There are a zillion decisions to be made when you move a household. The first one seems simple: Do it yourself or pay for full-service movers to swoop in, pack up all your belongings and ship them to your new home?
It may surprise you, though, to know that there is a broad spectrum of choices that you can mix and match. Moving is a big American preoccupation — 15% to 20% of the entire population was on the move yearly before the recession slowed things down. In response, the moving industry has come up with an array of ways to configure your move. You can do some jobs yourself and hire experts for others. Ultimately, your decision boils down to the classic tradeoff: spend your money or spend your time.
Before considering the options, a word about preparation: You can’t start too soon. That’s true especially if you are doing part or all of the move yourself, says Barry Izsak, a professional organizer whose Austin, Texas, company,Arranging it All, specializes in relocations. It’s expensive to move things you don’t use – unfinished projects, broken and long-unused furniture, exercise equipment, books, toys, clothes and odds and ends you can’t relinquish. “Start going through your home room by room. Look at each closet, cupboard, drawer and ask yourself if you really need this stuff,” Izsak says.
Shopping for a mover
The moving industry is rife with scams, fraud and slick operators. (Read “Consumers Still Held Hostage by Movers,” at ConsumerAffairs.com, about a government investigation into the moving industry and learn more about estimates from the American Moving and Storage Association.)
Find a moving-truck rental
Be certain that the company you choose is competent, licensed and insured. Licenses let authorities inspect the safety of the trucks, screen out fraud and make sure companies are insured. Here’s the American Moving and Storage Association’s guide to an interstate move.
There are three kinds of moves:
- Avoid online bids or estimates. Web-based lures to get your personal information are plentiful, so comparison shop by phone and get the mover to visit your home to make the estimate. Get bids in writing and insist on an itemized breakdown of costs. Ask repeatedly if there will be any costs not listed. If you can’t understand a salesperson’s explanation of costs, if he or she is overly aggressive, or if your gut says you’re not getting straight talk, just keep shopping. The key is to have someone come to your home. Tip: When getting bids, ask about any surcharges, including fees for reassembling and disassembling. Be sure to mention your piano, if you have one. Piano moves are charged separately, and many movers don’t do them at all.
- Screen companies. Movers vary widely in quality, so do your searching through ratings-based Web sites such as Angie’s List (up to $8.75 for a one-month membership) orMovingHelp.com(free), which allow you to see clients’ comments. Also, you’ll find a national database of moving companies at Movers.com. Check out a company’s track record (free) through the Better Business Bureau online by name, business type or Web address. Or find a member of the American Moving and Storage Association, an industry trade group that screens members rigorously, says spokesman John Bisney. “We just want to get rid of these bad, criminal movers,” Bisney says. “They give all of our honest members a bad name.”
- Ask. Get each company’s license number and insurance policy number. Call the insurer and state agency that issued the license to learn if the documents are current.
1. Full-service move
The ideal, from many people’s perspective, is to relinquish as much of the moving job as possible to professionals. “If you have it all hired, your home is going to remain intact a lot longer before you move,” Izsak says. “You don’t have to feel like you’re living in a war zone. Everything stays in place and your life isn’t interrupted until much closer to your move.”
The mover packs all your furniture, appliances and belongings, loads them into a truck or van, transports them to your new location and unloads them from the truck and positions them where you want them. (Movers don’t usually unpack boxes.) Full-service movers can even ship your vehicle.
Movers fall into three categories, by size and distance traveled. National van lines tout their long experience and skilled professionals as their competitive advantage. Smaller movers emphasize their own skill and expertise, lower costs and personalized service.
- National van lines have giant warehouses and scores of trucks in constant motion. These large companies are often used in long-distance moves. Your belongings usually occupy a section of a truck holding several clients’ goods. Pickups and deposits are coordinated along the route. Because of this, van lines give you a time window rather than a precise appointment for deliveries. Pickups can be more precise. Van lines are licensed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (see FMCSA moving safety tips and search companies’ complaint histories here).
- Smaller licensed and insured interstate (between states) movers usually assign one truck per client and so can be held to precise appointments for pickup and delivery. Trucks may be smaller. Services can be comparable to van lines, depending on the company. The FMCSA also regulates these state-to-state moves.
- Smaller, licensed and insured intrastate (inside one state) movers can be a responsive and competitive option for shorter moves. These companies are licensed by states, if they’re licensed at all; only about half the states license moving companies. Some states, on the other hand, require movers to have both state and federal permits. (Find your state’s regulator hereto see if you can check a company’s license.) It’s a good sign when a company belongs to a state movers association: Find your state’s association here.
Prices may be higher in summer or on weekends, when demand is greatest. Costs can run over estimate because of surprises at the destination such as elevators, stairs and unanticipated distances between the truck and dwelling, says Scott Lewis, owner of Nice Moves Moving in Seattle.
- Local moves: Fees are charged hourly, per worker. (“Local” is defined by each state; in Washington state, for example, it’s a move of 55 miles or less.) Example: In Seattle, regulated hourly rates run $40-$82 an hour; it costs around $1,150 to move a two-bedroom house across town, including materials, packing, loading and unloading. By providing your own packing materials, you could reduce that by $150-$200 and you could save roughly an additional $400 by doing your own packing, Lewis says.
- Long distance – in or out of state - moves: Longer moves inside a state or from state-to-state are charged by weight and distance, according to complicated rate schedules. Moving companies typically estimate the weight of your goods, then calculate the final charge when the truck is weighed by a state-certified weigh master (not at freeway weigh stations). Example: Transporting a two-bedroom household (4,000-6,000 pounds) from Los Angeles to a similar, 1,600-square-foot house in Louisville, Ky. (2,180 miles), costs roughly $4,799 to $6,756. (Costs are from the moving calculator at MoveSource, a van-line network.) Packing, calculated per box (including materials), could run an additional $700-$900. If a long-distance mover does your packing, you must buy materials from the mover, often at prices considerably above retail.
2. Hybrid move
There are many ways to combine your labor with professional services, saving both time and money. Even a full-service national van line will let you do some or all of the packing yourself. Or, you can work with a mover doing all the work except the driving. Or, hire a mover to pack and load a rental truck and you do the driving. You get the picture: Have it your way.
Here are the jobs you can pay for or do yourself, listed in order of savings:
Driving: If your move is a long one, you’ll save most by asking moving companies to provide an estimate for packing and loading your stuff into a rented truck so that you can do the driving. With larger moves, the farther you drive, the more you save, since you’re cutting out many hours of paid labor. This approach can save 50% to70% on costs, Lewis says. Example: Renting a truck to carry a 6,000-pound household might cost about $1,000 (rentals are charged by a flat rate based on distance and include a generous number of days); gas could be roughly $300-$400, and loading and unloading might cost around $300-$400 on each end; that totals roughly $2,000 – a saving of $3,000 to $5,000 over the cost of a full-service move. Tip: Also, remember to get the bid for unloading the truck at your destination.
Packing: Packing, the second-biggest expense, accounts for about a quarter of the cost of a full-service move. Two professional movers can pack up a two- to three-bedroom home in a day at a cost of $400 to $640 (16 hours of labor at $25-$40 an hour), Lewis says. (If you’re not a pro, count on taking two days.) Keep in mind:
- If you pack it, you must insure it yourself. Luckily, your homeowners or renters insurance policy probably covers moving damage. Check with your agent to make certain.
- When movers pack your stuff, they’re required to provide minimal insurance free. But it’s not much – as little as 35 to 45 cents on the pound. They’ll sell you additional protection. Example: Insuring the contents of a two-bedroom house (3,000 pounds) might cost from $165 (with a $300 deductible) to $210 (no deductible).
- Don’t forget to rent furniture pads (from a truck rental agency) if you’re doing your own packing and loading.
- Ask movers if you can save money by disassembling and reassembling items such as exercise equipment, computer stations, beds and furniture.
Loading and unloading: If you pay for just one job, let this be it, even if you’re only moving across town. Loading a truck is physically difficult. “Let them go to the chiropractor,” advises Izsak, the organizer. Not just that; it takes skill. One heavy box placed incorrectly can create an avalanche of your stuff. However, by doing it yourself you could save roughly $250-$300 on each end (Cost: two movers at $25-$50 an hour each, working three to four hours on a two-bedroom house plus a travel fee). Tips:
- Consider doing just the unloading yourself; it’s faster and requires less skill.
- Some local movers will park a truck at your home for a couple of days while you load it with your belongings, then drive it for you. Check Yellow Page listings for “truck rentals” for this type of service.
- Portable self-storage companies park a truck or container at your home so you can pack your goods and load it. They’ll deliver your belongings to your new location or keep it until you need it, charging separately for storage. These companies are considered shippers, not movers. They charge by the foot of truck space and are regulated by the FMCSA and Surface Transportation Board. Example: U-Pack charges roughly $1,550 to transport a 1,600-square-foot, two-bedroom household (4,000-6,000 pounds) from a Hackensack, N.J., home, to a home in Orlando, Fla., a distance of 1,137 miles. You could save by dropping and picking up your load at its terminals. New cost: $1,279, according to Kay Lynn Clay of U-Pack.
- Ask your new landlord or real-estate agent to recommend workers whom you can hire to help, or check newspaper classified ads or Craigslist to find help in your new city.
3. DIY move
If you decide to do your move entirely by yourself, consider these DIY tips:
Preparation: Take a room-by-room inventory of your stuff. List the big things – furniture, appliances, large toys, recreational equipment and tools – by room. Also, list the number of boxes you think you’ll fill by room. Use this list when asking a truck rental company’s help in estimating the size vehicle you’ll need.
License: You may need a special license to drive a large truck. Regulations vary by city and state, so ask this question when shopping by phone.
Truck size: Truck rental companies will help you decide on the size vehicle you’ll need. Example:Budget Truck Rentals’ online reservation toolsuggests a 16-foot moving truck for a two-bedroom house or apartment. (Click “help me select” and choose your home’s size from the drop-down menu.)
Packing: Uniform-sized boxes made for moving are the key to loading your truck quickly, efficiently and safely. Avoid grocery store boxes. But that doesn’t mean you have to buy them. Start early to collect free moving boxes from people who’ve just moved and want to be rid of them. Check Craigslist and the free sections of newspaper classified ads and pass on your old boxes in the same way after reaching your destination.
Loading: If you must load your own truck, here’s how, Lewis says:
Driving: Bring an extra driver so you can trade shifts. Limit each person’s driving to eight hours a day. If you’re driving a rental truck and your car in a convoy, use handheld radios or cell phones for communication. Let the truck’s driver decide when and where to stop.
Unloading: Plan in advance, lining up family or friends, if possible, to help at your destination.
One final tip: Amid all the planning and excitement, schedule a day off for yourself to rest up after your big move.