REDWOOD CITY, CA – APRIL 20: CG Moving Company CEO Charlie Gonzalez, left, and employee Melvin Walker, right, wrap tape around the doors of a cabinet in a apartment unit on Monday, April 20, 2020, in Redwood City, Calif. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

Mark Madrid set a New Year’s resolution — move.

The nonprofit CEO and his partner, Dan Walsh, decided to leave their $5,000-a-month two-bedroom apartment in Redwood City for a $3,600-a-month rented condo in a South San Francisco high rise.

They set a move date in March. And, like so many plans, the coronavirus pandemic wiped it out and added another wrinkle to an already stressful project.

Moving companies have been deemed an essential business, but many Bay Area movers are waiting for business to rebound. Clients have canceled, postponed or otherwise been caught in housing limbo by widespread restrictions and slowdowns spawned by shelter-in-place orders that have paralyzed much of the Bay Area.

After several delays, Madrid and Walsh last week packed boxes several feet away from three workers for CG Moving. A few bottles of hand sanitizer were scattered around the room. Everyone wore masks and gloves.

“We’ve got to move forward,” Madrid said.

The slump in real estate sales and the slowdown of banking and county clerk services have hit the residential moving industry. Other services — military and international relocations, moves into adult and assisted living communities — have ground to a halt. At the traditional start of the busy relocation season, movers also have been stalled by clients simply reluctant to uproot during the pandemic.

“We consider this as part of the moving season now,” said Robert Rosendo, operations manager at Thrifty Moving in Concord. “We should be really busy.”

The real estate industry endured a weeks-long hiatus, as state and county regulations banned open houses and home tours. Loosened restrictions now allow residential showings with no more than two visitors in a house, protected with masks and gloves and observing social distancing rules.

And movers, like their clients, are deciding whether it’s worth the risk to do a sweaty business in the cloud of a deadly virus.

Movers are being asked to follow safety and sanitization recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Rachel Peretz, spokeswoman for the American Moving and Storage Association. The industry group also recommends using new boxes, tape and other packing materials to minimize the risk of infection.

Movers are allowed to travel across state lines, and largely have not been hindered by conflicting regulations from city to city, or state to state, she said.

The busiest season is between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when families typically choose to relocate after a school year. The military, a source of between 20 and 30 percent of all relocations, has suspended non-essential moves through mid-May, Peretz said. “It’s impacted the industry significantly,” she said.

Movers also report steep declines in international moves, as restrictions on travel to Asia have taken hold. “San Francisco is a large port for international business, and that has been the biggest impact for our Bay area business,” Allied Van Lines said in a statement.

A shorter moving season could mean more competition for movers as restrictions lift.

AMS Relocation, a 70-year-old family run company in Burlingame, had several clients postpone moves since the lockdown. But company president Gary Wolfe said schedules for late April and May have filled up, and demand remains strong.

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on several family moves, Wolfe said. About a dozen complete household shipments are sitting in the company’s Burlingame warehouse — unable to move the last few miles because of incomplete home sale closings and delayed relocations.

The company is not charging for initial storage, and hopes to complete the moves within a few weeks, Wolfe said. But he anticipates longer delays for some families, especially those moving to the Bay Area from another state. “It’s kind of a wait-and-see,” he said.

The company has adapted to restrictions with new cleaning regimens. Workers spray down trucks and dollies with Lysol at least twice a day,  and wear masks and gloves. They offer protective supplies for customers, too.

Despite the precautions, some customers have refused to stay and supervise the move, Wolfe said.

Some workers are also leery of becoming infected during a job. “You can’t really force anybody to work,” Rosendo said.

Other jobs remain urgent — yet also come with the greatest risks.

Charlie Gonzalez, CEO of CG Moving in South San Francisco, has built a niche business on commercial and lab relocations. They’ve been busy, he said. The company recently retrofitted healthcare offices in San Francisco to hospital rooms for at least 100 patients. The crew had to set up beds and equipment for a potential influx of COVID-19 patients.

The hospital conversion put workers near an area where coronavirus patients were receiving treatment. The crew dressed in full “bunny suits,” covering them from head-to-toe, and wore masks for the job.

Gonzalez said some crew members declined the job, fearing for their safety. He granted the workers leave, and assured them they would be able to keep their jobs. “I was concerned with my health and the health of my guys,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez and his wife, Griselda, who serves as CFO, have been sewing masks for workers and clients. Everyone in the 10-person company is aware of the risks, having experience moving sensitive scientific equipment. “We work in these environments already,” she said.

Some expect the pandemic will force the industry to expand remote work, especially estimates and client communications.

Each member of the AMS Relocation sales team has been handling five or six virtual estimates a day — about twice the number of in-person estimates they typically do. Movers tour the house virtually as homeowners walk from room-to-room on a video chat, showing and explaining how much stuff needs to move. Paperwork, signatures and other documentation in the slow-to-change industry has now become largely digital.

“This is going to change the face of our industry,” Wolfe said.

In the meantime, homes are closing, leases are ending and moves must be made.

Madrid and Walsh have watched moving trucks in recent weeks buzzing in and out of their sprawling apartment complex off El Camino Real in Redwood City.

They hired CG Moving — a connection from Madrid’s nonprofit work — and donned  protective gear with the workers.

The couple moved from Austin, Texas three years ago for work. They want to save money on a less expensive apartment while still being near their jobs on the Peninsula. They’re paying rent on both Bay Area places, and want to move as soon as it’s safe and possible.

“We considered this an essential move,” Madrid said.

Added Walsh, “It’s just going to take extra, extra long.”

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