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  • Oriana Skylar Mastro

Choosing a moving company

Moving can be stressful and expensive, especially if you are moving across the country. If you are considering a cross country move, here is some information to help you to in planning and paying the set up costs.

Who is paying for what? You may be lucky and have a company pay for your move. But there are still reasons why cost may matter to you.

Maybe the move will cost more than what you negotiated. Hopefully, you got a ballpark before you agreed to your offer (I didn't). But if you didn't, and it isn't enough to cover everything, you'll care how much this will cost. When estimating how much you have, remember that moving money is taxable!

Getting creative with your moving money. I was lucky that my work offered me more than we needed, and I didn't want that to go to waste. So I negotiated that I could use that money on multiple moves. This was important to us because we knew we'd rent at first before buying, and have to move again. Now both moves will be covered. In terms of getting creative, part of your moving reimbursement may include your travel to the new location and temporary housing while you wait for your goods to be delivered, which in our case took 7-14 days. Instead of waiting around in DC or California, it was cheaper for us to take the family on vacation. Check with your company, but in my case, I provided them the information about how much four one-way tickets would be from DC to California and how much an AirBnB would be while we waited for our household goods. They were willing to pay that amount even if we stopped and hung out elsewhere (in our case, the plan was Barcelona, until COVID hit).

When to get your estimates. If you are moving across the country, each company will want to send someone in person or do an online appraisal of your goods to estimate how much weight they'll be transporting. Then they take 1-2 weeks to give you your estimate. Before you ask around, check with your company's HR first whether they have any special deals with movers. It turns out mine did (15% discount, which is a lot when you are talking tens of thousands of dollars), but that information was not given to me without prompting. It may have come later, but moving can be like airline tickets – it gets more expensive the closer to the date you 'book,' especially if you are planning on moving in the peak season (over the summer) like we were. All the companies told me I was getting a better deal getting estimates in Feb/March for a July move since I was locking in lower prices. If your company has deals with multiple companies, get at least three estimates. If it is only one, get an estimate from them and at least one outside company. Sometimes 'deals' aren't cheaper – I am eligible for military rates at hotels, for example, and sometimes those rates are more expensive than the normal ones.

How to understand a moving estimate. OK. You've gotten estimates from three companies. Do not look just at the totals! Different companies include different things in their estimates, so to understand which one is better, you must understand how they break down.

Generally speaking, local moves are based on hours of labor, long-distance moves on weight. If different companies have estimated different weights, your estimates will be different. And it isn’t linear, so that means that you cant take an estimate to move 5,000lbs and double it to get the estimate for 10,000lbs. So if your estimates have a huge range (Mine were from 9,000lbs to 13,000lbs), ask the companies for supplement estimates for the same amount. I asked them all for an estimate for 13,000lbs.

Break it up into key parts. There are four parts to an estimate. Packing, transportation, accessorial services, and storage. Packing includes all the material and labor and is pretty straightforward, as is transportation. 'Accessorial services' can be a bit confusing. This includes debris removal (they take your boxes after you finish packing), but the biggest items are shuttles. So, depending on where you live, the moving company may determine they can't get a huge moving truck and park it in front of your house all day – or maybe your house is fine, but they can’t drive the truck on the streets to get to your house. So you have to pay for a smaller vehicle to shuttle items to the bigger truck. This ran about $2400 for our 13,000lbs, so it is not a significant cost. If you think the streets are wide enough, dig deeper and ask exactly why they need a shuttle. You may find it isn’t really necessary.

If you do need to pay for a shuttle, additional stops are only 50-60 dollars. So if you have a storage unit somewhere, or like me, stuff in an office you want to be picked up and dropped off in an office at the destination, that can save you time and money.

Lastly storage. This is billed not by day usually, but a range of days, 1-4 days, 6-10 days, etc. Some companies charged for the labor to move stuff in and out and the time it was in storage, others just the labor. So for us, this ranged from $800-$2400. Again, if temporarily storing stuff is a part of your move, this may be important to you.

You may not need it if you plan on waiting at the destination during the full spread. Which leads me to:

Ask about their spread. This is the window they guarantee the delivery of your goods. It can vary – one company gave me four days, another seven days. Again, this might not matter to you but for me, with two kids under two, waiting in a hotel for seven days did not seem fun. You can get them to deliver a specific day, but if that's not the first day they arrive and can deliver, you'll have to pay for storage.

Ask about overtime and days closed. Most companies will pack one day and load the next. Ask about whether the company is closed on Sundays and/or charges overtime over the weekend. I had discussed for weeks with my company that we wanted to load and unload on Saturdays, but they never mentioned until the last minute that this would come with an $1100 overtime charge. So ask – and make sure to move during the week if you don't want to pay extra!

Bundling doesn't necessarily make things cheaper. Once I had hired a company, I thought to have them also move a piano I had at my parents' house would be cheaper than hiring another company to complete that part of the move. But if you have stuff at different stops like this, they treat them as different moves, which means minimum labor and weight requirements apply. So it was twice as expensive to ask the moving company to pick up the piano than to hire a separate piano moving company. This may also be the case for cars, as the estimates I got for moving our cars across the country were about 70% more expensive than what companies that move cars offer.

Check on your coverage. If anything gets lost or broken, are you covered? Most companies won’t cover damage if they don’t pack things themselves. And you or a proxy will have to be at the site to check off items as they deliver them to get any loss coverage. Either way, ask them how much coverage is a part of your package and about the claims process. You don't want a big headache right after a big move.

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