How to best move across the country?
June 8, 2005 5:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm planning on moving from North Carolina to Austin, Texas in about 10 weeks, but am wary of hiring lousy movers or making some critical mistake, including paying too much! Any advice or best practices? Anything that I should avoid?
posted by skechada to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This site appears to be helpful.
posted by herc at 5:57 PM on June 8, 2005

Use a national company.
Get the better liability if you have valuable things, since the standard liability is worthless ($0.60/lb or something like that).
Treat your movers well at the pickup (Doughnuts, coffee, and a decent tip) and they'll take better care of your things at the other end.
If you don't have a lot of stuff, inquire about sharing a truck with another move going in the same direction.
Take any valuable papers and the like with you, don't put them on the truck.

And last, but not least, check all cabinets, drawers, etc for missing pets.
posted by madajb at 6:00 PM on June 8, 2005

For a major move -- several rooms of things, which would need a truck larger than you can drive yourself -- go with a company that will come out and do an on-site estimate. You may get lower quotes from online firms based on your "self-reported" goods, only to get charged for extra poundage or square footage before you can get back your goods. Get estimates from at least 3 companies. Look over those estimates for errors, because what looks like an error in your favor before the move can become an additional charge later on. The Internet quotes I got were very, very shady and laden with idiosyncracies; the local quotes I got were not but varied widely in price.

Check with the local BBB. No moving company is entirely clean, because they're in a business where things will invariably go wrong, but it's easy to tell the difference between a company with 4 and a company with 35 complaints. If the company isn't listed, forget it.

Save money by packing yourself instead of letting them do it. Get cereal boxes from the grocery store or liquor boxes from the liquor store.

I went with Bekins for my recent cross-country move, primarily because they were the most responsive regarding some very tight moving deadlines -- it was surprising how inflexible most companies were regarding when they'll pick up your stuff and show up with your stuff in the new location. Bekins was both reasonably priced and able to guarantee specific dates, which they made good on.
posted by eschatfische at 6:02 PM on June 8, 2005

Plan carefully! We got hosed on our last move because we neglected to obtain the necessary permits for the truck to park on the street during the drop-off. They had to park remotely and cart everything over in a smaller truck. So find out how big the truck is going to be, whether a truck that size can park adjacent to your places (new and old), whether any permits are needed for this parking, etc.

The other thing that (almost) got us was the estimated amount of time the move would take. The company that arranged the move told us one thing, the driver told us something entirely different (something like 3 days less). Try to be as flexible as possible with your arrival date, since you won't be able to talk to the driver until the day of the move. On preview, a company that guarentees specific dates would not be a bad thing.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:19 PM on June 8, 2005

Talk to the driver when they show up and find out if they'll personally be delivering your stuff at your new place (our first move this wasn't the case, the second one it was). If they will be, exchange cell phone numbers so that you can stay in touch with each other - the dispatcher was consistently the last to know when we moved back to Illinois from Texas last year.

In both cases, we took off when the truck was loaded, drove through to the new town, found a new place to lease and then notified the movers what the delivery address was. They took it all in stride and it saved us the expense of a flight out and back to locate a new place. That's when having the driver's cell phone number really paid off. We were only in a hotel awaiting delivery of our stuff for three days when we moved to Texas and two days when we moved back.
posted by jperkins at 7:02 PM on June 8, 2005

If your able/willing to do the load/unload look into Door to Door. They drop off containers on your street. You fill 'em up. They truck them to your new house and you unload. We're using them for a BOS -> PDX move this fall.
posted by rschroed at 7:07 PM on June 8, 2005

Careful of Door to Door (and City to City, their interstate counterpart). We used them from DC to Santa Fe, and although they were cheaper and much less hassle than renting a U-Haul, they did overcharge us as every single step - it almost became a joke after about the third time - despite what the contract clearly stated, and we only got it sorted out (plus extra for our troubles) after about a million phone calls. If you use them, stay on top of them at every step. They use local companies to drop off and pick up, and subcontracting seems to dilute responsibility.
posted by gottabefunky at 7:31 PM on June 8, 2005

An addendum to the in-house estimate bit: be sure that they'll guarantee the estimate. Otherwise, you're still likely to be hit with additional charges.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:49 PM on June 8, 2005

I've used u-pack / ABF and a similar company with good results. You load, they drive, you unload. Moving a 2-bedroom house and academic office from Chapel Hill to D/FW ran me ~$1100.

If you don't have friends, underlings, or grad students at one end to help you unload, just call a local moving company there and you can hire a crew.

Upside: you pay by linear feet, not weight, which is a bit harder for Bad Apples to fudge since you can check it your own damn self with high-tech tools like a tape measure.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:24 PM on June 8, 2005

be sure that they'll guarantee the estimate.

I just hired a mover for a cross-country relocation -- from my experience, the moving company will not "guarantee" or give you a "binding estimate".

What they give you is what they call a "not to exceed estimate", which basically means that they will not go over the estimate price UNLESS there are unforeseen circumstances that require it. [cough] Such as, you tried to slip something in that pushed the weight estimate off, or they are required to use a shuttle because they can't get the big truck on your street, and so on.

Anyway, choose one of the big carriers and then look up the local agent moving company they assign to you at the Better Business Bureau website. The big carriers use local moving companies to load/unload your goods, arrange all the paperwork, payment, etc. I believe the only real contact you'll have with the big carrier itself is the driver and their truck -- everyone else is from that local moving company.

When they come out to do your estimate, they'll probably have a handheld scanner and will be using a barcode sheet to scan off items/furniture in your home to get the weight estimate. Don't let them miss anything -- everything depends on the weight. There was a 1000lbs. difference between the two estimates I got, and they were both using the same handheld scanner to inventory my stuff to estimate weight. Perhaps one agent was trying to lowball the other on the estimate. (?)

If you are also shipping a vehicle do it separately via an auto transport service -- both moving companies I talked to told me not to ship my car through them because it would be more expensive. (They were right.)
posted by jca at 11:48 PM on June 8, 2005

Forgot to mention: fuel charges on the moving estimate were at 12% and may be higher by the time you move.
posted by jca at 11:50 PM on June 8, 2005

I recommend selling everything you own except your car and what you can haul in it, and buying all new stuff on the other side.
posted by Laen at 12:42 AM on June 9, 2005

Best answer: I moved from Boston to DC six years ago, and I'm moving from DC to Kansas City next month; I have the following advice (which may or may not echo some already given):

1. Full service movers quoted me around $2k for the move to DC and I was hit with an additional $600 on arrival for going over the estimated weight. However, these guys were unbelievable; had me out of a 3-floor, 16 room house which I shared with two other people (who were not moving) in under 3 hours. They arrived right when they said they would on both sides, moved everything in where I wanted it and set up the bed for me, and were done and gone in under 3 hours again. Something small (I can't remember what) was left on the truck, and they brought it back a few days later on their way back through town. If you aren't going to have people on one end (or either) to help you out, I'd recommend this route, and if you want I can give you the name of this particular mover; my email is in my profile.

2. This time around I'm going to have help at both ends, so I went with a "you pack, we drive" service. This is going to be long, so settle in.

First I looked into the containers. They quoted me over $2k, and could not guarantee when the pod would be picked up or delivered after I filled it. Also, I live in an apartment building now and I can't have a pod sitting in the loading dock for three days, and leaving it on the street is pointless.

I then looked into renting a truck with a trailer on the back to drive my car - still over $2k (with one of the national carriers) and that didn't include gas. Next.

Then I started looking into the "you pack, we drive" deals. There are several out there, but many of them share the same idea as the pods - they will leave a freight trailer (!) at your place for up to three days, and you fill the space you need. The rest of the trailer can be filled with just about anything that needs to be sent cross-country; but yours will be the ONLY moving load. They do mean anything - circus animals (this has apparently happened), food, dry goods, etc. And, it is a freight trailer, not a moving van.

I finally went with a company that uses air-ride moving vans; they only carry people's furniture; the driver brings the truck, waits while you load it and drives the truck to your place (although he may be making stops along the way) - same driver. They gave me a FIRM price based on the number of linear space used (estimated by me considering the size of my current place and what I'm bringing with me) and set a schedule in case you go over, so you'll know how much per extra foot of space used. The only caveat is that if you're the last stop, there may not be any additional space left. They have given me a week-long window of delivery, which will be narrowed and confirmed by the driver at the time of pick up. And, that firm price is around $1500.

The only thing I'm planning is that I'm putting in the stuff I really want to get there first, and anything that doesn't fit in the linear space I've booked is going into the dumpster (or in my car). The other drawback is if you book 6 feet and only use 5, there is no refund.

Obviously I can't tell you how it's worked out, but I can tell you that the company reps I have dealt with have been very polite, helpful and communicative, and I have good vibes so far. Again, if you're interested in who it is, I'm happy to correspond by email, I'm not comfortable shilling in thread, it makes it sound like I work for them or something.
posted by jennaratrix at 6:11 AM on June 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'm looking to do a full-service move soon (we don't have people to help us pack/unpack). A question, if I could tack it on -- how much do you tip movers? do you:
- tip the packers?
- tip the people who load into the truck?
- tip the people who unload from the truck at your destination?
- tip the driver?
I hate the whole tipping thing in the US -- drives me nuts!
posted by j at 6:17 AM on June 9, 2005

jennaratix, is your company BroadwayExpress? They tend to be very highly regarded -- though they, too, pull up to your place with a 70-foot trailer, which can be somewhat difficult to park in a residential neighborhood.
posted by herc at 8:10 AM on June 9, 2005

I'm looking to do a full-service move soon (we don't have people to help us pack/unpack)

It might be worth calling local movers at each end -- ask around with current and future employers -- and ask how much a small crew for half a day would cost. Crew + you-load + crew might still work out cheaper than full-service. Can't hurt to ask, anyhow.

Having packers seems like a racket to me, unless you're disabled in some way. You're paying people to put stuff into boxes. Boxes themselves are free from libraries, liquor stores, and grocery stores. Putting things into boxes is easy, and can be done over several weeks as you're preparing to move. And doing it yourself is the only way you'll ever get the boxes accurately labeled as to room and contents. But then, when we move there are ~30 liquor boxes full of books, so having them labeled correctly is a godsend as it makes them easier to reshelve correctly.

Normally I would tip the head of the crew (whoever gives you paperwork to sign), which might well be the driver. I'd tip enough so that each could get a cheap lunch, or a cheap 12-pack. At least if they're busting ass, which they probably will.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:43 AM on June 9, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the answers so far... it sounds like whichever way I go it'll be an ordeal. I'll be moving from my 1 bedroom condo (in a complex) to an apartmetnt, so I don't know if the pod/trailer option will work. Still, it hurts to drop $2500 on the move alone, but if it's got to be done, it's gotta be done. Any other advice or cautionary tales are much appreciated. :)
posted by skechada at 7:37 PM on June 9, 2005

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