Moving is often difficult, whether you are moving locally or across the country. Some people seem to do it regularly and efficiently, while others fuss and fret, dreading the whole process. If you are the second kind of person, here are some tips to help you move more comfortably and choose the right type of move for you.
With many things, including moves, information is power. There are many “moving” parts involved in any relocation, and it may be an emotional time as well, so it helps to have a solid base of knowledge at your disposal before you start making decisions. A move can be a simple local move from one apartment to another or a complicated long-distance relocation involving not only the contents of a large house but also cars, boats, and even horses.
Where you are starting from, where you are going, when you are going, and whether you are paying for it yourself are all factors that need consideration. The more information you have about how the process works, the easier it will be for you to make good decisions and facilitate a relatively painless transition.
There are many ways to move, from self-serve to full service, and variations in between. The right choice for you depends on how much time you have, both in advance of and during the move, and how much you want to spend. The decision may also involve consideration of what you are moving, how far, and what other distractions you have at the time (family, new job, etc.) Moving can be a top life stressor, so go easy on yourself if you can by choosing the moving option that works best for you and your circumstances.
Is it better to hire movers or move on my own?
A small, local move is one of the best candidates for a self-move, while this is not recommended for an international move. If you have a compact household and plenty of time to plan and execute, you should be able to move your belongings if you want to. You will most likely save money if you have a few friends who are willing to help in exchange for pizza and beer. Remember to factor in variables like narrow stairways and wide sofas when you make this decision, so you still have the same friends at the end of the day.
If you are thinking of moving yourself, make sure you consider the following:
- Ancillary costs such as insurance, gas, boxes and packing material, plus additional time off from work
- Personal labor (moving is hard work!)
- Potential for loss if something gets damaged by you or your amateur helpers
On the plus side, you have more control over the process and can determine your move’s precise timing. You don’t have to trust your cherished possessions to a stranger, and if something goes wrong, you have only yourself (and your friends) to blame. You will save money, especially if you are smart about packing, scrounging used boxes, and shopping for a truck rental.
What is the cheapest truck rental?
Renting a truck for a local move often can be done on a per-hour or daily basis, since you can pick it up and return it to the same location. U-Haul advertises a 26-foot truck (large enough to hold the furnishings of a 3 to 4-bedroom home) with a loading ramp for $39.95 a day, plus $ 0.99 per mile driven in many metropolitan areas. Enterprise, which only offers local rentals, advertises a 24-foot truck with a lift gate (arguably better than a ramp) for $170 for a two-day rental, plus $0.20 per mile. Penske and Budget offer local and one-way rentals as well. Penske tends to be a bit pricier, and Budget will usually only rent to people aged 24 and over, but both have free, unlimited mileage, which can make a difference in the longer moves (more on long moves coming up). It can be tricky to make a direct comparison of prices between the rental companies since they advertise differently and may be including different elements in their pricing, with other fees to be added later. For U-Haul, the daily rate may be higher, and the per-mile cost lower, while Penske front-loads most costs into the upfront charge, and adds fewer fees at the end. Make sure you are looking at all the price elements when you compare. For a local move, you should consider these:
- Rental truck fee (base rate)
- Mileage fee
- Fuel costs
- Damage protection
- Environmental fee
- Add-on services (moving supplies, moving equipment, etc.)
For a one-way long-distance move, the pricing elements are similar but usually don’t have a per-mile fee, just a mileage cap.
What other fees are there when I rent a moving truck?
You can avoid some extra fees with planning. Ensure you have insurance coverage for any damage to the vehicle, or you can incur high expenses for repairs. Return the moving truck with the same amount of fuel that it had when you picked it up, or the refueling charge may be high. Check ahead of time for the cost of accessories and supplies–just because they are in the truck doesn’t mean they are free. Ask about charges for additional or underage drivers, and make sure you return the truck on time, and if you need to cancel, do so promptly.
Also, look for (and ask for) discounts from the rental companies. You may be able to snag 10% off simply by making your reservation online instead of in person or over the phone. Budget offers discounts to students, military personnel, members of automobile associations, first responders, retirees, and even attorneys. It never hurts to ask for a discount based on a college, credit union, or other affiliation.
What if I am moving a long distance?
Truck rental is still an option for a long-distance move. You may be charged an additional fee for dropping the truck off at another location, but that depends on whether demand at the destination at the time of your rental is higher or lower than where you picked it up. For example, California is currently experiencing a net outmigration (more people moving out than in), so there is less competition for moving truck space and less demand for the rental trucks to return to California markets.
What are the disadvantages of a self-move?
There are some variables to consider when deciding whether you want to take on the challenge of moving yourself. You know you can save some money, but maybe not as much as you think, and there are some potential landmines.
- Physical challenge. Moving is tough work. Just getting your household goods ready to go, along with everything else you have going on, may be enough to handle. If you have time to sort and reduce the amount of goods going, that is a great way to save money and reduce the physical burden of the move. Do you want to take on the demands of packing, loading, and unloading not only the boxes but also the furniture? Realistically, are your friends going to be up for the task of disassembling your antique oak dining table and preparing it for safe travel? And do you want to trust them with your fragile collection of glassware? Timing and scheduling the helpers can be a significant challenge for all but the smallest moves, and if you are not moving locally, who will help you at the destination site?
- Damage. Movers are professionals, and they know how to pack and load your belongings so that it doesn’t get damaged. They don’t want to have to replace valuable items, but if something does end up damaged (or missing), you have insurance to cover it. If you move on your own, you take on the responsibility for any damage or loss.
- Liability. This is a big one. Those helpful friends, who are happy or at least willing to haul your massive desk down the stairs in exchange for a promise of beer and pizza—what happens when one of them slips and falls? There is no worker’s compensation plan to cover the injury or time lost from work, and again, you are the one with the liability. No matter how good a friend, it’s going to get awkward, at best.
- Have you ever driven anything that big? Once you get the truck loaded up with all your worldly goods, now what? It can be very intimidating to climb behind the wheel of a 20 foot or larger truck and pull out of the driveway. The drive may seem a lot longer, and parking in the new location could be an issue. Consider these factors carefully before deciding.
What about containers and freight trailers?
If you decide against a self-move but don’t want to pay for a professional move, you may want to consider the option of a freight trailer or container move. In both cases, the company will bring the receptacle to you, after which you load it with your belongings, and the container or trailer company then moves it to the new destination. These options make more sense for longer-distance moves and frequently include storage. The upside is you usually have plenty of time to load them up. The downside is, depending on where you live, parking and local restrictions may prohibit keeping the container on your property or the street.
What’s the difference between a container and a freight trailer?
- Space: The freight trailer is more flexible since you can use as much or little as you need. With a container, you pay for the whole receptacle no matter how much of it you use.
- Parking: The freight trailer requires a much larger area to stage in. If parking is difficult or restricted at your place of origin, you may need to complete a “live load” similar to packing a moving truck or shuttle your belongings to a more central terminal location, which will reduce this option’s efficacy. Containers are more compact and take up less space.
- Loading and storage: Freight trailers usually have a shorter time frame for packing, and typically only offer short term storage, since they are not exclusive receptacles for one customer. Containers can be kept for loading and storage indefinitely for minimal cost because they hold only the possessions of one customer—you.
Don’t forget, with the freight trailer or container; you are still doing all the packing, loading, unloading, and unpacking. The only part you get to skip is the actual driving. This option makes sense in certain circumstances but should not be considered full service.
Should I hire professional movers for a long-distance move?
As with all aspects of moving, even deciding to use a professional has many variables. There are full-service moves and no-frills versions. You can do all the packing or stand aside and let the movers do everything. These elements will affect the amount of work you put in, as well as the cost. Some of it depends on your personality as well, and your goals. Are you looking at this move as an opportunity to clean out the closets and get rid of things you no longer need or want? If so, it may make sense to perform some or all of the packing yourself, so you can evaluate the utility of items before transporting them to a new location, rather than merely moving everything. If you don’t trust anyone to touch your beloved collection of delicate sand dollars, you will most likely want to prepare that for its journey carefully. On the other hand, if you are already a minimalist, with nothing to throw out or donate, or if you currently have more disposable money than available time, you can have a mover take charge of absolutely everything.
How are movers regulated?
Any move which crosses over a state line (interstate) is subject to regulations made and enforced by the Department of Transportation as interstate commerce. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, within the DOT, supervises the industry and publishes guidance for movers, brokers, and consumers. A critical requirement for interstate moves is that FMCSA requires a written estimate for every customer. If the customer is within 50 miles of the mover’s business, the estimate must be based on a visual inspection of the items to be moved, unless the customer waives that requirement. The written estimate must be dated and signed by the mover and the customer.
What goes in the estimate?
The written estimate must also include notification of the two choices regarding insurance: the default option of the full replacement value of the items in the shipment (which the customer pays for) or the lesser amount of a valuation of $0.60 per pound. The mover provides the $0.60 per pound at no charge to you, but it is literally a payment of 60 cents per pound for whatever is broken or lost. This option would mean that your brand-new flat screen, which weighs 20 pounds, will be reimbursed at a value of $12.00 even if it is worth $1000. Consider this carefully, since moving often results in losses. Even with the full replacement coverage, movers can limit their liability for items of extraordinary value, unless they have been expressly noted in the shipping documents. Things that are valued at more than $100 per pound (jewelry, silverware, china, furs, antiques, oriental rugs, and similar items) should be highlighted in advance so they will be covered.
The mover may not charge you more than the amount of the binding estimate unless additional items or services are added at your request or with your agreement, and you have to agree to a new estimate for this to be allowed. If there are unforeseen obstacles at the destination resulting in added cost (such as parking problems resulting in long carries, undisclosed stairs, or similar issues), the resulting charges are due within 30 days.
Because a mover is permitted to charge a fee for a binding estimate, you may agree on a non-binding estimate, which leaves you with the possibility of paying more than expected. Your mover must give you possession of your shipment if you pay 110 percent of a non-binding estimate or 100 percent of a binding estimate, plus up to 15 percent of the total if there is a necessary impracticable operations charge. Impracticable operations could include the need for a shuttle from the moving van to the destination due to inadequate parking and do not have to be agreed to in advance. Potential charges for impracticable operations must be outlined on your tariff. As the customer, you are obligated to pay 100 % of the binding estimate or 110% of a non-binding estimate that increased due to weight or service when your shipment is delivered. You must also pay up to 15% of the total charge if there are costs for impracticable operations added to the bill. If you do so, and your mover does not relinquish possession of your shipment, it is holding your shipment in violation of Federal law.
Do the same rules apply to intrastate moves?
Moves that are local or take place entirely within one state are regulated only by that state, and 20 states do not regulate movers at all, so check with your state first to see if you live in one of them before commencing a local move. You will need to be extra careful. States with regulations may have limited or significant rules covering intrastate moves. In California, for example, there is a Bureau of Household Goods and Services, which outlines protections for consumers, including the following:
- If you contract with a moving company more than two days ahead of the move, they must provide you with a copy of their moving services agreement, and also an “Important Notice About Your Move”, and the “Important Information For Persons Moving Household Goods (within California)” booklet. The booklet provides rules and regulations that a moving company must follow and information about your rights.
- A moving company may only provide you with an estimate after it conducts a visual inspection of the items you need to move.
- Verbal estimates or estimates given online are illegal.
- A moving company must provide a “Not to Exceed” price for all household moves. This price is the maximum amount you will pay unless you request additional services, and those requested changes must be detailed in a “Change Order for Moving Services.”
California’s Bureau also licenses moving companies and guides consumers on finding a reputable company and how to file complaints if necessary.
What are the primary factors influencing move cost and difficulty?
Distance, location, season, amount of goods, and level of assistance are some of the essential contributors to the complexity and expense of a relocation. For an example of the range of expenditures, relocation expert Movebuddha details a comparison of alternatives for a move from NY to California. Using a professional mover, you might pay as little as $1,800 for a small one-bedroom moved in the spring to over $16,000 for the contents of a five-bedroom home moved at the height of summer.
When should I Move: Offseason vs. Peak Moving Season?
If you can, schedule your move during the offseason, which is in the fall and winter. Late spring and summer are peak moving times, and that means that moving costs more. To get an idea of an offseason move compared to a peak season move from New York to California, consider this estimate:
- April 6 for a five-bedroom house with professional movers: $7,650-$13,900
- July 4 for a five-bedroom home with professional movers: $11,220-$16,005
According to the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA), the average cost of an interstate move is approximately $4,300 for a move distance of 1,225 miles. 1200 miles is enough to move from Chicago to Miami, Florida, or from Birmingham, Alabama, to Boston.
How do I find a good mover at the last minute?
When you have a last-minute crunch, it’s time to get recommendations from people you know. You may not have time to do thorough due diligence, tracking down the references the mover can provide, and making a cost comparison between vendors. You need to be able to rely on the experiences of people you can trust. At a minimum, make sure the mover is licensed and has a good record with no history of consumer complaints. Then make sure you are conscientious about following the advice in the section on avoiding scams and swindles. You might pay more for a last-minute move, but you also might get lucky and find a mover with excess capacity to spare who is happy to get the work. This is especially true during the off-season. If you are flexible, say so.
How to avoid scams and ripoffs
It sometimes seems as if everyone who has moved has a horror story about being taken advantage of by an unprofessional mover, who raised the price, held their belongings hostage, treated their precious keepsakes like bricks, or simply disappeared, with the money and the goods. But we know there are professional long-distance movers out there—the trick is finding the right one for your out of state move. How can you avoid disreputable operators? Be careful and do your homework. Here are some helpful tips to use when evaluating potential movers:
- Check references. Don’t just read the glowing remarks highlighted on the moving company website—you have no way to ascertain if they are legitimate. Ask them to provide you with real, recent customers with whom you can confer. While they aren’t going to give you their dissatisfied customers, even the happy ones may share issues that arose.
- Check with your state and local Better Business Bureau and other agencies to validate licensing and absence of complaints.
- Be wary of “too good to be true” estimates. If the estimate is unrealistic, trust your gut. Similarly, if the company pressures you into waiving the requirement for visual inspection or signing anything you haven’t fully read, that is a red flag. You shouldn’t trust them. Along this line, never sign a blank document, and make sure you read the fine print. If you don’t understand it, don’t sign it. Don’t accept a verbal promise that “it’s just the standard contract; you don’t have to worry about it”—if you sign, you are responsible for what you have agreed.
- Don’t pay too much upfront. If the company wants a large deposit, or cash, be suspicious.
- Don’t let them substitute an unknown subcontractor. If you hire “XYZ” company, expect the work to be done by a representative of XYZ company, not someone showing up in a rented truck, telling you that XYZ hired them.
Throughout the process, be cautious, and follow your best judgment. There are conscientious and professional operators, and there are those out to make a fast buck. Do your homework, and you can find the reliable help you need to facilitate a relocation to your new home without unnecessary stress.