Moving moving moving (part 1 in a series)

By Mir
February 13, 2007

I’ve received several questions over the last few months asking for advice about relocating. Mostly I have been shooting back a quick “Oh! Excellent question! Because I will soon be relocating, too! Stay tuned!” email and then curling up in the corner, rocking back and forth in the fetal position, and moaning.

Because moving? Is horrid. Horrid. Nothing is more disruptive and more expensive and more nerve-wracking.

Anyway, the time has come to face my fear, and I’m going to start tackling this topic a piece at a time. Today: What you need to know to hire a mover.

First of all, let’s just nevermind the fact that your cheapest option is to rent a truck, throw your stuff in, and do everything yourself. We all know that. We also know that for most adults, this isn’t a viable option—either because you have too much stuff or you’re moving too far, or both. I’m talking about hiring a moving company, here.

So. The first thing you need to do is bookmark this website. Read up on the information there and keep it handy. They maintain a blacklist of known scamming companies, as well as a big honkin’ master list of great articles and resources about moving. I love them.

Next, here are a few basic tips to get you started:

  • Get at least three estimates on your move. These estimates should be performed by an actual human walking through your house and basing the cost on an estimated total weight. Over-the-phone, sight-unseen estimates are garbage. Also keep in mind that the company that comes in way under the others may be leaving something out, like adequate insurance coverage, or doesn’t have any sort of guarantee of final cost in relation to the estimate.
  • Start lightening your load. The more you have to move, the more it costs. Have a yard sale. Put stuff on Craigslist. And when you’re getting your estimates, ask for estimates for varying weights so you have an idea of what you’ll be saving by getting rid of stuff.
  • A reputable mover doesn’t require any money upfront, gives you a contract with guaranteed dates of service, and offers an estimate that guarantees pricing within 10%. That is, the total cost of your move cannot exceed 110% of the estimate. Some people will tell you to get a binding estimate where the estimate is the cost, but in that case you lose the option of saving money if your load is lighter than estimated. Go for the “binding within 10% option” where your actual cost is based on certified weigh-ins.
  • Ask questions. These people are trying to get your business. Make them earn it. Don’t be afraid to ask how things are packed or what your options are. You’re the consumer.

More moving tips to come in the days ahead! And then all of us who are relocating can curl up in the corner together!


  1. also? if you have heavy items that are easily packable (eg. books) considering moving them yourselves via u-haul. we met with 3 different moving companies and determined that the cost to move those items was outrageous (b/c they also charge an extra fee for “overweight items”). we decided to rent a little u haul trailer and move all fragile stuff we didnt want broken (ie. wedding gifts, china) and all of our books. saved a decent amount of money for us!

    reputable companies should be able to give you estimates for if you didn’t move some things yourself AND if you did.

  2. I don’t necessarily recommend this but when we moved from Ohio to Maryland, we rented the truck, packed everything ourselves, hired a couple of guys to load the heavy stuff (like 2 hours of labor for a total of $200), drove the truck ourselves (8 hours by car, 10 by truck), and then hired a couple of guys to unload the heavy stuff in Maryland (company had a minimum of 3 hours so it was $300 in this end).

    It was definitely cheaper but not that much fun…

  3. Moving is awful. I moved 11 months ago and am curled up in a corner FOR you.

  4. Mir, as always, you’ve got great advice. I also agree with Katie’s approach. Once you turn your possessions over to a moving company, you can lose all control over when you’ll get your stuff back.

    When we moved from Chicago to NYC, we hired movers who said our stuff would be there within 7 days. Three weeks later and too many nights on an inflatable mattress, it finally arrived.

    Seems that our possessions (which we weeded out like junk-hating monkeys) didn’t fill a full semi trailer. So, our stuff sat in a warehouse until the moving company had a big enough load to head to the Northeast. This also meant our stuff got handled more and moved around on pallets, which resulted in a lot of damages (take pictures while the delivery driver is there and get him/her to sign off on documentation of any damages you find . . . this means you have to move as fast as you can with unpacking).

    So, if you are hiring movers to do the whole thing for you (and I’m sure there are great moving companies out there), find out during the estimate if you qualify for a full truck load and get it in writing. Otherwise, be prepared to throw out your lower back on that stinkin’ inflatable mattress.

    Next time we move, I’m doing it Katie’s way.

  5. OMG, I moved cross-country twice in one year and I SO do not recommend it. Your suggestions are excellent. One additional thing I learned:

    If you have a piano and you care about how it looks/sounds/functions once you get it to where you’re going, hire a mover that has specific experience with pianos. And be SURE that the person actually driving the truck and delivering the stuff knows what he/she is doing too. If you have to hire someone separately from the rest of your stuff, then do it. Especially if you have a grand piano or one that is antique or means a lot to you, as mine did.

    I can’t even begin to relate the horrors that were trying to move my beautiful upright into my new home in Massachusetts, but suffice to say the mover who showed up had absolutely no idea what he was doing… it’s a miracle my piano still functioned after that. 🙁

    And, likewise, if the piano doesn’t mean much or you don’t really need or want it, don’t pay to move it. Pianos are extremely expensive to move for a variety of reasons, most of which involve their weight and unwieldy nature. 🙂

  6. Ugh, I just finished moving 800 miles. In fact, I still have boxes and boxes and boxes of books to unpack.

    Absolutely, go through and get rid of EVERYTHING you don’t need. It is truly amazing how much crap we paid to move just to throw out, Freecycle or Goodwill it. Have a yard sale! Downsize, downsize, downsize

    If you are doing it yourself, boxes are pricey. Check Freecycle and Craigslist for boxes. I was more than happy to give our empty boxes to someone just to get them out of here.

  7. I moved from Saskatchewan to NewBrunswick (about 2500miles) geez, almost 7 years ago.

    I could still work up a good rant about my moving company given enough time.

    Let’s just say, I had three estimates, went with the cheapest one, and the rat bastards accused me of adding heavy stuff to my load and tried to not honour my GUARANTEED price. And you know, when the stuff got there and I didn’t want to pay the extra money, they didn’t want to unload my stuff.

    I eventually went over the local office’s head to the national office and got my money, but what a giant freaking pain in the neck. And I was just moving myself out of a 2br apartment. Now that I’m a family of 5 in a 4br 2storey house? I think we’re here forever!

  8. Dave got two calls this week from out-of-state firms and my response to your post is:


  9. We moved ourselves (rental truck) from Arkansas to Orlando. It was not much fun. When we moved back five years later, last summer, our dates were pretty flexible. I listed the move on and got several bids, one of which was insanely cheap from a small company with good ratings from previous clients.

    The owner of the company was one of the four movers that showed up. It went into a semi, got another load added to its rear, and then was unloaded from the same truck within a week.

    They loaded, moved, and unloaded our stuff (into a storage unit, packing and stacking it tightly) for less than we could rent a truck for ($1500).

    Hooray for the little companies. I’m still in awe. I get to move all that stuff into our new house this weekend– hopefully it’s in good condition. I think it will be.

  10. Just 3 months ago we moved back from the Netherlands to San Francisco (back meaning this was our second trans-Atlantic move! We really are nuts) Anyways I have no real tips beyond what you have said – especially about getting quotes – we got prices ranging from $6,000 – $10,000 to move our stuff (packing and door to door including trip on a container ship and dealing with customs) – needless to say we went with the $6,000 quote!

    Good luck with your relocation – moving is horrible!

  11. We moved over the summer, only 8 miles but the advice for packing things up and getting estimates is excellent. There is also something to be said for being really nice to the guys–snacks, drinks–so they’ll be nice to your stuff!

  12. In 2002 we moved from Oregon to Virginia. We had no choice but to move ourselves. We are not packrats by any means, but we had a huge garage sale, gave things to friends/family, and still filled a big U-Haul truck. My hubby and his friend drove the truck towing our car behind across the country, and I flew with our then 2-yr-old a week later. A year later we moved 8 miles. Two years later we moved 2.5 hours away. We did each move ourselves and I HATE it! 🙁 My advice: Get boxes at a liquor/wine store (great for books and dishes); Staples or other office supply stores have those great paper ream boxes with lids; shop around with the major moving truck companies and be sure you can do a one-way rate if it’s a super long distance; start packing early because it always takes forever; and pack one box with toilet paper, a lamp, important papers, etc. to have at your destination.
    I have a friend who had an absolute HORROR story (probably one of those companies on the blacklist) so even though I tell my hubby that his company better do our next move because I’m getting too old for this, I’m not sure if I could trust someone else with my stuff. At least if it breaks when you move your own stuff, you know who to blame! 🙂

  13. I just planned my mother’s move from Miami to SC (backwards retirement) and use PODS. It cost about the same amount as one of driving a truck, but nobody had to drive the truck. :O) I really recommend them. ANd the PODS people are wonderful. They do not load, but recommend loaders for you. And my Mom moved in with me while she finds a house, so her stuff is safely podded until she is ready to move somewhere. That is the expensive part of the deal, but still worth not unloading into a storage unit and relooading to move to a house. If it is not clear, I was VERY impressed.
    And I found a coupon code online for a percentage off, which helped more. I have no idea what it was, but I don’t think it had an expiration.

  14. My grandfather owns a moving company in a small town in Iowa. The majority of his moves are interstate military moves through Offutt AFB in Omaha, but he does a lot of civilian moves too. I worked in his office for a few years, so I learned quite a bit about the industry.

    First off, what happened to Chris shouldn’t have happened. When the movers give you an estimate with your packing and loading dates, they’ll also give you a delivery spread. They can’t guarantee your stuff will be there on an exact date, but they will guarantee your stuff will be there within that spread. The last day of the spread is usually a week or two from the load date, depending on where your moving. Chris could’ve taken action against them because she signed a contract that said her stuff would be delivered by a certain date.

    Also, Chris mentioned getting it in writing to have your load be the only shipment on the truck. Moving companies will do this, but there will be a big fee since they will end up losing money on your move, depending on the distance and the size of your shipment. There won’t be a fee if your shipment is so big that it will fill up the truck on its own; however, if you only have a few thousand pounds it will cost them more to move you.

    Your suggestions are great, Mir. I do have a few things to add.
    Go to, which is the American Moving & Storage Assoc. website. It is mostly a great resource for moving companies, but there’s also a link to for customers as well. It will give you a little more insight into the business. Under “regulatory” in the sidebar, you’ll find a link for the fuel surcharge. It is set by AMSA on the first Monday of every month. A moving company cannot charge you more than this! When Mrs. Flinger got her estimates to move to Seattle, one company tried to charge her more.

    Pack yourself whenever possible. You can cut your bill in half by doing this. If you need boxes, a moving company will often sell you used ones for way cheaper than new ones.

    Be aware if one company comes in way below the other two companies. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Check the weights they’re estimating. They should all be about the same. The thing that will make them vary is the discount you’re offered. Moving companies use computer software purchased through AMSA to figure their estimates. AMSA sets the prices, not the moving companies. The company will enter the zip codes for origin and destination, the weight, any packing information, and your insurance coverage information if you chose to purchase insurance. The moving company can, and will, discount that price, usually by 45-65%. That’s where the biggest variation in price will come from.

    Check your homeowner’s policy for insurance. Many policies will cover your household goods during a move, so you won’t have to purchase the moving company’s insurance. If you don’t take the moving company’s insurance, though, they will only be liable for $0.60 for every 100 pounds, and any claims will go through your homeowner’s insurance instead of them.

  15. Sorry my comment ended up being so long!

  16. We had (paid by the company) movers who moved us from Texas to CT – they packed and moved, we had to unpack after they unloaded. My tip – take pictures of any large pieces of furniture so if they break it you have proof you had it. Also – take pictures of the broken things so you can show the moving company.

    Our last move was done in a U-Haul from CT to MA, and done with help from friends and family. NEVER AGAIN. ugh. when i think about unloading things from this (weird angles, odd doors) house, I shudder. When we move again, we WILL hire movers. period.

    My other tip might just be important to me. We have now had stoves that didn’t work in 3/4 of our moves. So I say label the microwave/toaster/crockpot very well, and make sure those are available immediately. I will always keep certain things in the car for safe keeping.

  17. Thank you for the oh-so-kind words Mir! It’s getting to be just about that time of year again when 10% of the country packs up and moves – all on the same weekend it would seem. Because of comments by thoughtful people like yourself, we’re helping more and more people BEFORE they hire one of the scam moving companies, and that’s soooo much better than hearing how horrible their move could have gone if we couldn’t have helped them.

    Your web site is quite a gem too! As a freshly christened home owner, you’re sure to find me roaming around here trying to keep my credit cards from burning up in those little card reader gadgets at Walmart and Lowe’s! I’ve even added a link on so I can’t forget!

    Best wishes,
    Tim Walker

Bargain Hunt





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