After years of borrowing my parents’ minivan to move my belongings from apartment to apartment, my first professional move felt like a milestone on the path to adulthood. Don’t get me wrong—there’s something to be said for the DIY move. It’s cheaper, and having friends help out lends a festive air to an otherwise tedious chore, especially during the post-move beer-and-pizza party.
But there comes a time when you just need or want to hire professional movers. Maybe your household has two people in it now, and there’s a lot more stuff to move. Or you actually own a few expensive things and you don’t trust your cousin Mike to handle them with the care they need. Before you embark on the somewhat bewildering journey of hiring movers, read our step-by-step guide.
Ask for personal recommendations
Yes, there are plenty of online review sites like Yelp and Angie’s List, and you should definitely check them out. But I like to start by asking people I know—friends, neighbors, co-workers, and so on. Those are the recommendations I trust the most.
Hopefully you’ll end up with a few names that multiple people have had great experiences with. You may also learn of a few companies to absolutely avoid. That’s valuable information, too.
Check availability and pricing
The most popular movers will get booked quickly so don’t delay. If you’re moving during the colder months you may be able to get away with a last-minute reservation, but spring and summer are likely to fill fast. When you call, keep these things in mind:
Moving date flexibility
If you don’t have to be out of your old place and into the new one on the first of the month, like most renters, your first-choice movers will have an easier time fitting you in. It’s also helpful if you can move on a weekday instead of the weekend.
Most movers charge by the hour (expect to pay at least $30/hour per mover), so the ultimate price could be slightly higher or lower than quoted. However, they’re pretty accurate at estimating how long your move will take. Expect to be asked how many people are in your household, how many rooms and/or floors you’re moving from, and what kinds of especially big or heavy pieces of furniture you might own.
Remember that you’ll have to pay for the movers’ travel time, too—unless it’s a very local move. That includes the time it will take them to return to the office from your final destination. Ask if you’ll need to pay a fuel surcharge, as well, and how they handle extra minutes (example: the move takes three hours and 15 minutes). Some movers will round up to the next hour. The mover you want to hire will prorate their hourly price.
Finally, ask if there are any extra fees you could be charged based on special circumstances such as elevator or stair usage or the need for a permit to park on a city street.
Number of movers
Two movers will be cheaper than three, but three will get the job done faster. So when you’re comparing estimates, keep that in mind. A cheaper hourly rate could end up costing more if the move takes longer.
Some movers will accept credit cards and personal checks, but most prefer cash. Don’t be intimidated if they don’t take credit cards. Paying in cash ensures you can actually afford the move, and you’ll need cash for a tip anyway.
I’ve never had to pay a deposit on a move. You should ask if there is a cancellation policy, though. Some movers may charge you for canceling without a certain amount of notice.
I once hired movers who showed up with a U-Haul truck that was obviously too small to fit the contents of our house. Make sure your movers have a big enough truck that will also fit on your street if you live on a narrow city road. You don’t want to end up having to pay for more than one trip or an extra vehicle.
Tip: I usually tip 10 percent of the total, which the movers can divide amongst themselves. Other people suggest tipping based on the extent of the move (starting at $10 per person for a small and local move). You may want to tip more or less depending on the quality of the experience.
Most moving companies will pack (and even unpack) your belongings for an additional fee. This could include the price of boxes and other packing supplies as well as an hourly rate for labor.
If you don’t want to pay any more than you have to, pack everything yourself and get it done before the movers arrive. If you’re still scrambling to finish packing while they load the truck you’re going to make the move more expensive. It will take longer and mess up their careful calculations about the most efficient way to use the truck space. Other ways to save money on packing include:
Find free boxes
Your best bets are your local liquor stores (sometimes they are stacked by the door for people to take) and in recycling dumpsters behind stores. Some people who have just moved post “curb alerts” for free boxes on Craigslist and social media. If you decide to buy boxes, comparison shop at stores like Walmart, Home Depot, and Lowes.
Pack fragile items in newspaper
Bubble wrap is nice, but it’s more expensive than picking up your local Sunday paper. I’ve had almost no problems with wrapping glasses and other breakables in a sheet or two of newspaper.
Use small or medium sized boxes for heavier items
My husband and I own a lot of books, which get heavy fast when you stack them. Always stick with smaller boxes for books, CDs, and other cumulatively heavy things. Bigger boxes can be used for pillows and other large, lightweight items. It’s good to put as much as you can in boxes, but if a box is too heavy you’ll waste time re-packing it.
Move some of your boxes yourself
If you own a car, you’re moving locally, and you have more than one day to do it, try to move as much as you can by yourself. This will save you money on the total time the move takes. Your car may also be better for moving precious valuables, whether your grandmother’s jewelry or a shiny flat screen TV. If it would kill you to lose it (or have it break), then best to move it yourself—no one will be more careful.
Make sure the big day goes smoothly
Good movers should be able to work independently, especially on the loading end. You need to be there to let them in and answer questions when they arise, but mostly you should try to relax. Moving can be stressful, but you hired movers to take care of the hardest part.
When it’s time to unload, the movers should place everything where you want it to go. If they try to just dump everything in the room closest to the door, step in to give directions.
As you settle the final bill, make sure the total is indeed the total. I talked to a friend of mine who received an invoice with additional charges six months after his move. That shouldn’t happen. Sign off on the final figure and ask the movers to do so as well.
Many people have stories of horrible moves, but if you follow these steps you should end up with a positive experience. And once you get used to the convenience of a professional move, you won’t want to go back to the DIY version. Tell us all about your first professional moving experience in the comments.