Reserving in advance can also present last-minute sticker shock, giving you time to save up, said Scott Hanson, founding principal of Hanson McClain Advisors, a wealth management firm based in Sacramento, California.
About 15 percent of consumers said they went into debt as a result of moving costs, according to Our Town America. Worse, some people dip into 401(k)s to foot the bill, Hanson said.
To find the best value on a move, get estimates from at least three movers. That way, "you know if one sticks out as being incredibly low or incredibly high," said Bisney. Be wary of especially low estimates—they could be a sign of a so-called rogue mover who will demand much higher rates once all your possessions are out of reach on the truck, he said.
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Check movers' licensing and reputation with sources such as AMSA and the Department of Transportation, which monitor interstate movers. For local crews, check in with state regulators. It's also smart to look for reviews and complaints on site such as the Better Business Bureau, Yelp, and Angie's List.
If possible, get move estimates in person rather than over the phone, so the mover can see how much stuff you have. That ensures a more accurate estimate and helps the mover strategize, said Reed. "Nobody wants the lawn mower on top of the hutch, or the dumbbells next to the TV," she said.
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Still, it's worth asking what factors could bump the estimate, and by how much. One Angie's List user was told the crew would use about a dozen blankets to wrap fragile items. They ended up using 42—adding an unexpected $350 to the bill, said Reed. Time spent packing, tough-to-navigate corners or stairs and more stuff than expected can also add to the cost.
Whether your mover charges by the hour or by volume, fewer items means a smaller bill. Take a hard look at your stuff while packing, and sell, donate or toss items that don't make the cut. That assessment is particularly important for long-haul moves, where you might spend more to move say, your old couch, than it's currently worth, said Hanson. "It makes sense to sell quite a bit of your furniture," he said. Make sure to update the movers if you're bringing less than expected.
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How you pack could also help shave costs. Full-service movers have long used plastic bins in lieu of cardboard boxes, said Bisney. The sturdy crates can cut moving time because they roll and can be easily stacked without worry that fragile dishes are under heavier books. Now, more companies are renting the bins for DIY moves.
At New York City-based Bin-It, two-week rentals start at $109 for 20 bins. That's comparable to what you'd spend on cardboard boxes, packing tape and other materials, said owner Rob Theryoung.
If you're moving for a job, it's worth asking if the company will pay for some or all of the move costs, said Hanson. Unreimbursed moving costs may qualify for a tax deduction when you file next year, too. According to the IRS, moving costs may be deductible if your move is due to starting a new job, and your new workplace is at least 50 miles farther from your old home than your old job was from that home. You'll also need to work full-time for at least 39 weeks during the first year after the move.