Moving a residence is often fraught with high emotions and a to-do list a mile long. So, it's tempting to give only passing attention to hiring a mover and the related incidental costs.
That could be a mistake — for your wallet and your peace of mind.
Moving can be quite expensive. A typical full-service interstate move costs about $4,300, while the same in-state move might cost about $2,500, according to the American Moving & Storage Association.
And while the moving industry has many fine companies, it is notorious for fraud and dirty tactics by so-called rogue movers.
Here are tips on making your move with lower costs and less hassle.
Choose a type of move
You have three basic choices: do-it-yourself, full service and a relatively new hybrid of the two. Going it alone is cheapest, costing the rental price of a truck, gasoline, packing materials and, perhaps, pizza and beer for friends you rope into helping.
With full-service moves, moving within a state is charged by the hour, while moving across state lines is charged by weight and mileage.
With a hybrid move, a mover will drop off a large container at your home for you to pack. It will then load the container onto a truck, drive the belongings to your new location and drop off the container for you to unload. Because you're doing the manual labor of packing and unpacking, it's far less costly than a full-service move.
Hire a quality mover
If you hire help, get at least three price quotes and do homework. Seek recommendations by talking with family and friends, even your Facebook circle. Investigate a company's reputation with the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org), Yelp.com and possibly the paid-membership site Angie's List (angieslist.com). Check a company's complaint history at the federal government site, ProtectYourMove.gov.
"People think a good reputation equals expensive, but that's not true," said Laura McHolm, co-founder of NorthStar Moving in Los Angeles. "You don't get a good reputation by overcharging people."
For interstate moves, a company's ProMover certification with the movers association is a good sign. The organization in January 2009 started screening movers based on seven criteria. It kicked out some 220 of 3,100 members over the past two years because they didn't measure up, said spokesman John Bisney. See "Find a ProMover" at Moving.org.
"The old rubric 'You get what you pay for' is true more often than not," Bisney said.
Look for two things: A full-service mover should visit your home in person, not give a quote over the phone or online, and should provide a written estimate, experts say.
No matter what type of move you're making, taking less stuff is cheaper and less hassle. Set up a staging area, perhaps in a garage, with various piles, such as throw out, recycle, donate and sell.
"If you really love those go-go boots from the 1960s but will never wear them again, take a picture of them and get rid of them," McHolm said. For many items, use the rule of thumb, "If you haven't used it in a year, you probably don't need it."
Like airline fares, moving rates depend on when you book. The busiest time for movers, and thus the most expensive time for consumers, is summer weekends near the 15th and 30th of the month.
If you have time flexibility, ask what rates would be for different days or seasons.If you have extreme flexibility, ask about moving standby: waiting until the mover has extra space and needs to fill a truck.
Save on boxes
Buying new boxes from a moving company is the most expensive choice. Ask if you can buy used boxes from your moving company. NorthStar, for example, gives customers 25 percent off used boxes and then refunds 25 percent if they return boxes in usable condition.
Cheaper yet is finding free boxes, ideally from somebody who just moved. Ask your real estate agent to connect you with other clients who recently moved. Or look on Craigslist.org. Specialty boxes, such as wardrobe boxes, might be cheaper to purchase at a do-it-yourself moving store, such as U-Haul, than from your mover.
Save on packing materials
If you're packing yourself, fill suitcases, laundry baskets and plastic containers with unbreakable items. Use pillows, scarves and towels to wrap fragile belongings. And you might as well empty your paper shredder into a box to add cushion.
If you have many books, pack them yourself and ship them at the postal media mail rate. It might be cheaper than paying a mover. A 70-pound box would cost less than $30. You can't send anything with advertisements, so magazines are out. Search USPS.com for "media mail."
For long-distance moves, ask about consolidating your stuff on a truck with other people's. Most homeowners can't fill a full-size moving van. You might have to be flexible on delivery dates and times, but consolidation can be cheaper. "Most times it's a huge price difference," McHolm said.
Check your homeowner's or renter's insurance policy to determine whether it provides coverage for your belongings while in transit. If not, you'll probably want more than the basic free valuation coverage a full-service mover provides. The standard valuation is 60 cents per pound per item. That means breaking a 10-pound, $1,000 stereo system would net you $6. You'll want full replacement-value insurance, which reimburses you what it will cost to replace broken items. But don't necessarily buy that insurance from the moving company. Moving insurance is likely cheaper from a third party, such as MovingInsurance.com, McHolm said.
Be aware that you probably cannot get insurance on boxes you packed yourself. A mover must pack them.
Plot out where furniture and boxes will go. The less time movers spend rearranging, the less expensive it will be.
In urban areas, reserve a space or two in front of your new home for the moving truck by parking your own vehicle there ahead of time. If the movers have to park too far away to unload, you could incur a "long carry" surcharge, McHolm said.
Stake your claim
If you're moving for a job, negotiate the best relocation package you can. Unreimbursed expenses might be tax deductible. For details, see Publication 521 Moving Expenses at IRS.gov.
Tipping each mover $3 to $5 per hour is customary, said Stephen Coady, marketing manager for Gentle Giant Moving Co. in Somerville, Mass.
For in-depth information on choosing a mover, see the free, downloadable "Make a Smart Move" available at Moving.org.
Gregory Karp is author of "Living Rich by Spending Smart." E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Furniture nabbing. A mover essentially holds your belongings hostage, demanding a higher payment to release them.
Lowballers. Beware of lowball price quote. They could end up costing you as the mover adds various surcharges.
Instant quotes. Be wary of phone or Internet estimates. Get written, in-home estimates.
Large down payment. Be suspicious of carriers seeking large deposits. They might take the money and run. Legitimate movers require no deposit or a small "good faith" down payment.