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How to hire movers

A step-by-step guide to getting from here to there hassle-free

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    image of two men moving a couch and one man moving an armchair

    Most of us have to face the task of moving at some point in our lives. In 2021, the U.S. Census found that 27.1 million Americans changed residences at some point throughout the year.

    Even though millions of people hire help to move their belongings each year, entrusting your possessions to a mover can be a challenge. You can successfully hire movers by doing thorough research, asking detailed questions and watching out for common moving pitfalls and red flags.

    Key insights

    • Start organizing your move by deciding if you want to move and pack yourself or hire professional movers.
    • If you hire movers, interview several companies to compare rates, and be sure the company you choose is licensed and insured.
    • Thoroughly review your moving estimate and check that a company rep has signed the document before you sign.
    • Be present during the move or have a trusted representative supervise the move for you to note if anything is lost or damaged.

    Using a moving company for the first time

    Hiring a mover for the first time? Selecting the right mover may feel overwhelming, but there are clear steps you can take to find the best company for a safe and affordable move.

    What type of mover do you need?

    Before you start reaching out to moving companies, think about the type of move you’re making. Do you have a four-bedroom home or a one-bedroom apartment? Are you moving within your town or city or to another state? Do you own a lot of heavy or fragile items, or are you a minimalist?

    With that information, you can start to research the different ways to move, which will help you decide next steps. There are several methods to get your possessions from your old home to your new one, which we’ve outlined below.

    Moving brokers

    When you start researching moving companies, you’ll quickly find two top options: moving brokers (sometimes listed under “moving brokerage”) and moving companies. The differences between the two can be confusing, and company websites often aren’t transparent about them.

    A moving broker can find a good moving company for you, but it doesn’t perform the move itself.

    Put simply, moving brokers are companies that oversee your move without doing any of the actual moving themselves. Brokerages don’t own any moving equipment, like dollies or trucks, and they don’t employ moving staff. Rather, brokers act as a go-between for you and the moving company they find to physically perform your move.

    You can think of a moving broker like a wedding planner: They get quotes from a variety of companies and oversee the whole move for you, from loading the truck to unpacking boxes.

    The main reason to use a broker is you can potentially save money by comparing competitive rates among movers. A downside? Moving brokers often aren’t local and operate from call centers in various parts of the country. And even though brokers can find and compare rates for you, you may still end up paying just as much as you would’ve working directly with a carrier.

    Moving companies

    Also known as a “for-hire carrier,” a moving company owns trucks and has a staff of professional movers. These are experts who move households day in and day out. The company will send a professional moving expert to your home to give you a quote.

    Many moving companies also have a presence nationwide. Local companies that are part of a larger chain can be helpful if you’re moving out of state. You won’t have to worry about a local truck getting back to its base camp.

    However, without a broker to help you coordinate your move, you will have to be more hands-on when you work with a moving company.

    Full-service movers can pack, load, ship, unload and unpack your belongings for you — though this service can be expensive.
    • Full-service movers: A full-service mover will pack your possessions for you, down to your cutlery drawer. If you need to move quickly or have a busy, demanding life, a full-service mover can be a huge timesaver. Professional movers have the proper materials and skills to get packing done quickly and efficiently. Full-service movers also know how to pack fragile items like artwork and mirrors.

      You may want to make sure you’re present for the packing of any special heirlooms or antiques. While movers are trained experts, it's crucial to make sure fragile items don’t get damaged during packing. Full-service movers also can unpack for you based on your directions. The main drawback to full-service movers? They cost quite a bit more than movers who simply move your possessions from point A to point B.

    • Container companies: You’ve likely seen moving containers plunked on the street or in someone’s driveway. These containers are delivered to your home by specialized companies. Moving containers come in varying sizes, and you pack them yourself at your own speed (depending on how long you have the container). Once you’re done packing, the company picks up the container and brings it to your new home.

      With containers, you can pack and unpack over several days or weeks. They’re generally less expensive than using a moving company, but the biggest drawback is their size. If your home is large, you may not be able to fit all your things into one container. If you live in a city, a container on the street while you unload may not be feasible for long — their placement may also be restricted by your local community or homeowners association.

    • Truck companies: A truck company is exactly what it sounds like: a company that owns and rents trucks. A truck company provides no other service when it comes time for your move.

      You will have to rent the truck, drive the truck and return the truck when your move is done. Renting your own truck to complete your move can often save you money, but make sure to account for not only the cost of the truck, but also the time and energy you’ll spend renting, packing and driving yourself. Keep in mind you may also have to rent moving equipment, like dollies and straps, to secure your items in the truck.

    Are you making a short or long-distance move?

    Are you moving across town, across state lines or across the county? This will help narrow down which mover is appropriate for your relocation.

    A short-term move generally falls into one of two categories. There are local moves, which are generally within 50 to 100 miles of your current home, and there are short-distance moves, which are 100 to 400 miles long.

    Movers generally charge by the hour and mileage for short-distance moves, so you can expect to pay for the move once the hours and/or miles are tallied. Note that the cost of gas may also get added to the final bill.

    Relocations of around 400 miles or greater are typically considered long-distance moves. Also known as long-haul moves, these are typically billed at a flat rate rather than by the mile. A long-distance mover will give you an estimated bill before the move is completed; there may be extras, such as gas and tools, added to the bill once the truck gets to its destination.

    You may get an hourly or flat rate

    Moving companies operate with a variety of rate plans, from flat rates to hourly rates. Some movers also charge by the total volume of your items. How a company’s rates are structured is an important question to ask to make sure you understand how and what you’re being billed for.

    Short-term movers generally bill by the hour and/or mileage, and movers usually have an hourly minimum to make the job worth their while.

    Longer-distance movers typically charge a flat rate that factors in how much you’re moving, the distance of the move and fuel costs.

    What to expect when hiring movers

    Working with a good mover makes changing homes go smoothly. The process should start with a phone call or an email to establish the parameters of your move, including where you’re going and the number of belongings you’re taking. Then a company rep comes to your home to inventory your items. Once that’s done, they give you a bid on the total cost of moving.

    “Always look for bonded, insured movers,” said Nick Valentino, vice president of market operations at Bellhop, a moving company. “This is a great hedge against a bad moving experience. Most companies that can afford bonding and insurance tend to be successful and well-established, so you can have confidence in the quality of service you'll receive.”

    One ConsumerAffairs reviewer in Marshall, Texas, said the moving company they worked with recently “was transparent and courteous, the driver was on time, delivery was on time, and I was advised in advance, and my belongings well cared for.”

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      7 tips for hiring movers

      There are many reputable movers out there that can keep your move headache-free — but there are also horror stories of possessions being held hostage by movers until additional fees are paid. How can you make sure you find the right movers for a (relatively) painless move?

      1. Do your research and get multiple quotes

      Avoid moving pitfalls by doing research and getting quotes from multiple moving companies. “I can’t overstate the importance of taking the time to thoroughly research your options and speak with movers to understand their process,” said Charlene Wilde, senior vice president and assistant secretary at the American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association.

      Wilde has moved many times, both during her career in the Army and as an active-duty spouse while her husband was serving. “If you haven’t used movers in your area before, ask friends or family for recommendations,” she said. “Before engaging with a potential moving company, Google them to find reviews and more details. I always check Google reviews, Yelp and social media to make sure the company is reputable and that previous customers have had positive experiences.”

      I can’t overstate the importance of taking the time to thoroughly research your options and speak with movers to understand their process.”
      — Charlene Wilde, senior vice president, American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association

      2. Make sure they do a walkthrough and inventory your items

      Prior to any move, short or long, have the movers come well before your moving day to walk through all the rooms in your home and inventory your possessions. A professional mover can estimate how many boxes you’ll need on moving day and how much room your furniture will take up on the truck.

      Most professional movers provide this service free of charge, so don’t hesitate to get several estimates before deciding on a mover. Note that it's generally a good idea to get rid of any items you don’t plan to take with you at this point. You don’t want to be charged for moving an office chair you plan to donate to a thrift store. An inventory list will also help the company figure out how many movers they need to load and unload your truck.

      3. Never pay in advance

      If a moving company asks for full payment upfront, that’s a major red flag — don’t work with it. With moving services, you pay at the end; all trustworthy moving companies adhere to this policy.

      Keep in mind that a reputable moving company may still ask for a deposit upfront. This is for blocking off time for your move, hiring the right number of movers and ensuring you won’t cancel at the last minute — it's a standard practice and shouldn't cause you any alarm.

      4. Check the company’s licensing and history on BBB

      In general, local movers are required to be licensed with the state where they work. If you’re moving between states, the company or broker you choose must be registered with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). You can search its database for proper licensing and insurance. Don’t use movers or brokers that don’t show U.S. DOT numbers or MC Docket numbers online or in their advertisements.

      5. Get everything in writing

      Never accept only verbal estimates, and never sign a contract that’s not fully filled out. Before you move, the company you choose must provide a written estimate that describes what services it will provide and a price quote for those services. The estimate should include the dates of pickup and delivery.

      Before you sign, make sure the mover has previously signed the document. If you sign the estimate and the mover doesn’t, you won’t have a binding contract. Another crucial item you should have if you’re moving states is a booklet titled “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move.” All movers operating interstate are required by the FMCSA to provide this information.

      6. Consider your insurance options

      Make sure your moving company is licensed and insured — and NEVER pay in full for a move upfront.

      Your move requires some type of insurance. All movers provide liability insurance, meaning if something happens to your items over the course of the move — whether an item goes missing or gets damaged — the company is liable for it. Always ask to see a company’s certificate of insurance and look for cargo coverage.

      If you’re moving states, interstate movers are required under federal law to offer full-value protection and released value protection.

      Full-value protection is just what it sounds like: If anything gets lost or damaged in your move, you’re reimbursed for the entire value, or the mover repairs or replaces the item. This is the costliest insurance option but may be worth it if you’re moving lots of valuable items.

      A less expensive alternative is released value insurance. With this type of insurance, a mover is responsible for paying 60 cents per pound for anything lost or damaged. If you have particularly pricey belongings, you can also purchase additional insurance from a third-party insurance company.

      7. Ask about additional services

      Movers can do a lot more than pick up a box in one home and set it down in another. Moving companies offer a wide variety of services that can make your move even easier, so don’t forget to ask your movers about these services.

      They may also provide materials, like boxes and tape, or reusable plastic tubs to pack your belongings in. Movers sometimes can even unhook and hook up any appliances you’re moving and disassemble and reassemble furniture.

      How much do movers cost?

      The exact cost of your move comes down to several factors: how many items you’re moving, the distance of your move and the difficulty (if you live four flights up, for instance, your move will cost more). In general, you can count on paying an average of $80 to $100 per hour for a team of two local movers. Things like packing materials or extra insurance will cost more.

      Moving interstate tends to average from $2,500 to $10,000. The exact price will come down to the distance you’re moving and the total weight or volume of your belongings. The median rate for an interstate move is around 50 cents per pound and about 75 cents per mile, though prices vary by company. Often, the distance of a move can affect the per-mile rate.

      The total cost of your move also varies on the time of the year you're relocating. The busiest months for movers are in the summer — usually between May and August. These months are generally busy because families with children want to get settled into their homes before a new school year begins.

      Be careful before you start plugging your information into online websites promising an estimate. Your information will likely be sent to moving companies and brokers, meaning you’ll get a bunch of calls with sales pitches.

      Another tip: Think about any heavy or bulky items you intend to move. Does it make sense to pay to move these items, or would it be more cost-effective to sell or donate them, then buy them locally once you’ve moved?

      Do you tip movers?

      Tipping is a gesture of goodwill you should consider if your movers did a professional job and delivered your belongings to your new home with care.

      If you decide to tip, a rule of thumb is to give about $50 to $100 to each crew member for a full-day move. Some people also hand out the amount they’d offer for good service in a restaurant, about 15% to 20% of the total bill.

      How much does it cost to move a piano?

      Moving a piano requires great skill and delicacy due to the instrument’s fine tuning and uneven weight. As a result, professional piano movers are often called in to move the instrument. The national average cost to move a piano is about $400, but that price can vary greatly depending on the piano’s size and weight as well as the distance it must travel.

      How much does it cost to move a pod?

      The cost of moving a pod or container depends on the size of the container and the distance between homes.

      Expect to pay from $200 to $900 for a short move and anywhere from $450 to $8,000 for a longer-haul move that requires multiple pods for large homes.

      How much does it cost to rent a truck for a day?

      You may prefer to move yourself, which will cost you time and effort — and probably the price of a moving truck. A 15-foot truck (which can move a one-bedroom house) starts at about $20 a day. You will also pay for each mile you drive and for insurance. Note that this price may double if you rent a 26-foot truck.

      When comparing prices, remember to note whether the cost is for a truck with a ramp or a lift gate. A lift gate (a platform that folds out of the truck and automatically moves up and down) will generally make a move a bit easier. The extra cost may be worth it if it saves you having to walk up a ramp with heavy objects.

      Bottom line

      Moving can be stressful. To make your move as smooth as possible, start by hiring reputable, trusted movers. You can ask family and friends for recommendations or research companies online. Always check to see if a moving company is licensed with the state for a local move and with the federal DOT for a long-haul move across state lines.

      To make the moving process as painless as possible and to save money, get rid of items you no longer use or need, and consider getting additional insurance to protect the total value of your items in case of loss or damage.

      ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. To learn more about the content on our site, visit our FAQ page. Specific sources for this article include:
      1. U.S. Census Bureau, “U.S. Migration Continued to Decline from 2020 to 2021.” Accessed Oct. 14, 2022.
      2. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, “Movers vs. Brokers.” Accessed Oct. 14, 2022.
      3. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, “Protect Your Move.” Accessed Oct. 24, 2022.
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