he can organise a vehicle and packers at a day’s notice, we started packing again,” said Manchanda.
Pack most things yourself
While this can be truly challenging, depending on how much stuff you own, packing things by yourself, especially personal items such as clothes, utensils, toiletries, bed linen etc can save you the trouble of disinfecting when you unpack. The books you’re not reading at the moment, frames, lamps and home decor can be done by the packers because you wouldn’t need to use them right away.
Order new cardboard boxes a few days ahead of time and put them out in the sun for a couple of days before you use them.
Rao said she asked her movers to drop off cartons a few days ahead of time “so I could sanitise and then line them with paper and keep things ready and packed. They usually don’t do this, Now they agreed to drop off cartons. The cartons are packed and sealed. They will further seal it. Upon unpacking, I will wear my mask, sanitise the carton again and then my husband or I will open it, and the other will transfer contents”.
Order sanitising sprays and wipes ahead of time
Disinfectant sprays are now easily available online, so keep a bunch of them handy a few days before you move. Because you will need them aplenty once you begin unpacking. Also invest in hand sanitisers because you may not have access to soap and water constantly on the day of the move.
Keep an overnight bag or two ready
Pack one or more overnight bags with the things that you will immediately need when you move. This would include clothes for a couple of days, toiletries, books that you’re reading, laptops, phone chargers etc that you don’t want others to touch. You will also need to pack some utensils separately for immediate use, because unlike normal times, moving day pizza delivery may not be a possibility. Rao said, “We are allowed 20 kg per person in the flight and one of our two bags is just full of vessels and salt and sugar and things we need immediately, since you cannot step out and buy in the destination, due to home quarantine rules.”
Shift some things earlier if you own a car
Rather than trying to move everything in one day, you can move some stuff ahead of time if you own a car. This can keep some of your belongings safe. Manchanda said she and her husband did several such trips before the actual day of moving.
Plan for your pet
It is likely that having your pet with you may be a hassle. If they’re ok with being left at pet boarding or at a friends place, then do so. Otherwise, make arrangements to ensure they are safe during the move.
Plan your meal
If you’re moving within the same city or even another city, figure out if you can ask a friend to cook a meal for you and drop it off. If this is not a possibility, make sure you have Maggi or other no-fuss food items ready.
Ensure everyone, including the packers, is well-protected on the day of the move
Be it your movers and packers, or your family, ensure everyone is wearing masks (and shields if possible). If possible, keep all the doors and windows open while the packing and unpacking happens and try to maintain as much distance as possible.
Everyone needs to constantly sanitise their hands while the packing is in progress. “I wore a mask full-time and made the movers wear masks and gloves too, throughout the process. Hand-sanitizers and sanitizing sprays were liberally used over all surfaces, especially while unpacking,” Ankita said.
““We had sent our children, 12 and 18, away to a neighbour’s place while packers packed and moved the furniture.””
Send children/elderly members away if it’s possible
Manchanda said, “We had sent our children, 12 and 18, away to a neighbour’s place while packers packed and moved the furniture.” It may be beneficial to do that with even elderly members if you have friends or relatives around. In case that is not an option, try and ensure they come into minimal contact with others.
Be prepared for longer moving hours
While in a normal situation, multiple people are sent by the packers to pack your belongings, like Rawat said, it is likely you will have fewer people doing the same job in such circumstances. This means a moving day that could have ended at 2 pm may extend for hours. Be mentally prepared for that, and be patient with the workers who are also taking health risks.
Clean, disinfect, repeat
Once your things are unpacked, wipe down and spray as many surfaces as you can — this would include tables, chairs, door handles, knobs, cupboard handles and kitchen counters. While it may not be possible to wipe everything, wash your hands more often in the days following the move because the virus can live on surfaces for some time.
Don’t open boxes immediately
The virus lives on cardboard boxes for over 24 hours, so if you can wait, don’t touch your boxes for a day after you move. But if you do need to open them, ensure you wash your hands thoroughly every time you touch a box.
Put your mattresses in the sun
If your mattresses arrive in your house during the day, put them out in the sun for as long as you can.
Do most of the unpacking yourself
This will reduce the risk of contamination. But of course, this will not be possible for large appliances and furniture. “We skipped the usual process of packers setting up everything in their place in the house and asked them to only assemble beds and unpack heavy furniture, plug in electricals and move out of the house,” Manchanda said.
Self-quarantine, be extra cautious
While Siddhant was asked to self-quarantine after his move by the housing society, Ankita Sharma decided to do it on her own. “It’s now been 22 days since I moved. The first seven days, I quarantined myself inside my room, even though I wasn’t asked to. Just as a safety measure,” she said. This may be a good measure to break the chain in case you have contracted the virus during the move.
Even in your new place, use delivery apps to order in as many groceries as you can rather than going to the market.
Be extra vigilant about symptoms
For 14 days following the move, you must remain extra-cautious about your health and that of others in the house. Contact a doctor if you have the slightest of symptoms.
Take some time off of work
Yes, even if you have been working from home, do try and take some time off to enjoy your new home. You deserve it, especially because it can be extra-exhausting to move house during a pandemic, without balancing professional responsibilities on top of it.