No matter whether you are highly organized or more spontaneous, moving your household is a daunting project. More than four million Americans move to another state every year, and almost ten times that many move within their state. For local moves, most people try to manage the process independently, with a rented truck and some willing or bribed helpers, but for the long-distance move, consumers are more likely to seek help from a professional mover.

How can I make moving easier?

Even with a moving company, there is a lot to do, and the most effective way to simplify the process is with careful planning. Choosing a good moving company, starting early, and staying organized will help you achieve a smooth transition from your old home to your new one.

Some of the details of the move are things you can’t control yourself. If you are selling one house and buying another, the timing doesn’t always synchronize correctly. You might sell your home before you find a new one, and then you will have to move out, but most of your possessions into storage, and live in temporary housing until you find the perfect new residence. That may be better than the alternative, in which scenario you find your new dream home, but you haven’t found a buyer for your old home yet. You either pay two mortgages, give up the house you want, or try to rent out the one you are leaving behind. All of these are hard choices.

If you are in that situation, you will probably need temporary housing and short-term storage. This is one time when being extra organized with the packing is going to be a benefit. If you have planned effectively, your storage shipment will contain things that you won’t need while living in the interim housing, so you don’t have to make repeated visits to the warehouse or storage unit. While you are packing, think about whether you will soon need the things you are packing or whether they are seasonal or occasional use items. This decision-making process will help you prioritize.

How far in advance should I look for a moving company?

You can book your move project several months in advance. If you are moving during peak moving season (April to September), some dates are likely to go quickly, and you might pay a premium if you aren’t flexible on timing. Also, you want to allow plenty of time to interview moving companies and obtain written estimates for the job. When you are in the process of choosing the mover, allow enough time to check references. Talk to recent customers about their experience with the mover you are considering to find out how the move was handled. Don’t just rely on the testimonials the company posts on its website—you don’t know if those are genuine or not.

Once you choose a mover and book the move date, you can make the other logistics arrangements that go along with it. Take some time off work before and after the move, if possible. Contact the utility providers for both residences, arranging for shut-off and start-up dates and billing arrangements. Contact your insurance company about the change in homeowner’s, renter’s, and car insurance as appropriate.

What can the movers do for me?

Moving companies offer a variety of services, from basic to full-service. “Basic” means they load your furniture and boxes, transport it to the new residence, and unload it. “Full-service” can include much more, all the way up to packing every item in your home, managing the clean-up and disposal of trash, unpacking and organizing at the destination, and even hanging artwork and framed pictures on the walls. Most likely, you will want the moving company to provide a level of service between the two extremes, and you need to discuss the possible options and the costs of each. Movers do a terrific job of packing, and they will quote an hourly rate for this work. They have experience in preparing fragile things for transport, so that is a valuable service to consider. Disassembly and reassembly of furniture are usually necessary but may cost extra. Some services are required if your circumstances dictate them. For example, suppose your origin or destination home has an elevator. In that case, the mover will charge a waiting time fee unless you can reserve the elevator for exclusive use on moving day.

Similarly, if you have stairs, you may be charged for the number of flights. Movers will add a fee if they must carry your goods a long distance from the door to the truck. All these costs are delineated in the mover’s tariff and will be disclosed with the estimated price.

How can I improve delivery?

If you are packing your household contents, how you pack will influence how you unpack. If the movers are packing, they will note the contents on each box, number the container, and indicate the room it is headed for at the destination. Do the same if you are packing boxes yourself. For example, a package from the kitchen would be labeled as follows: Box 1 /Kitchen /glasses. A box from the living room might be labeled Box 30/living room/books and pictures. That way, the movers know where to take the box when it comes out of the truck, you know what’s in it, and the numbers allow a quick check to determine if any cartons are missing.

On delivery day, it is helpful to have two people supervising the unloading. One can direct the mover taking items out of the truck while the other directs the placement inside the home. It’s a busy day, so if you have children or pets, you should consider making arrangements for them to be cared for elsewhere while the delivery is underway.

What if something is lost or broken?

Even with the best moving companies, accidents happen, and things sometimes are damaged or lost. This possibility is the main reason why experts encourage consumers to carefully consider which level of insurance (formally referred to as valuation) to obtain for their move. If you discover that something is missing or broken, notify the mover and request a claim form. You have nine months after delivery to submit the claim, but there is no reason to wait once you have identified the loss. You must submit a written claim, and the mover will respond. A claim has a better chance of resolution if it is detailed and well supported and if you have the necessary level of valuation protection. If the moving company’s response is not satisfactory, you can seek redress from the mover’s dispute settlement program.

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