Dealing with Damage

Despite not being military or part of any diplomatic corps, my family and I move frequently. We moved in 2010, and then in 2012 – not counting the two additional moves within the same town from one temporary flat to another and then into the house we bought, and now we are moving again later this year. We’ve been trying to declutter to avoid moving unpacked boxes from one house to the next, but we realized that we had to finally close out and submit our damage claim from our big move in 2012 before we moved again in 2014.

We had delayed submitting the claim because as mentioned before, we had moved several times in 2012 and decided to wait till we had received all of our things from the move from America to Germany to submit one big claim. In retrospect, that probably wasn’t the best idea. In fact, what I took away from the experience is that it is best to submit the claim as soon as possible while you are still feeling incensed that your beloved leather dining sofa has never-before-seen cuts in parts of the leather or a favorite side table now has three legs less.

Broken Nightstand

Our move from America back to Germany was a completely different experience from when we had moved from Germany to America. Our German movers had carefully wrapped and packed our Ikea shelves so that when they arrived in California, they were in the same condition as before. When the same shelves came back to Germany, several of them had missing parts, chunks of particle board missing and backs that were coming off. While moving Ikea furniture is not the best standard-bearer, it was nonetheless an accurate example of the differences in these moves.

Here are some tips for dealing with any damages that might occur during your next expat move.

  • Photos and Spreadsheets: Even though we took a prolonged period of time to submit our damage claim, we had diligently taken photos of every damaged object and kept detailed notes on a shared spreadsheet. It also helped that I had kept all of the receipts for our furniture in a folder from which we could look up the original purchase price and base our replacement or repair claims on. If we hadn’t done this, we would have definitely forgotten most of what had been broken, disfigured or how much any of our stuff was worth. Also, it is best to capture the damages when they are fresh. With time, the stains fade, the indentations become less pronounced, and you stop seeing the scratches on your once pristine dresser. Just be sure to keep track of where the photos are such as by creating a folder on your computer or uploading them immediately onto a photo share site or a Dropbox folder. Photos taken on your mobile phone are OK so long as you can see the damage clearly.
  • 300 Threshold: The good thing though about Ikea furniture is that replacing it will not cost an arm or a leg nor will it be difficult to find a replacement for it at any Ikea in the world. Often, Ikea furniture costs below €300. Once we had finally submitted our claim, an independent assessor came to our house and examined any damage that was above the €300 mark. It was then that I realised how foolish it was to have listed all of our Billy bookshelves as one item that was valued at €450. If we had listed them individually and spread out the total damage we were claiming next to each individual shelf, our request would have been granted automatically without any extra inspection.
  • Settlement: Don’t expect full replacements. Even though several high value items worth several thousand euros were damaged, we learned that if you could still sit on it and not obvious (i.e., you had to point out where the damage was), it is highly unlikely to be granted enough for a full replacement. Most likely the assessor will suggest a settlement based on your damage claims and purchase prices which is subject to approval by the insurance company. If you waited nearly two years like we did, you will be grateful for a four-figure deposit on any point of the spectrum which brings me to the next point.
  • Submit ASAP: As I mentioned earlier, if we had submitted earlier on, it would have been easier to display and convey the amount of emotion and distraught to emphasize how upset or angry we initially were that our pretty new furniture was now imperfect. As it was, it was hard to find some of the damages since they had faded in some way and I had stopped seeing them. I felt almost sheepish at this point, especially since our furniture was no longer so new.

At the end though, as long as you keep scrupulous notes and make fair assessments, you should be able to walk away with some decent compensation. You might also have a skilled carpenter/handyman as part of your moving team who could literally smooth away some of your damages so that you can more easily move forward with life in your new home.

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