Truck vs. Shipping Container, DIY or Pro: What’s the Best Way to Move?

The moving industry has come a long way since the days of traversing the country in an Oregon Trail-style covered wagon. Options have expanded in ways our beleaguered ancestors never would have thought possible, but each route comes with its own set of tradeoffs.

“As soon as someone knows a move is in their future, they should start investigating their options,” says Linda Trevor, a top real estate agent in Cary, North Carolina. That means that if you’re putting your home on the market, you’ll need to start thinking about the details of your move as soon as possible.

The best movers are usually booked two to three months out, and some shipping container companies can even start to fill their summertime weekend schedules up to a year in advance.

Don’t let the pressure get to you; we researched the pros and cons of the different ways to get your stuff from A to B and spoke with professionals in the moving industry about the best way to move. We’ll walk you through how to:

  1. Pick your transportation method (moving container vs. truck)
  2. Figure out how much help you need (from a total DIY move to complete full service)

For the TL;DR version, remember these key takeaways:

  • Choose a shipping container for convenience and storage, but expect to pay more than you would for a truck.
  • Moving trucks offer more flexibility in timeline and budget—go this route if you need to save money or move at a swift pace if you have someone comfortable taking on the drive.
  • The level of moving service you need depends on your load, budget, ability to perform manual labor, and the distance of your move.
  • When in doubt, hire more service than you think you need.
A truck is the best way to move.
Source: (Mike Focus/ Shutterstock)

Pick your transportation method

First you’ll need to pick a transportation method for your move. Your stuff has to get to your new home, and as much as anyone would love to snap their fingers Mary Poppins-style and have everything appear in its destined place, the reality is you need four wheels, some kind of trailer, and gasoline to move a whole house.

Since about 35.5 million Americans need to figure out the logistics of moving each year, the market is full of good options for lots of different relocation scenarios.

Moving Container

Popular among movers who prioritize convenience and flexibility, shipping containers make it easy to move without the hassle of renting a vehicle.

The shipping container company will drop off your container, which is a large walk-in box (think: about 7’ to 16’ long by 8 ½’ tall) that you or your moving crew will fill up with your things. Then, the company will pick up the container, load it onto the back of a company flatbed, and deliver it to your desired location.

“Families who have extra time to move will usually find that containers offer an ideal scenario,” says Trevor.

“They can have the container delivered and they can at their leisure start to pack it themselves.”

Convenience comes at a cost, though. Here’s what you should consider when you’re thinking about renting a shipping container for your move.

Pros:

  • It’s convenient for busy sellers.
    Let’s face it—packing and unpacking your belongings is no fun, and doing it on a time crunch is even worse. When you move with a container, the shipping company will drop it off when you’re ready to start packing, and they’ll pick it up and deliver it when you’re ready to go. That leaves you with time and energy to focus on the issues that really need your attention during your move.
  • There’s no need to drive a large vehicle.
    Do you dread having to maneuver a moving truck through traffic, steep hills, and tight turns? When you use a shipping container, you don’t have to stress about mishaps or breakdowns in a large, unfamiliar vehicle. This makes the moving container an attractive option for long-distance moves. Just hop in your own car and meet your belongings when they’re dropped off at your new home.
  • You can use your container as storage.
    Since the shipping container industry norm is a month-to-month rental period, you can keep your container either on your property or elsewhere to store your things until they’re ready to be moved into your new home. This can be especially useful if your move-in date is later than your move-out date, so you won’t have to schlep your belongings into and out of a traditional storage facility.

Cons:

  • Shipping containers come with a higher price point.
    According to shipping container company PODS, renting one of their units for a local move typically costs an average of between $299 and $499; a longer move using PODS runs customers anywhere between $1,499 and $2,999 on average.

    In contrast, U-Haul starts their local truck moves at $19.99 plus gas, mileage and fees.The cost can also get away from you fast if you have to use multiple containers. For sellers on a budget, the higher price point of the container route might prevent them from feeling comfortable going that route for their move.

  • They’re not allowed in every neighborhood.
    One of the main attractions of shipping containers can also be one of the downfalls. Though it’s convenient to pack or unpack at your pace with a container set up right outside your home, homeowners associations and city regulations don’t always look kindly on their presence in the neighborhood.If you’re in a large city, you may need a permit to set up your container. Boston, for example, requires that movers obtain a street occupancy permit.

    Homeowners associations might have their own rules surrounding the use of storage pods. “Always check with the homeowner association for any rules that dictate how long a pod or a storage container can stay in the driveway,” says Trevor. That way, you’ll remain in good standing and won’t have to worry about the HOA or city officials knocking on your door.

  • You may not have access to your possessions.
    Until your belongings are unloaded into your new home, you won’t have easy access to anything in your container. This can pose an issue if you’re keeping your container off-site or if you’re not immediately moving into your new home, and also raises security concerns. You’ll need to take care to keep out the essentials and decide what you can and can’t live without until you’re able to unload your things in your new space.

Companies offering moving container services:

Renting a moving truck

When you rent a moving truck, you’re in the driver’s seat when it comes to getting your stuff from point A to point B. You pick up a truck at the company’s location, fill it up with your belongings, and drive it to your new home. You’ll spend anywhere from $140 to $1,000 less on average than you would renting a storage container (depending on how far you’re traveling), and seems like a straightforward way to handle the logistics of your move.

In reality, there are a lot of factors at play when considering whether a moving truck is the best way to move for your family. Here are a few of the main points to consider when you’re deciding whether to rent a truck.

Pros:

  • Lots of size options to choose from.
    One of the major draws of moving trucks is the flexibility you have in choosing which size to rent.

    Most moving truck companies offer at least 4 or 5 sizes to choose between, usually more; in contrast, the most versatile container companies offer just a few size options. Moving truck giant U-Haul, for example, offers 6 size choices ranging from cargo van to 26’; PODS offers just 3 options, none of which are longer than 16’.

  • You get to keep track of your own belongings.
    When you rent a moving truck, you’re in control of your possessions the entire time. That means it’s on you if something breaks, but it also means that you can take extra care to prevent that from happening. Plus, you can rest easy knowing that your entire home’s belongings won’t leave your control for the duration of the move.
  • Easy local pickup and drop-off.
    One of the great things about moving truck companies is how most of them have a ton of locations all over the country—and you can pick up and drop off your truck at any of them. You can rent a truck in Omaha and drop it off in Boston at no extra cost.

Cons:

  • Lots of hidden costs.
    It can be hard to estimate how much you’ll have to pay when you rent a truck for your move. On top of the initial rental fee, you’ll need to pay per mile, which can add up fast during the chaos of a move. Factor in costs like gas, insurance, and tolls, and the bill could tally up to be more than you anticipated.
  • Pressure from return deadlines.
    You’ll have to return the truck to by the deadline agreed to in the contract, or you’ll face a late fee. The time crunch could lead to extra stress in a situation that’s already high-pressure, and that’s a surefire recipe for a headache. If you don’t want to watch the clock on moving day and you’re not able to add a cushion of a day or two to your truck rental, skip the moving truck.
  • No storage option.
    Since they’re rented on a monthly basis, shipping containers give you the freedom to pick away at your move at your own pace. When you rent a moving truck, you don’t have that luxury; you’ll have to unpack immediately so you can return the truck.

    If you don’t love the idea of starting life in your new home maneuvering around boxes everywhere, renting a truck might not be the best way to move for you.

Companies offering moving truck services:

Plus, check out HomeLight’s guide to the top moving companies in the country.

A person moving the best way.
Source: (Shopify Partners/ Burst)

Decide how much help you’ll need

Whether you want to be active in your move or take a more hands-off approach, you have complete control over how involved you want to be in the nitty gritty work of moving. Here’s the full array of service options available to sellers planning a move.

Full service

If the idea of physical labor doesn’t appeal to you, hire a crew of movers so you don’t have to lift a finger. They’ll pack up your home, move your things, and set up your new space.

“Movers will save you a lot of time and do the job efficiently and quickly,” says Lior Rachmany, founder of NYC’s Dumbo Moving and Storage. “By doing an inventory of your possessions, they will establish how much space they will occupy in the moving truck, so there won’t be multiple trips to your old home and back.

“Also, you won’t be spending hours tracking your moving boxes, since professionals will take care of everything. In the meantime, you can handle other important tasks like changing your address, connecting utilities at your new home, and getting settled into your new neighborhood.”

It’s no secret that movers aren’t cheap, however. Local moves cost anywhere from $500 to $2,000 on average, depending on the size of your house, and long distance moves can easily reach upwards of $5,000. Still, the convenience is unmatched and can go a long way in alleviating the stress of your move.

Load and unload

You don’t have to commit to a full service experience to get a little help with your move from the pros.

“Instead of hiring a full-service moving company for thousands of dollars, people are hiring movers by the hour to simply load and unload a rental truck or a moving container,” says Mike Glanz, founder of HireAHelper.com. “By self-managing the transport and letting hired laborers do all the heavy lifting, it puts moving within a more reasonable price range for people. A full-service move normally costing $2,600 could be done for $800 using the hybrid approach.”

Budget-conscious sellers who don’t want to put hours of backbreaking work on moving day should hire professional help with loading and unloading. It’s the best of what each approach has to offer.

Total DIY

For movers on a budget who don’t love the idea of strangers handling their possessions, luring your buddies over with pizza and doing the whole move yourselves might be the most attractive option.

When you DIY a move, you have more control over the schedule. You’re there to keep a close eye on your valuable items, and you’ll be able to keep track of where everything is located. Plus, you’ll save some serious cash by doing everything yourself.

Not sure where to start? Check out Homelight’s guide to making your move easier for tips, including what you’ll need to grab from the hardware store to help ensure a smooth move.

What factors will influence how much you need to hire out?

Once you’re familiar with the options, you’ll need to figure out what your situation will require in terms of hired assistance during your move.

Some of the factors to consider when deciding how much outside help you’ll need include:

  • How much stuff you have
  • The timeline for your move
  • Your budget
  • Physical labor required (like heavy lifting)
  • What you’re comfortable outsourcing

After you’ve assessed your needs, it’s time to make a decision about the best way to move your belongings to your new home. If you’re struggling with the options, consider your circumstances.

While you might be able to get away with enlisting a buddy and doing it yourself if you’re moving out of a smaller-sized home with limited stairs, a larger home with lots of furniture on multiple floors will require a little more professional finesse. When all else fails and you’re truly on the fence, it’s wise to get more help than you think you’ll need.

A person deciding the best way to move.
Source: (Lonely Planet/ Unsplash)

Which route should you choose? It all depends on you

Shipping container or moving truck? Full service or DIY? Ultimately, it’s up to you to weigh out the options and figure out what makes sense for your situation.

“Research both, figure out the pros and cons, make sure you consider budget, time and physical labor,” says Trevor. “Explore options, talk with family and friends to figure out what might be the ideal situation.”

Once you identify what methods most appeal to your moving priorities, you can make your choices confidently and get into your new home without a hitch.

Header Image Source: (KML/ Pexels)

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