By Lynn Arditi
Published February 9, 2008
The movers arrived at the vacant house in Warwick – two guys and one truck. Then, they stepped inside and saw what they were up against.
Sofas. Recliners. Beds. Antiques. Original art work. Kitchen cabinets filled with dishes. One of the movers pulled open the door to the refrigerator. The stench of rotting food wafted into the room and he yanked his sweatshirt over his nose.
Moving out the stuff people leave behind when the bank forecloses has always been an unpleasant business. But it is business.
Now, as the real estate slowdown grinds on, some Rhode Island moving companies straining to keep their trucks on the road and employees on the payroll say they have no choice but to work the market’s downside.
“It’s not something you’re proud of,” said John LeCroix, manager of Consumers’ Moving Co. in Cranston. “You don’t really advertise it … Nobody wants to move in and take people’s stuff.”
The moving business is always slower in the winter. But this year, LeCroix and others said, has been exceptionally bad. “You might be going two weeks where you have one job,” he said, “or no jobs.”
Foreclosure moves are generally small. The typical load – a few beat up couches, old mattresses, a bicycle, a TV and a few boxes – can be packed and trucked away in two or three hours. The cost, including one month’s storage, he said, generally runs $200 to $300. Consumers’ also gets its share of “empties.” Nothing but garbage.
But on this winter morning, they hit pay dirt.
“Whose gonna be tagging this morning?” said Constable Mike Caires as he surveyed the living room of the Warwick house.
Antique record player. VCR. Recliner. Family photographs. Candies in shiny Christmas wrappings strewn on the white marble floor tiles.
Sunlight streamed through floor-length windows. Glass deck doors overlooked snow-covered woods. Next to the fireplace, a life-sized stuffed dog snuggled with its pup.
Caires had arrived shortly before the movers with a judge’s signed eviction order. But the people were long gone. The electricity had been shut off; the hands of the wall clock frozen at 5:43.
It was cold enough to see your breath.
Caires’ job was to secure the house for the bank. The movers’ job was to pack and store anything “of value,” with the exception of food, drink and most other liquids.
Caires taped an “Eviction Trespass and Eviction” notice on the front door.
“You’ve gotta make sure everything is wrapped,” he said. “Cell phones. Jewelry….” all of that was to go in the box marked “Personal Items.”
Unopened mail. Credit cards. Prescription drugs.
“Anything need to be locked up?”
“Yeah, I got a small personal right here.” A mover holds up a plastic bag filled with prescription pill bottles.
Newspapers, magazines and financial papers were strewn on the floor.
Each packing box is labeled with an inventory sticker and recorded on a list. “PBO” means packed by owner; “CP” packed by carrier. Furniture and other valuables get inspected. Every knick, rip and scratch is noted in code. “SO” is for soiled. “SC” for scratched. Locations are noted “L” for left, and so on.
In the midst of chaos, order emerged.
Reinforcements arrived: seven more guys in sweatshirts. They worked nonstop, packing and loading.
In the bathroom, the closet was stuffed with toiletries that had to be packed into cardboard boxes.
Shampoo. Makeup. Perfume. Scented soaps.
The bedroom looked as if someone still lived there.
Valet stand. Yankees cap. Buddha statute. Eyeglasses.
More help arrived. A woman from the moving company’s office helped wrap and pack dishes. There were up to nine workers. The basement was still full.
Drafting table. Computer monitor. Baseball bats. A framed oil painting.
Canned goods were set aside to be brought to a local food bank. By the time the movers were done, they had been working for seven hours. More than 300 items had been recorded on the inventory list and 1½ trucks filled, said LeCroix. The bill, including one month’s storage, came to $4,286.30. Each additional month of storage will cost $375.
In foreclosure cases, the bank generally pays for the move, plus one month’s storage. Anyone who wants to reclaim the contents of their former homes can do so if they refund the bank’s moving and storage costs.
By law, if storage fees for the goods are 30 days or more delinquent the moving company can begin auction proceedings to recoup the storage costs, said Kevin Kernan, owner of Jones Moving & Storage in Providence. Kernan, who is also chairman of the Household Division of The Rhode Island Trucking Association, said that it generally takes another 30 days or so to properly notify all the parties before an auction. That includes certified letters and two newspaper advertisements, he said.
“Selling it in 60 days really isn’t fair, in my eyes, especially if somebody has a lot of personal stuff,” said LeCroix. More often, he said, they will wait three to six months before going to auction.
“If somebody calls us the day before the auction,” he said, “as long as they pay, we’ll pull them out of the auction.”
Once the auction is completed, the auctioneer collects the cash from the bidders and then deducts his fee and the storage costs owed to the moving company. The rest of the money from the auction goes to repay the bank for the cost of the move.
Last Thursday, 18 bidders crowded into the offices of Jones Moving & Storage in Providence. They had come from Smithfield, Warwick, Foster, West Kingston, North Attleboro and Danielson, Conn. They were buyers for auction houses, used furniture stores, flea markets and, in one case, a store that sells on eBay. One woman who declined to give her name said she was hoping to retrieve personal items lost during an eviction.
The auctioneer, Ed Benson, of Storage Auctions USA.com, requested that the bidders “leave all personal items – photos, diaries, letters, things of that nature – at the storage facility” so they could be returned to their original owners.
He then led the group into a freight elevator that carried them to the first of several narrow hallways with numbered storage rooms lined up like padlocked horse stalls. Bidders pushed to the front, shinning flashlights into dark rooms to get a peek. Cardboard boxes. File cabinets. TV Chairs.
The bidding started at $100 and quickly went to $275. Sold!
And so it went, lot after lot. The bids ranged as low as $5 for a room full of old legal records reclaimed by their original owner who owed several thousand dollars in storage fees, to $700 for two rooms filled with furniture, a VCR, shelves, barbells and other items that were impossible to identify, even with a flashlight.
The contents that were removed from the Warwick house nearly eight weeks ago are now encased in seven-foot storage containers in Consumers’ cavernous warehouse in Cranston.
As of yesterday, none of the items had been claimed.
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The Providence Journal / John Freidah
Employees from Consumers’ Moving and Storage remove what was belongings left at a Warwick home that was repossessed by the bank. “It’s not something you’re proud of,” says John LeCroix, manager of the moving company. “You don’t really advertise it . . . Nobody wants to move in and take people’s stuff.”