Everything You Need to Know to Make Moving Less Miserable

Everything You Need to Know to Make Moving Less Miserable

It can feel like reinventing the wheel each time you change dwellings. This list from the experts will let you start fresh the easy way.
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Welcome to Roommates Week, an exploration of the highs and lows of cohabitation.

Picture this: you have about two weeks before you need to move out of your current apartment, you’re still waiting to hear back about the apartment you might be moving into, and oh yeah, you haven’t even started thinking about packing or hiring movers. This was the anxiety-inducing reality of my move last November, and it’s safe to say I learned a lot of hard lessons along the way. From apartment hunting to running the logistics of a big move, the entire process can be exhausting.

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be all bad. We’ve tapped moving experts Najah Popovic of Piece of Cake Moving & Storage and Matt and Ashley Graber of Cool Hand Movers for their best moving tips. They covered everything from handling a cross-country or intercity move, ensuring your favorite items make it home in one piece, and the mover red flags that should send you running. Moving’s never going to be easy, but with this advice in hand, you’ll be prepped and primed to get started.

Timing is everything

This isn’t your eighth-grade science fair project. You can’t wait until the night before to start planning or packing for your move. Our moving experts know that most people will be guilty of trying to do things last minute. But, Popovic advises those who are moving to follow this timetable. "Generally our advice is, if you have a local move, try to at least start looking at movers three weeks before your moving date. If you have a long-distance move [start looking] at least a month before." It’s also important to develop a decent understanding of the moving landscape when prepping.

Like most industries, the moving industry is based on supply, demand, and capacity, meaning certain months (spring and summer) and certain times of the month (the first and the last day of the month) tend to be more popular as that’s when most leases begin and end. If you find yourself moving during one of these periods, you’ll likely end up receiving a higher quote, so just keep that in mind.

You can’t take it (all) with you

Before you start reaching out to moving companies, you’re going to have to do a little preparation. Your final quote will typically be calculated based on a flat fee, which is "the [total] cubic feet of your items. So that's why it's very important to cull anything you don't want before," explained Popovic. So a few weeks or months out from your move, you’ll want to decide which furniture items you’re willing to part with. Facebook Marketplace is a great option for ridding yourself of old furniture and can come in handy if you’re in a time crunch.

You can also look up local donation sites near you that accept furniture. You’ll also want to start paring down and organizing the things that you would like to take with you. Ashley recommends using the 4 Core Organizing Method, as "it's really effective at cutting down on stuff, which makes the move less stressful and also can significantly change the costs. Ultimately, you're paying for the volume of stuff that you're moving."

Consider your options

Next, you’ll want to think about the type of moving situation you’d like to be heading into. It’s also important during this process to identify what type of move you’re going to have as the list of possibilities includes: apartment-to-apartment, apartment-to-home, home-to-apartment, interstate, intrastate, and cross-country moves.

While the moving industry is notoriously outdated, it is making strides towards improvement, with most larger companies serving as a one-stop shop that can supply moving supplies, bins and boxes, and even pack your home up for you on the day of your move. Some examples of larger companies that operate nationwide are Piece of Cake, United Van Lines, JK Moving Services, and International Van Lines.

You’ll need to be realistic about how much furniture you have and how much time you have to get your move done. Once you’ve decided whether you’re going to ask friends for help and move by yourself, or hire a moving company, you’re ready to start getting quotes.

Watch out for these mover red flags

Now that you’ve Marie Kondo’d every single item you own, it’s time to start your research. This is a great time to reach out to your network and ask around to see who people have used, and what their experiences were like. Obviously, avoid any companies that don’t come highly recommended. Then you’ll want to go through reviews, which can be a very mixed bag. Instead of clicking through one review at a time, try to look at all of the reviews overall to get a sense of whether they lean more positively or negatively.

Reach out to at least three to five companies to get quotes. Most good moving companies will ask a lot of questions about your furniture items, how many boxes you plan on packing, and information about your current home and your moving destination. If the company doesn’t ask many questions or if you have trouble getting in contact with them, take that as a sign to look elsewhere. You’ll want to give as much information as possible about your move to avoid surprise add-on fees later, due to unforeseen situations (like an extra flight of stairs). If you’re doing a bigger move from a two-bedroom apartment or a house, some companies offer virtual or in-person appointments to determine an exact list of furniture that needs to be moved.

After getting your quotes, you’ll want to think about the company's reputation and any additional customer service that’s offered. All the experts we spoke to made it clear that super low rates are often the result of cut corners. So instead of going with the cheapest option, choose a company that falls somewhere in the middle. Next, it’s time to ask hard-hitting questions. Be sure to ask if the mover is insured, which will protect your old and new home in the case of any damage and also ensure that workers are protected in the case of injury. Another big question to ask is whether the movers that will be handling your move are employees of the moving company or not. "A lot of moving companies hire subcontractors, and they might not tell you that the people that show up on the day of your move could be a completely different company…And that happens all the time. And [is] how a lot of the large companies keep their costs down," said Matt.

Handling special circumstances

Moving complexity—otherwise known as the special circumstances that can pop up during a move—can drastically increase the price of your move, so it’s important to be aware of possible complexities early on. This includes that couch that was built inside your apartment that might not make it through the front door, the 200+ lb marble table in your living room, or the baby grand piano that you’ve had for years. In these situations, you have two options: either the moving company will be able to handle the item with special handling and protections, or you may have to call in an expert.

Most moving companies have an extensive network of experts that they can connect you with to move certain items, like The Couch Doctor in NYC. Keep in mind that there will be an extra cost associated with these services that won’t be included in your original quote. "That’s why if you have really valuable things or things that are custom...it’s very important when you're booking the move to tell the consultant," explains Popovic.

If your new home or apartment falls through at the last minute, you still have options. Piece of Cake and many other moving companies offer On Demand Storage, which allows customers to move into a storage unit and have items delivered once they find a new place. This can be especially helpful in fast-moving rental markets like NYC and LA.

Service providers like Lugg, offer delivery from retailers and homes in over 20 major U.S. cities. This can come in handy when looking to get furniture delivered, putting items into storage, or delivering furniture to a Facebook Marketplace buyer. Also, most moving companies allow you to add stops on the way to your new home, so don’t forget to take advantage of that option as it may be more cost-effective than having to rent a U-Haul later.

The process of moving an elderly family member from their home or apartment into a retirement home can be extremely stressful and emotional. Ashley recommends working with a senior move management company or consultancy like Paper Moon Moves as they can help manage decades of items and memories, removing some of the pressure from family members. Working with a professional organizer a few months before the move can also be great for getting a head start.

It’s packing time

Unless you want to spend the days leading up to your move stressed and ready to pull your hair out, start to pack as soon as you’ve confirmed everything with your moving company (read: around two weeks out from your move date.) Start with items that you don’t use frequently like books and clothing. If your moving company is providing you with supplies, make sure that they arrive at least a week before you need to move. There are also specialty companies like Bin-it, who will send over a set amount of packing bins ahead of your move and will pick them up after it’s completed.

Rushing the packing process typically leads to mistakes that can cost you your favorite items or even hundreds of dollars. So, when packing you’ll want to group similar items together and be careful not to mix cleaning or food items with electronics or books. While it’s natural to want to fill the expensive boxes you purchased to the brim, you’ll want to avoid this as it makes things difficult for movers and will be unbearably difficult to move yourself. Also, please don’t use leftover shipping boxes to pack heavy items as they’re not made to hold large weights.

Due to the fragile nature of plates, glasses, and other cookware, the kitchen can be a difficult room to pack, making supplies like bubble and protective wrap essential to keeping things in one piece. As you pack your boxes be sure to label everything, or you’ll face a logistical nightmare when trying to figure out what went where while you’re unpacking.

Cross country moving 101

A cross-country move sounds stressful, but it doesn’t have to be. According to Popovic, most long-distance movers will typically offer two options: straight delivery or consolidated delivery. Straight delivery means that your items will be delivered directly to you and will be the only items on the moving truck. With a consolidated delivery, multiple people's items are loaded onto a truck and then dropped off in no particular order. There are pros and cons to both. Direct delivery allows you to plan to have your items delivered on a specific day but typically costs more. Consolidated delivery is best if you have a more flexible moving timeline and don’t need your items by a certain date. With either option, you need to be sure that you or someone you trust will be home at the time of your delivery in order to receive your belongings.

If you’re using a pod company to ship your items, Matt recommends movers "go with a pod company that will transport a loaded pod from point A to point B and hire local companies at each location…And what you get that way is a higher level of service because you're hiring small businesses that have more accountability."

Avoid making these rookie mistakes

While becoming a moving horror story is mostly out of your control, there are some things that you can do to best protect yourself throughout the process. All items being moved are covered under the Department of Transportation’s 60 cents per pound rule, which requires moving companies to insure items at a rate of, yes, 60 cents per pound. The bad news though, is that this doesn’t really do much in the case of a broken television, computer, or other expensive but low-weighing items.

This is when it’s important to make the call on whether or not to opt into the additional third-party insurance that most reputable companies will offer as you’re checking out. This is a great option if you have a lot of very high-value items. It can also be helpful to let your movers know about extremely valuable or irreplaceable furniture or antiques so that they can plan ahead and bring extra padding and protection. During the move keep all valuables (passports, jewelry, important documentation, cash, checks, etc) with you at all times instead of leaving them for the movers.

Take care of your movers

Another pro tip is to make sure your movers are as comfortable as possible throughout the entire move. Providing cold water and soda or even a few snacks goes a long way and shows that you appreciate their backbreaking efforts. But, once the move gets started it’s best to give "the movers the space that they need to work safely and…not try to be one of the movers or the foreman. Because once the professional movers that you hired are in your house working, you should give them that respect in the space to work," said Matt. So don’t be that person who pulls their back out cosplaying as a professional.

At the end of the move, if you’re satisfied with the job done, you’ll tip the foreman (the head mover) anywhere between 15 and 25 percent to show your gratitude.

Don’t forget these final touches

As we approach the end of your moving learning journey, we have a few reminders. If you’re moving on your own, don’t forget to book your U-Haul or moving vehicle well in advance, especially if you’re planning on moving during a peak season or on the weekend. If you live in an apartment, you’ll also want to book elevator times early on and arrange a Certificate of Insurance for your building, which will protect it in case of any building damage made by the movers. Certain buildings also restrict moving to specific days and times so make sure to double-check that you’re allowed to move during your intended date and time.

Once you’ve moved, you’ll want to hand your apartment back in the best condition in order to get your security deposit back. Home Depot’s paint match is your best friend and is great for covering any torn paint or patching over holes. Speaking of holes, you can find hole patching kits at most major retailers. And if you’re in a time crunch, do yourself a favor and pick up fast-drying spackling paste instead of the regular stuff. Also, if you can, try to get your internet set up in your new place before you move in to avoid having to wait days to get up and running, especially if the provider has to come on-site to get you set up. If you take anything from this guide, remember that with a little planning and preparation, your move will become infinitely easier.

Top image by Charles Gullung/Getty

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Maliah West
NYC based writer and journalist