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HomeAdvisor's Guide to Hiring a Moving Company

Moving is one of the most exciting things that can happen in your life. It’s also one of the most dreaded things.

The good news is that while moving can be a headache rife with emotions, it doesn’t have to be pandemonium. Hiring the right moving company can make all the difference from packing to unpacking. There is plenty of help available from moving guides to insurance to packing and unpacking services that will help make your move a smooth one.

13 Questions to Ask Your Moving Company

Though every move is different, there are questions that everybody should ask of a moving company before hiring them. Be sure that the answers they give you are clear and concise, and don’t be afraid to ask for more details if you don’t understand something.

  • Are you licensed and insured? – This is straightforward. If the answer is “no”, move along to the next company.
  • How does your company charge? – For a local move, a mover may charge by the hour, the number of movers, or by weight. If they charge by the weight, ask how they determine the weight.
  • Are you registered with the DOT? – If you are moving out of state, the moving company must be registered with the US Department of Transportation. There are no exceptions. Movers that only operate within your state may or may not be required to have one. You can check with the USDOT to see if your state requires one for local moves.
  • Are you a mover or a broker? – This is important when getting estimates. A broker can’t give you a binding estimate. They can give you a ballpark figure, but the mover will be the one to give you an actual price. Any mover who gives you an estimate over the phone without actually seeing your house, however, should be avoided.
  • What are extra charges? – An estimate is generally for the move itself. It may not include insurance surcharges, fuel surcharges, awkward objects (pianos, etc.), flight charges, parking charges, etc.
  • Will there be a transfer? – Moving over long distances can sometimes require that your goods be transferred from one truck to another. Each transfer increases the chances for damage to occur. If there are going to be multiple transfers, you may want to take extra care packing fragile objects.
  • What insurance do you offer? – At the most basic level, your shipment will be insured for 30 to 60 cents per pound. Ask about upgrades or purchasing your own insurance for the move.
  • Who is responsible for loss or damage? – If you’ve packed your things yourself, you may not get reimbursed for damage done to poorly-packaged items. Items lost or damaged during transfers or at other points might be the responsibility of the mover. Be sure you understand the mover’s policy on this.
  • What are your payment terms? – It’s not recommended that you deal with movers who only accept cash or who insist on payment in full up front. A reasonable deposit is about 25% of your total cost. Be sure about the amount that is due upon delivery, and ask if they accept credit cards. Most movers with merchant accounts will accept credit cards.
  • Do you guarantee pick-up and delivery dates? – Most movers will guarantee a time-frame in which your goods will be picked up and delivered. If you need it by a specific date, there may be an extra charge. Be sure to ask about this and about what happens if a date is missed.
  • Is your staff permanent or temporary? – Some moving companies hire temporary employees, such as college students who need the extra income. Others have permanent staff. Whichever one is used, be sure that background checks have been done on the employees.
  • What things do you not move? – A mover will not be likely to handle things considered hazardous. This can include various chemicals, aerosol cans, gasoline, or other volatile substances. They may also suggest that certain things are best moved by the customer. This can include personal documents, cash, coin collections, firearms and other weaponry, heirlooms, small antiques, and valuable electronics.
  • Do you have any questions for me?A mover should be asking you questions as well. Every move is unique, so the mover should ask questions as you walk through your house.

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What Your Moving Estimates Should Include

The average cost to hire a moving service is anywhere between $400 and $1,000 depending on how much stuff you need moved. When you look for an estimate, the mover should be willing to come out to your house and do a walkthrough with you. Based on what the mover sees and what you tell them, they will be able to give you an estimate. The estimate should include:

  • Packing cost – This includes the cost for boxes, labor for packing and unpacking, and any specialty containers such as mattress boxes. If you use the unpacking service, find out if the movers reassemble large furniture as part of the unpacking service.
  • Transportation cost – This cost is based on the origin, destination, and weight of the shipment. Because the cost of labor can vary depending on location, they may change from area to area.
  • Third Party Charges – This includes appliance servicing, crating of certain items, and disassembly and reassembly of certain exercise equipment and playground equipment. Movers typically don’t perform these services; they outsource the job and pass the cost along.
  • Insurance surcharges – Due to increases in the insurance for trucks, a mover may offset some of this increased cost with a surcharge. It doesn’t protect your goods. It just helps defray the cost for the truck that’s moving your property.
  • Valuation charges – As mentioned earlier, all moving companies are required to provide valuation protection, a minimum coverage for damage to your goods equal to between 30 and 60 cents per pound of the item. Full value replacement is an extra service that provides better coverage. Valuation protection is included with the estimate at no extra cost. Full value replacement is extra, though it does provide more comprehensive coverage.

As with any major project (and moving is a major major project), get multiple estimates before hiring a moving company. Three or four should be enough for moving. Keep in mind the following:

  • Get all of your estimates done on the same day, 2 hours apart. A good mover will come out to your house to give you the estimate, and the walkthrough can take an hour. Not only will this keep everything fresh in your mind, it gives you an hour in between to arrange notes and jot down any information you may have gotten.
  • Make sure the same person is present for each estimate. This way there is no variation on what’s going and what’s staying, what should be handled very carefully and what might not need special handling, etc. If possible, have a meeting with your spouse or partner beforehand so that you are both on the same page about this.
  • Be thorough in your walkthrough. Some surprising items can be overlooked. Go through your garage, attic, basement, and any place else on your property, even if you’re certain there’s nothing out of there that you want. In some cases, people have forgotten to mention the washer and dryer to the movers just because they never think about them unless they’re using them!
  • Avoid saying that something is “going”. To a mover this can mean “going away” (being thrown out), while to the customer it might mean “going to the new home” (loaded onto the truck and moved). Some people even use these interchangeably in the same conversation! Try saying “taking” or “leaving” instead.
  • Ask questions. Ask lots of questions. These are your worldly possessions and you want to make sure family heirlooms, sentimental keepsakes, and irreplaceable items are going to be handled properly. Even if two companies have similar pricing, small details like how fragile items are handled can make a big difference in your peace of mind.
  • Ask about packing and unpacking costs. You might find the price isn’t as bad as you thought and may save yourself a bit of headache. Or you could find out just how much money you’re saving by doing it yourself. To be sure, however, packing is a great time to sort out what you really want to keep and what can be sold at a yard sale or donated to charity. Even if you’re paying the moving company to pack, fewer things to pack means a lower cost!
  • Check to see what kinds of things are prohibited. If you have a hobby that involves chemicals, such as dark-room photography, the moving company may not be willing to transport your film-developing chemicals.

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Moving Preparation Tips

When getting ready for a move, you might be surprised at just how much stuff you’ve accumulated over the years. It can be quite overwhelming when you start boxing things up and realize that it’s a much bigger job than you first thought. You might be wondering how it’s all going to fit.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to fit anywhere. This is a good time to pare down your possessions. Decide what you want, what you can’t live without, and what you really don’t need. Gather the things you don’t need and make some spare money by selling them at a yard sale. Whatever doesn’t sell can be taken to a local charity where it will be put to much better use. If you have a lot of books that you don’t read anymore, your local library will happily take them! You can now focus on moving just the things you want.

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Packing & Unpacking

Packing and unpacking is one of the most stressful aspects of moving. Pick any room in your house and, without going through everything, try to determine how many boxes of what size you’re going to need. If you guessed right, you’re a rare individual indeed!


Many people have the moving company they hire do the packing for them, but others are not comfortable with this or else decide to save the extra cost. If you have the moving company do your packing for you, you can expect to add another 25% to 30% to the cost of your move. The charges vary depending on how many rooms are being packed and how many people are in your household.


So much for packing – now it’s time for unpacking. If you’ve labeled everything, you know which room it’s supposed to go into and you know what’s in which box. This means you don’t have to root through each box looking for what you need. Even then, unpacking can be as chaotic as any part of a move. As with packing, some moving companies also provide an unpacking service. This may be part of the package deal they offer, or it could be an extra service. There are also services that specialize in unpacking, employing organization experts who know how to make the best use of space.

You might hire an unpacking company because:

  • You have limited time between getting moved in and having to go to work.
  • You can’t get the time off from your job to unpack.
  • You’re a stay-at-home parent and have enough on your hands making sure the kids are safe, fed, taken to school or other activities, etc.
  • You did the packing and the moving, and now you’re just plain exhausted.

The cost for unpacking varies from company to company and depends on how quickly you want things unpacked. In general, an unpacking company usually charges $25.00 to $35.00 per hour.

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Most moving companies offer some degree of protection in case your property gets damaged. However, just because they dropped your 20 pound plasma TV doesn’t mean that you will get enough to replace it. Here’s what to know about moving insurance:

  • “Valuation protection” vs. “Insurance” – These are not the same thing. While they function similarly, valuation protection, also called “Limited Liability”, is included in your moving cost; insurance must be bought separately. Valuation protection is federally regulated while insurance is regulated at the state level. But the biggest difference is that valuation protection covers you for 30 to 60 cents per pound of the item in question while insurance covers you for whatever the policy was written for. With valuation protection, that 20 pound plasma TV that got dropped would be reimbursed at $6.00 to $12.00.
  • Full value replacement – This is the most comprehensive plan you can get to protect your property during the move. The mover will repair the item, replace the item, or offer cash reimbursement for the full declared value that you list. These items must be listed on a high-value inventory sheet, and the protection will cost extra depending on the deductible and the company itself.
  • Third party insurance – You can buy your own policy from a third party. The cost is based on a percentage of the declared value of your property. This is usually pretty cheap, often around 1% of the total declared value. Moving companies are not allowed to sell insurance policies themselves, but they might recommend a carrier for you to check out.
  • Homeowner’s policy – Some homeowner policies cover your property in transit. Check with your agent to see if you have coverage and how much. Some people choose to buy a separate policy for the move so that any damage claims don’t go against their homeowner policy.

Moving companies are required to offer at least valuation protection and full value protection by federal law. If a moving company does not offer these two basic services, it is highly recommended that you find another mover.

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Auto Transport

A person can only drive one vehicle at a time, so if have an extra car or other vehicle that you want to keep, you’ll have to find some way to get it there. Your choices are fairly limited and can affect your moving budget.

  • Open-Air Truck – This is the most common way for transporting your vehicle. These are the car-carriers that you see on the freeway. Some will transport from hub to hub, handing the cars off to another truck at each hub to keep things efficient and cost-effective for the company. Others will offer door-to-door service, though this will cost quite a bit more.
  • Enclosed Truck – If keeping your car protected from the elements while in transport is a concern for you, this is the way to go. Usually the choice for owners of classics, antiques, or high-value cars, this can cost as much about 60% more than using an open-air truck.
  • Hire A Driver – You can also hire a non-professional driver, such as a college student or a trusted friend who needs the money, to drive the car to your destination. If you don’t mind the extra miles on your car and if you have the insurance coverage, this is usually the least expensive way to transport your vehicle.
  • Cargo Container – If you’re moving overseas, such as to Hawaii from the mainland (or vice-versa) a cargo container is the only real option. They are quite large so you’ll probably have to find a company that offers partial containers.

The average cost to ship a car cross-country is $700.00 to $900.00. The final price ultimately depends on your destination. Shipping to Hawaii usually starts at around $1,000.00. Shipping out of the country can run from $2,000.00 and higher. Insurance for shipping a vehicle usually costs 1.5% to 2.5% of the vehicle’s value.

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