Planning a cross country move? Then you’ve probably already started to crunch numbers and dial in the tedious details involved. While any move is stressful, there’s a big difference between swapping houses in the neighborhood and planning a major coast to coast move.
Such a drastic change carries its own set of challenges, including all the logistics surrounding your valuables and personal items, plus the stress of selling a home, buying a new one, and relocating to an entirely new place.
It’s a lot to think about, without even mentioning the cost— which the professionals at HomeAdvisor estimate to be anywhere between $3,000-$9,000 for long-distance movers.
After catching up with major moving experts and hitting the refresh button on our knowledge of coast to coast moving, we’ve compiled a list of essential coast to coast moving tips. Read on to learn everything you need to know for the smoothest 3,000 mile move of your life.
1. Take control of your moving budget
When it comes to a major coast to coast move, there’s really only two factors you can manage to keep costs at bay. The first is how you move—be it with a U-haul or professional company, and the second is how much stuff you bring along.
Since all moving companies charge in weight, miles, and hours of work, how much stuff you bring is directly related to the amount you’ll end up paying. Let’s look at a few examples to see how moving costs can vary based on these factors.
Choose how you move
Professional moving companies offer a whole slew of services, but in the industry we break it down into three categories: truck rentals, self-moving (or partial service), and full service. While truck rental services like U-Haul sit on the cheaper end of the range, and full-service companies are the most expensive (since they often do everything—from packing to driving and unpacking), self-moving is the term that tends to be confusing. Self-moving companies offer a service that lets you do the packing and unpacking while the company takes care of the transportation.
Most people assume truck rentals are their cheapest option, but it’s good to bear in mind that those quotes don’t include fuel, taxes, or liability coverage (all of which can increase your cost quite a bit). Meanwhile, when you get a quote from a self-moving service you can expect all of those expenses to be included.
Here’s the hypothetical cost breakdown of a coast to coast move from Charleston, South Carolina, to San Diego, California:
Truck rental: $3,055.44
Full service: $5,116.77- $8,906.95
In this scenario there’s not much difference in cost between a truck rental and a self-moving service—especially considering that one has you driving all of your stuff across the country yourself and the other does it for you. Where we really see a big jump is between those and a full service company, where cost varies quite a bit based on how much labor time it will take to move all your stuff.
Be mindful of what you pack
Speaking of stuff, let’s look at how much it would cost you to move from a typical one bedroom in San Francisco to Boston. For this, we used the ultra handy moving calculator on Moving.com. To get your estimate, type in the two ZIP codes, number of bedrooms, and level of help you’ll hire for the move.
Here’s the estimate we came up with for a typical one bedroom move from SF to Boston:
And if you think that seems steep, check out the cost for moving five bedrooms of stuff to the same location:
And trust us, you probably have more stuff than you think. According to the LA Times, the average American home holds 300,000 items, while UCLA reports that children living in the U.S. own roughly 40% of all toys consumed globally.
Stuff is a battlefield that all movers face. To avoid paying an arm and a leg to move all of it, take some time to consider the true value of your items pre-move. Jacquie Denny, expert mover and co-founder of moving advisory company Everything But The House always advises her clients to consider the value of their items from three different angles—emotional, cost, and utility.
Using these three pillars will help you avoid packing trash (like the old bread machine you never use) and save room on the truck for things that really matter. On a high level, you want to avoid falling into the category of people who pack things they don’t end up using. Says Nimrod Sheinberg, Sales VP of Oz Moving Storage, “People always ship items they throw out at the other end.”
As far as items you shouldn’t pack, here are a few:
- Clothes that don’t fit or won’t make sense in your new destination
- Broken items
- Old appliances
- Clutter and knick knacks with no utility or sentimental value
- Books you’ll never read or boxes of papers collecting dust in the attic
Finally, here’s a list of items you definitely can’t bring (since the moving company won’t let you):
- Hazardous items like paint or paint thinners, nail polish remover, ammunition, aerosol cans, household cleaners, fertilizers and pesticides, fire extinguishers, alcohol, and any form of gas in a bottle (including propane and oxygen)
- Perishables, which include frozen and refrigerated food and plants
2. Sell off big-ticket items to simplify your move and knock down costs even more
Before you dedicate space in your moving truck for the old family couch, consider the cost.
While couches are relatively inexpensive to replace, they won’t be cheap to move. Prepping and physically moving large furniture pieces is a grueling task, especially if you find yourself without the proper tools or help.
Professional movers are a great way to avoid breaking your back, but they also come with a hefty price tag. With rates anywhere up to $200 per hour, you’ll want to optimize their time by only packing the big ticket items really worth keeping—and then selling the rest.
Selling off furniture is a great way to add funds to your moving budget and allow for buying new pieces in your new destination. Knowing that you can typically get anywhere from 70%-80% of the original sales price back is also a good incentive to ditch your old sofa or lethally heavy dining room set.
Get ready to sell your stuff with these prep tips
Gone are the days of the good old garage sale—you’ll sell furniture much faster online. There are a lot of great sites to sell your stuff, but Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are the most popular. When selling online, follow these steps:
- Take quality pictures of your furniture from multiple angles
- Post your items on multiple sites to get the most visibility
- Price items fairly and be up front about the condition
Use a furniture blue book to accurately price items and be honest about the condition. A lot of people shop for used furniture, but if someone shows up and sees that your “like new” item is an antique—well then you’ll just be wasting everyone’s time.
3. Add these long-distance moving supplies to your shopping list
To have a successful move you’re going to need the right supplies. Take a peek at our comprehensive list of everything you might need, then add these items specific to cross-country moving:
- Packing paper: $5.97 for 70 sheets from Home Depot.
Better than newspaper (no ink stains), you’ll want several rolls of packing paper to safely pack fragile items.
- Large sturdy packing boxes: $3.58 per box at Home Depot.
Sturdy boxes that can take a beating are a must for any coast to coast move. We like these ones that fit lots of stuff and have handles to make your move easier. Remember that boxes should always be packed completely to avoid things shifting around and potentially breaking during the move.
- Cell boxes: free from your local market.
Pick up a few free boxes from your local liquor store and don’t forget to grab the cardboard dividers—these will work well for storing china and other fragile items that need to be separated.
- Bubble wrap: $15.84 for 175 feet from Walmart.
When packing paper isn’t enough, and it often won’t be, you’ll want a supply of this stuff to give your items proper protection.
- Quality packing tape: $7.97 per roll from Home Depot.
Strong packing tape is a worthy investment in your move, not only for closing boxes but also to give them the extra reinforcement they need to survive the distance.
- Portable safe: $60-180 from Amazon.
Invest in a portable to safely transport jewelry and other valuables cross country.
- Spare car key: $50-500 from your local dealership.
If you’re driving cross country with only one car key, do yourself a favor and get a spare. While car keys are anything but cheap, you’ll prefer having it over getting stranded.
4. Don’t underestimate the complexity of a coast to coast move—hire the help you need, and select a service package that makes sense for you
One trap Denny sees her clients fall into time and again is trying to do everything themselves, all at once. She says, “People start thinking about everything they have to do, start four projects, get burned out and pack things they don’t really need.”
Instead of falling into various modes of packing frenzy, combine your efforts with those of professional. Sheinberg advises his clients to start by packing things they feel comfortable packing— like books and linens.
“Leave fragiles and valuables to a pro,” he adds.
Many moving companies’ service packages include wrapping all of your furniture in plastic, including dressers, nightstands, and end tables. That allows you to keep your clothing and personal items tucked away in furniture drawers and move it all together as is, reducing your box count and packing burden. Some companies will also provide and use their own furniture blankets to protect your big bulky items, meaning you can cross expensive padding off your supplies list.
While the idea of saving money by going DIY is tempting, a cross-country move isn’t the time to mess around.
Sheinberg says it’s the same logic behind why most people don’t change the oil in their car. By the time you buy the oil (or rent the moving truck) and put in the time to change it (or pack and drive the thing all those miles), you’ve already spent the equivalent of 60-80% of the cost, plus given yourself all those hours of labor.
There’s also physical limitations to what most people can safely move. Heavy furniture that needs to be navigated through tight spaces and stairwells is better left to the professionals who can do it without getting hurt.
Hire a good coast to coast mover based on these three factors:
Reviews and ratings from past customers on the web
Like any service, you have a better shot at a good experience if the company has a solid track record of happy customers.
If you know someone that recently moved cross country, ask them for a recommendation, or ask about your neighbors’ experience with local moving companies by posting a callout on your Nextdoor news feed.
Additionally, scour those Yelp reviews to make sure the company is in good standing and check the company’s rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). In 2017, the BBB received 1.4 million requests for moving company profiles, and registered 6,314 complaints against movers.
Proper registration with the Department of Transportation
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, “in recent years, a growing number of complaints have been filed against interstate movers—and many of those complaints spring from the fraudulent practices of a small percentage of dishonest movers known as rogue movers.”
To protect yourself from moving scams, Sheinburg’s number one tip to customers shopping for a moving company is to get their US Department of Transportation number.
“Every moving company that wants to do households and moving, has to get licensed from the US DOT. Get that number and use it to research the company online.”
You can ask any moving companies providing estimates for their DOT number, or look for it on their business cards or website, where they’re legally required to post it. It’s also important that they have a carrier number from the Federal Motor Safety Administration. Check the company’s motor carrier and DOT numbers for yourself to make sure they’re legitimate.
Realistic quotes in line with other moving companies’ estimations
Sheinburg advises his clients to always ask for a price quote and a time frame on pick up and delivery, and to avoid any company that gives vague answers. He also warns that if the time frame and price seems too good to be true, it probably is.
“No moving company is that much cheaper than other moving companies,” he explains. “In these types of moves your stuff has to go to a warehouse, on a tractor trailer, and get separated in a certain way, this requires some level of logistics that adds up to some cost. So if someone gives you a much lower cost, it might just be to capture you.”
One way to avoid a scammer moving company is to get a few of these quotes in advance. Once you have a rough idea of what your move costs, pick the company with the best customer service reviews—this will be good peace of mind during the move.
5. Work with top-notch real estate agents on both ends of your move
Working with an esteemed real estate agent isn’t only the best way to time your move right and sell your house faster (and for more money), they’re also a great resource on the other end of your move—and can help make sure you get off to a good start in your new city.
A good agent will ask all sorts of questions before even showing you a house profile in a new city. Luxury real estate agent Steve Bacardi of Naples, FL—who has over 40 years of experience working with clients on relocations, mentions that he always asks clients how well they know the area, where their new job will be, if being near a good school system is important for their family, and myriad of other questions when trying to place clients from across the country.
“If a buyer comes from far away, I have to know what the buyer knows about the area, then I can fill in the missing pieces,” he says.
Use HomeLight to find highly rated agents in both locations, paying close attention to an agent’s average number of days on market—which is one of the best indicators they can close your sale in a timely manner. If you’re pressed for time, work with Homelight Concierge to get quickly connected to an agent with a proven track record of fast sales.
Last but not least, take a peek at this seller’s checklist to be sure you get the most out of your sale:
- Move out of your home as much as possible before buyers start visiting
- Make sure your house is staged, and advertised in the right channels for the best sale price
- Work with your agent to price your home correctly and avoid extra days on the market
- Check out our list of the top 5 long distance moving companies based on experience, ratings, reviews, and rewards
- Time your sale to get the most money by following these seasonal selling tips
- Keep moving expenses to a bare minimum by taking advantage of tax breaks for long-distance moves and job relocation
Godspeed with your cross country move!