If you’re considering hiring a pro, start by contacting three movers. Recommendations from friends and neighbors are helpful; so is the website www.moving.org. It’s run by the professional trade organization American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA). Working from your zip code and the answers to a few simple questions, AMSA contacts movers in your area, and the movers contact you.
Once you have the names of three movers, double-check the Better Business Bureau or go to the BBB website to see whether there have been complaints. Do a separate search of the Internet for the name of each company, looking for complaints or praise. For information on safety records, go to www.safersys.org, a site run by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
Once you’ve chosen three carrier candidates, discuss packing options with each. Generally you have three choices. The easiest but most expensive option is to let the mover pack everything. Your second option is to do part of the packing yourself—all the nonbreakable items, for example- and let the mover pack the rest. The third option is to do all the packing yourself. While it’s the cheapest option, it’s not risk-free: Movers will generally not be responsible for damage to things you packed yourself.
Discuss insurance too. The options are typically a minimal policy offered by the moving company, a slightly upgraded policy, and a full replacement value policy.
Getting an accurate estimate
Don’t accept an estimate based only on a phone conversation-in fact, rule out any mover who tries to give you one. Walk the movers through the house, showing them everything you want to move, and get a written estimate of the cost of the move. If a mover won’t give you a written estimate, hire a different one.
Unfortunately comparing estimates can be tricky. All estimates are based on the expected weight that the truck will carry. A binding estimate says that the mover will do the job for a certain fee, regardless of the weight of the load.
A nonbinding estimate says the mover will move you for a stated amount, plus no more than 10 percent. A not-to- exceed estimate provides you with a binding bid, but you sizes that various rental companies recommend. Ask the companies you have in mind and if in doubt, err on the side of a bigger truck.
Once you know the size truck you need, make sure that you’re getting a moving truck. A truck built for moving will have a ramp so you can walk in and out of the truck. It may have a side door as well as a back door, in case you have to unload from the street. The floor should be hardwood and be clean of stones and debris. There should be fixtures on the walls for straps that will secure the load.
Equally important, make sure you can drive the truck. Does it have an automatic or a manual transmission?
Do you need a special license to drive it? Are you comfortable backing it up? And don’t forget the amenities:
Is it air-conditioned? Does it have a radio? A CD player?
Compare both prices and service. Some companies charge for mileage (or mileage beyond a certain threshold), others don’t. If you’re planning on stopping to visit friends and relatives during a one-way move, be aware that most companies will allow you a certain number of days for the move and charge extra if it takes longer.
Make sure the rental agreement is for a truck that’s guaranteed to be there when you go to pick it up. Some companies and some of their independent dealers have policies that encourage them to rent the truck for the most money possible. If so, someone making an expensive crosscountry move can end up with the truck that you thought was reserved for your less expensive local move.
Take care of other essentials while you’re at the rental lot. Rent a hand truck (see page 65) and lots of packing blankets. The hand truck will help you move dressers and stacks of boxes; if you’re moving a refrigerator, ask for an appliance hand truck. Dollies, which are small frames on wheels, slip under bookcases and the like, allowing you to roll them out the door with very little lifting. As you load wrap furniture that’s easily damaged in blankets to protect it. You’ll also need straps to tie furniture and boxes to the wall and to prevent loads from shifting.
Make sure you have reliable helpers lined up for the day of the move. Check to make sure that your helpers have a clear path to the truck and that nothing is likely to trip them as they work. Make sure they know what they are doing: Lift with the knees. Stop if it hurts. Lift, don’t drag things across the floor and be careful with the furniture.
Load heavy things first and put them on the floor of the truck. Put lighter items on top of the heavier things. Remember that it will take longer to stop a truck when braking than it does in your car, and that once the truck is full, it will take even longer.
Rental companies claim that you can save up to 50 percent of the cost of a full-service move by doing it yourself, and in many cases you can. But doing it yourself isn’t for everybody. If you answer no to any of the following questions, consider hiring a pro instead of doing it yourself.
BUY USED BOXES You can get free boxes from grocery and liquor stores, but they’ll all be different sizes and hard to pack. Call a local moving company instead and ask whether they have any used boxes. Their boxes will be two or three uniform sizes, and since the moving company isn’t allowed to reuse them, they’re usually half- price. Don’t underestimate the power of uniform boxes to make loading easier.
WHAT DOES IT REALLY COST
When you figure out the cost of a do-it-yourself move, make sure you figure in the cost of taking time off work. Figure out the cost of fuel and tolls. (A 15-foot truck gets only 6 to 10 miles to the gallon.) Add in the cost of packing blankets, a hand truck and dolly, and food for the helpers. Figure in the cost of motels, if any, and meals on the road.
Am I in shape? Can I lift without hurting my back?
Am I strong enough to lift heavy boxes?
Do I have friends willing to help me load?
Do I have anybody to help me unload?
When I add in the cost of everything involved, am I really saving money?
Can I drive a truck?
Can I back up without hitting everything in the vicinity?
Do I have the time to do this? Can I spend the week on the road that may be required for a long move? Do I need to start a job immediately after I arrive?
Can my friends and I move a piano (or other large furniture) by ourselves?
WEIGH FLAT RATES CAREFULLY Moving companies charge a flat rate for a load up to 3,000 pounds. But you may have less furniture and miscellany than the flat-rate allowance. If you pay to have pros move a ton of your possessions— 2,000 pounds-they’re going to charge you for an extra 1,000 pounds, or 50 percent more than you are actually moving.