Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Coming to India - Part II - Preparing for departure

Preparing for relocation in the US was involved, but fairly straightforward to plan and execute. The main things were the following: Household goods, Home sale/rent, Car sale, notifying school, utilities and other places.

Household goods: We started selling on Craigslist some of the household items like patio furniture, yard swing set, strollers, baby beds, futon, cabinets etc, things that we felt wouldn't be needed in an apartment setting in India. However, a relocation specialist advised us to keep many items for shipping saying we won't get such good models in India. He said it is better to wait until movers make an assessment. So we kept many items such as sofa set, Ikea beds, dining table, TV, washer/dryer, refrigerator. I also bought 220V to 110V voltage converters/stabilizers for these based on his advice to get good quality ones from the US (1000W for fridge $150, 500W for TV $100 - both with stabilizers, and couple of 500W/300W converters $40-50 each). The assessment was however at a high level, to determine that I need a 20-feet container to fit everything, and that shipping by air will be way too expensive than by sea. I think the company paid about $6000 for the container and shipping door-to-door. Since the movers didn't make recommendations on specific items (unless they were hazardous, liquids, food, or not allowed), everything went into the 20-feet container. Ideally, I would have liked to dispose a lot of junk. The movers took 2 days to pack and load everything, and noted all the package contents and condition. It is necessary to pay reasonable attention to the condition of the items, since we will need that to claim any damages up arrival.

Also, it is necessary to ensure items like jewelry, important documents like passport, certificates, credit cards, photos, sentimental items don't end up in the container! It will take 4 months to arrive, and if you need them in between or it gets lost or damaged, you are toast!

They arrived in good shape, though it took 4 months (3 months on the ship to Mumbai, and another 3 weeks to get on the train to Delhi and a week for customs clearance/delivery).

Looking back, I think it is better to sell Ikea furniture, and as many older appliances as possible. Better to bring only if they were relatively new and/or expensive, that selling won't make sense. Here's why:
  • The movers have a hard time reassembling, and don't guarantee Ikea - they told us just a day before packing, so I didn't have time to sell them! We got lucky they could reassemble, with my guidance, my toolkit and with only few screws missing!
  • Toasters are over 1000W output, and cannot be used with voltage converters - we donated them.
  • Our 42" plasma TV works fine, but required a PAL to NTSC/HDMI video converter ($200) and 110v to 220v voltage converter/stabilizer ($100 for a good 500W type). The alternative is to settle for a lower model LCD available in India - it may not be a bad choice, since brands like Sony, Samsung, Panasonic are available in India as well.
  • The DVD player is specific to regions, so not all DVDs play. It is possible to reset the code settings by calling a local engineer that knows such things, but still a tricky thing as our own DVDs may stop playing!
  • Though packed well, there is a risk that some internal damage happens and it doesn't work. This actually happened to our Whirpool Washer and Dryer - some seal broke inside during the move across the seas, and motor oil leaked causing a overheat burning smell. The Whirlpool service center was quick to send a technician who identified the issue and suggested we replace the motor and gear box for $250. However, since it was an imported model, he couldn't guarantee it will work after repairs. We just bought a new one that cost around $400 - though the local model is front loading, not heavy duty capacity like the one we had. It serves our needs though. We had to give away the dryer for $15 scrap value.
  • One of the voltage converters was dead on arrival, and I can't go back to US to return it to the store! Luckily, it is not the expensive one I bought for the TV and fridge.
  • Mover insurance pays only if there is external damage - not for internal damage. For this reason, they refused my claims on washer/dryer. The risk of these things not working doesn't seem worth it.
Home Sale/Rent: We tried to sell our home hoping to leverage on the little upside in the housing market, and use the closing cost benefit from the company relocation package. I spent some money on staging and it showed very nicely. The offers were good, but not compelling enough to sell, due to the depressed valuations (blame the foreclosures), and we ended up renting it out. Renting was relatively easier. For now, it turns out we are actually happy it is renting, as the math works out and allows us to come back in future.

Car Sale: I had to time this for final week, but luckily I had a decent offer close to the blue book value. I closed the loan since it was a small amount, and the pink slip (title) was in the mail - takes up to 3 weeks. That wasn't a good idea, since it gets a little tricky to do the DMV paperwork without title. If the loan is active, the bank will take care of a few things. If you have a title at hand, it is easy - just fill the buyer/seller entries and mail the relevant portions. But, I had to go to DMV for this, they suggested filling out a transfer and duplicate title. A couple of days before departure the actual title arrived by mail and made it much easier. I rented a car for a few days that final week.

Air Tickets: This was fairly straightforward as well. I used Expedia and found a good deal. It is important to get the travel documents in order, such as passport, OCI/PIO or visa related. This may also be a good time to book tickets such that you break the journey and take a few days vacation enroute.

Next... the long story of arrival and settling in India

Coming to India - Part I & Part III

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