According to U.S. Census data, 8% of Americans in 2021 lived in a different place than they’d lived a year earlier. That means nearly one in 10 Americans packed up and moved in a one-year period!
That high rate of relocation could partially explain today’s overheated housing market. Tens of millions of Americans have found a good real estate agent, sold their home, and bought a new house somewhere else. But as good as this moving boom has been for real estate brokerages, it’s been even better for movers — one national moving company, Oncue, saw its revenue rise by 81% in 2022.
With so many options to choose from, it can be tough to decide which mover to hire. But an honest assessment of your needs, as well as a good idea of what to look for (and avoid) in a mover can help you make the right decision. Let’s go over the top 25 things you should know before you hire movers!
1. What Type of Mover Do You Need?
If you’re moving within the city you live in, or even within the state, you’ll have a lot of options, including independent movers you can find through services like Taskrabbit or on websites like Craigslist. While independent movers may not have as much experience as full-time professionals, they can also save you quite a bit of money, and often provide a top-quality service. Think of them as the mover equivalent to a 2% commission real estate agent.
However, if you’re moving out of state, you’ll need interstate movers. Interstate movers have unique experience and qualifications, and specialize in long-distance moves. They’ll provide a vehicle and driver, and have their own unique fee table and menu of services.
2. How Many Services Do You Need?
Before you hire a professional mover, you should assess how much help you actually need. If you’re a young single person just moving a couple miles, maybe you just need a couple of movers to help you with the sofa. If you’re a family moving across the state or country, you might need movers to do the packing, loading, and driving.
Some movers offer a deluxe, door-to-door experience that includes all the necessary moving supplies, packing, driving, and loading and unloading the truck. Others may only do loading and unloading, leaving the packing, unpacking and driving to you. Many interstate movers only do the driving, leaving everything else to you. The bottom line is that you should know exactly what you need before you start shopping around.
3. What Is Your Budget?
Knowing how much you can spend will allow you to focus on realistic options, as well as help you avoid overpaying.
Local movers generally charge by the hour, with an average fee of $90 to $120 an hour for a two-person crew plus a truck. According to Forbes, the average local move of less than 100 miles typically costs $1,400, with a range of $800 to $2,500.
Long-distance moves are generally charged a flat fee, with potential overage fees, and cost quite a bit more. According to Forbes, long distance moves cost an average of $2,200 to $5,700. Of course, this doesn’t include the cost of transporting yourself to your destination! If you’re buying a new house at your destination, try and negotiate a home buyer’s rebate, which can put money back in your pocket for costs like moving when you need it most.
4. What Is the Approximate Total Size and Weight of Your Belongings?
Long-distance movers typically charge by weight, so knowing how much your belongings weigh will enable you to get more accurate estimates when you’re comparison shopping among movers.
The way professional movers weigh your move is that the empty truck is weighed, all your belongings are loaded on, and then the truck is weighed again. The difference between the two figures is what you’re charged for. This method ensures an accurate measurement.
5. How Far Are You Moving?
The general rule is that for moves over 100 miles, or interstate moves, movers will charge you by weight. But for intrastate moves of fewer than 100 miles, some movers could charge you by distance, so it can be helpful to know exactly how far you’re moving.
6. Is Your Mover a Rogue Mover?
While mover fraud is rare, it does happen. When assessing the trustworthiness of a mover, there are a few potential red flags to look for.
If the price is a lot lower than competing movers, it’s probably too good to be true. If they demand payment upfront, or if they won’t quote you an estimate until you’ve already loaded the truck, be wary. If they don’t have a physical office (not a P.O. Box), or any positive online reviews, they might be a rogue mover.
7. What’s Your Mover’s Registration Number?
8. What Do Your Mover’s Online Reviews Say?
As with any other business, online reviews can be very insightful. Look at reviews on websites such as Yelp, Google, Facebook, Trustpilot, and others to see what kind of experience previous customers had. If you can’t find any online reviews for a mover, be wary of them.
9. Have You Gotten Multiple Bids From Multiple Movers?
Although most movers adhere to a fairly standardized fee system of hourly or distance-based rates for local moves and a weight-based rate for long distance moves, there’s still a lot of variance between movers.
Add-ons like moving supplies, overtime, or loading and unloading might be free, or might cost hundreds of dollars, depending on a mover’s policies. Comparison shopping could save you a lot of money! It could also help to let each mover know you’re gathering estimates from multiple movers, so they give you their most competitive price. Basically, you should try and negotiate lower moving fees just like you’d negotiate a lower real estate commission!
10. Will Your Mover Provide a Free Estimate?
It’s pretty standard for a mover to offer you a free estimate. Any mover who tries to charge you for an estimate, or asks for a deposit before giving you an estimate, should be treated with suspicion.
Help movers give you an accurate estimate by preparing in advance information like the number of boxes and large items you’ll have, the approximate weight of your belongings, the distance you’re moving, and the dates you’re looking to reserve.
11. Can Your Mover Do an In-House Survey?
The gold standard for mover estimates is the in-house survey, during which a mover will come to your home, look at the things you need transported, and offer you an estimate based on what they see. Estimates resulting from in-house surveys are much more accurate than estimates based on information you give over the phone or text, and are less prone to later increases.
12. Is Your Mover’s Estimate Binding?
The best estimate to get is the binding estimate, which means that the mover agrees to the fee named in the estimate, and won’t add on any extra fees or charges. You’ll need to get a binding estimate in writing, and it’ll need to be signed by you and your mover.
Keep in mind that the binding estimate works both ways. If your mover shows up on the day of the move and you have a larger or a different load than was specified in the binding estimate, they’ll have the right to refuse service.
13. Does Your Mover Charge Extra or Hidden Fees?
If you didn’t get a binding estimate, ask about what fees could be added onto your final bill, on top of the basic fee for the move.
Some additional fees that movers could charge include fuel fees, equipment fees (for using equipment like dollies or hand trucks), packing material fees, stair or elevator fees, waiting or storage fees, furniture assembly and disassembly fees, and many others. Getting tagged with a few of these extras could easily double or triple your total bill, so try to get a sense of what charges you could incur before your actual move.
14. Does Your Mover Use Subcontractors?
Some moving companies use subcontractors for a portion of the move — for example, for unloading at the destination. But subcontractors aren’t employees of the moving company you contracted with, and aren’t subject to the same regulations and standards. This can lead to problems, especially if the subcontractors do a subpar job. Many experts advise looking for a mover that doesn’t use subcontractors for part of your move.
If you do opt for a mover that uses subcontractors, look for one that uses insured subcontractors, which will mitigate at least some of the risk.
15. Will There Be Additional Transfers?
Some long distance movers transfer your belongings to a different vehicle for certain legs of the transport. Unloading and reloading increases the risk that your belongings could be damaged or lost, so it’s recommended that you look for movers that won’t do any additional transfers.
16. Does Your Mover Offer Insurance?
Movers generally offer two types of insurance. (Licensed interstate movers are required to offer both.)
The first type is Released Value Protection, which covers no more than 60 cents per pound per article. This is a very minimal level of coverage, and won’t cover anywhere near the full value of any damaged goods. However, it’s usually included free with your move.
The second type is Full Value Protection, which will cover the full replacement value of lost or damaged goods, but will have to be purchased separately from your moving fee.
Some apartment buildings will need to see proof of mover insurance before they let you move in, to protect against on-site liability.
17. Do You Need Additional Insurance Coverage?
Whether you need additional insurance is going to depend on a lot of factors — for example, how valuable and delicate are your belongings? How far are you moving? How experienced are your movers? What do their reviews say about damage to client belongings? How much will additional full coverage cost?
18. Does Your Mover Offer Packing Services?
If your mover offers packing services, ask for some details about how they organize things. How will boxes be labeled — by room or by their contents? Will furniture be shrink-wrapped or padded? Will you be charged extra for these services or materials, or are they included in the moving fee?
19. How Does Your Mover Handle Complaints or Damage Claims?
Most movers will provide a partial history of past complaints and claims, including how they chose to resolve those claims. This will give you an idea of the quality of their moving services and their customer service. If their responses to the complaints seem unsatisfactory, ask them for details or consider using a different mover.
You could also just ask how many complaints they’ve received in the past year, and make your judgment from there.
20. Can Your Mover Provide Referrals From Past Customers?
Referrals or testimonials can be even more insightful than online reviews, so a mover that can refer you to satisfied clients probably has nothing to hide. If your mover does provide referrals, take the time to contact the previous clients and ask them detailed questions about their experience — how their overall move went, what went right and what went wrong, what they wished had gone differently, how they felt about their final bill, etc.
21. Does Your Mover Appear in Any Complaint Registries?
Any complaints filed against movers with the FMCSA will show up in that mover’s public record. You can look up individual movers using their Department of Transportation license number to get a sense of whether or not they’ve had a lot of complaints filed against them.
You should also look up your mover’s Better Business Bureau page to see if any past clients have filed BBB complaints against them. If they have, these complaints will often contain specific details of why those clients were unsatisfied with the services they received, and give you a potential road map for avoiding problems.
22. Does Your Mover Have Specialized Expertise or Experience?
If you’re moving delicate, valuable, or specialized items like fine art or a piano, you should seek out movers who have demonstrable past experience moving those items. For example, there are movers who specialize in moving pianos, and will have the proper equipment, expertise, and insurance to move a piano into a million dollar house without damaging either one.
Asking a generalized mover to carry out a delicate move can result not only in damage, but damage that may not be covered by their standard insurance policy.
23. When Does Your Mover Want to Be Paid?
You should pay your mover when they deliver your belongings at your destination. Be wary of movers who ask for payment upfront, or ask for a large deposit.
If you received a binding estimate, you’ll be expected to pay in full upon delivery. If you can’t, the mover will have the right to put your belongings in storage until they’ve received full payment, and you can be charged for the cost of that storage.
24. What Kind of Vehicles Does Your Mover Use?
Movers generally use vans (panel vans, parcel vans, or city vans) or trucks (straight trucks or tractor-trailers or semis). Each type of vehicle has a different carrying capacity, so you’ll want to make sure your mover has the appropriate vehicle for your belongings.
It’s not professional for your mover to use their personal vehicle for your move, so you should steer clear of this type of mover unless you’re doing a very simple, short-distance move — and paying a very affordable fee.
25. Will Your Mover Provide Everything In Writing?
If you received a binding estimate, it should be in writing, signed by you and your mover, and you should each get a copy. But even if you didn’t receive a binding estimate, you should ask for an estimate in writing, along with a general timetable for the move, as well as a list of potential extra fees. This will make it less likely that you’ll be hit with a huge overage at your destination, or have to wait an extended period of time for your belongings to arrive.