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Every year, about 3 million American households move across state lines. The largest chunk of these people (1.35 million) tackle the daunting challenge of a long distance move entirely on their own, without so much as a U-Haul to carry their stuff.
Another 1 million at least rent a truck, but those who hire professional movers are the smallest camp at 650,000.
Surprising, right? Who are these ambitious DIY movers with enough brawn to transport their life across the country?
Well, with the average interstate move costing $4,300, the “unassisted moving consumer” camp starts to look better and better. That’s not to mention the horror stories of movers who take forever (and conveniently charge by the hour), show up late, or fail to communicate with you while your delicate valuables make the dangerous trip from San Francisco to Boston.
But when home prep, stagings, showings, and negotiations already zapped all your energy on the way to selling your home, a big move feels like an impossible task to face alone. In that case, we’ll help you weigh your options between all the long distance moving companies out there clamoring for your business with insider tips from moving industry experts.
“Unlike moving across town, long distance moving is a bit more complicated and requires additional planning,” says Jennifer Flanagan of top-ranked moving company Gentle Giant. “I recommend booking your move at least six weeks in advance to secure your reservation. This gives you time to focus on packing, learn more about your new city and figure out which dates you’ll need to travel to your new location.”
Tip #1: Make sure you’ll have a dedicated move coordinator
What’s the secret to a successful long distance move? Big, burly men in overalls? We kid, but the truth is that long distance moves require far more coordination than the initial loading and final drop-off.
For long distance moves, most people hire large, national brands that have an entire system of van lines across the United States that work by assigning local moving companies in their network to handle your move. It’s a good system, but a lot of “moving” parts, as you might say…which is why many moving companies hook you up with a move coordinator to manage the process.
What is a moving coordinator, you ask? Well, they’re kind of like your moving guardian angel. You can count on them to:
- Arrange for additional services you request, such as packing help or movers for specialty items like exercise equipment, major appliances, or pianos.
- Address issues that pop up during the move and coordinate on your behalf with every department of the moving company.
- Nail down a timeline for your move and coordinate the moving dates.
- Be a single point of contact from the beginning of the move through the end. They’re who you contact when you have questions, concerns, or just want to know the status of your stuff.
- Keep you updated throughout the process.
“I recommend confirming transit and delivery time with your move coordinator, since you don’t want to get to your new house before your bed!” says Flanagan. “The move coordinator will be your go-to in terms of keeping you updated about the move’s progress and they can ease any anxiety you have about the process, so make sure they have up-to-date contact information.”
Tip #2: Add a few relocation services to help make your move smooth
It’s common knowledge that you hire movers to get things from point A to point B safely and quickly. While your move begins and ends with a moving truck, many long distance moving companies also offer an array of relocation services to those in need of them. Movers then charge you for the services provided after they complete your move.
Some common relocation services to help ensure a smooth move include:
- Vehicle relocation:
There are often some restrictions to the number of vehicles, etc. Expect an additional $600 to $1,000 for this service.
- Full pack:
A van line is sent to pack up all your household goods and transport them to your new home. Expect an additional cost of $25 to $50 per mover, per hour for this service.
- Full unpack:
When the van line arrives at your new home for delivery they will unload all boxes and furniture where you wish. Expect an additional cost of $25 to $50 per mover, per hour for this service.
- Moving Insurance:
Interstate moving companies are required to provide basic insurance coverage of 60 cents per pound per item. If you want more comprehensive moving insurance, expect to pay about 1% of the total valuation of your items.
- Storage services:
Many moving companies offer free storage for up to 30 days, but going beyond that time frame will cost you. Expect to pay $50 to $60 per month for storage.
Pro tip: If you can coordinate your move during the winter months, then you should. Business tends to be less brisk that time of the year, which means lower costs for you. In fact, moving during the summer months can cost you up to 25% more than moving during the off season. That means you can get more of these extra relocation services for less!
Tip #3. Get an in-person cost estimate
How long distance moving companies calculate their costs and how much they charge their customers varies, but most major operations will send a relocation specialist or moving coordinator to your home for an estimate.
This specialist will visually survey your house and assess the approximate weight of the items you want to move, point out challenges they may face with packing, and identify any possible problems once moving day arrives, such as narrow hallways or stairs.
Andy Kroll, vice president and general manager of North American Van Lines with nearly 30 years of experience long distance moving industry, says that an in-person house visit is the only way to get an accurate quote.
The moving company will give you a price estimate based on three important factors:
- The total weight of the things you want to move
- The distance to your new home
- The added services you desire, such as packing, storage, and furniture assembly
Tip #4: Collect more than one estimate at no cost to you
Long distance moving companies should offer free estimates, so take advantage of the chance to shop around and collect more than one quote for comparison. The quotes should include estimates for both general moving costs, included services, and extras that you plan to tack on.
The American Moving and Storage Association suggests you get at least three in-home written estimates before settling on one company. This will give you a good idea what the cost for your move is and throw up red flags if one of the estimates is much lower or higher than the others.
If a company gives you an offer over the phone or via email without sending someone out to your home, be on high alert as they may be trying to scam you.
Tip #5: Check or negotiate for the ‘guarantee-not-to-exceed’ estimate
There are three types of estimates you can get from a long distance moving company:
These estimates are not guaranteed. Your final cost is based on the actual weight of your final shipment and the services provided to you during your move. Though the moving company cannot require you to pay more than the original estimate plus 10% at delivery, you will be on the hook to pay any additional charges within 30 days of delivery.
Also called “guaranteed price” or “firm binding,” this estimate reflects the exact cost of all your moving services but only includes the services and goods listed on the estimate. If you add any additional services, this may void the original binding price and a new contract may require your signature.
- “Guaranteed not to exceed” price:
Also referred to as “option binding,” “assured price protection,” “binding not to exceed,” and “accuquote,” these estimates are similar to binding estimates with one exception: If the services and actual weight of your shipment are less than the estimate, you pay the lower price. But just as with binding estimates, the guarantee of the price only covers the services agreed on beforehand and items listed on your inventory.
The “guarantee-not-to-exceed” estimate is the most desirable agreement you can enter, so if you find a company that offers this type of estimate, jump on it!
Tip #6: Ask your real estate agent for a long distance moving company referral
According to Christie Cannon, a top-selling real estate agent who has successfully sold 67% more properties than the average agent in her area, you get what you pay for when it comes to the movers you hire.
“There are a lot of moving companies out there, so make sure to find a highly reputable company that’s been around for a long time,” says Cannon. “Your real estate agent may have someone they recommend, so start there!”
Tip #7: Verify your long distance moving companies’ credentials with the DOT
Check that any mover candidates you’re considering have a number issued to them by the Department of Transportation (DOT). Commercial vehicles hauling cargo or passengers from one state to another must have a license to do so.
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.
If you’re moving long distance but still in-state, check with your state to find out if they require DOT numbers.
Tip #8: Read online customer reviews
The internet has opened up a wonderful world of funny cat videos, and also added much-needed transparency around the quality and ratings around service professionals… moving companies included!
Be sure to read up on web reviews available about any moving companies under consideration, whether it be on Yelp, Google, or Nextdoor. Check with the Better Business Bureau in your area (or the area you’re moving to) to see if any reports against them are on file.
In 2017, the BBB received 1.4 million requests for moving company profiles, and registered 6,314 complaints against movers.
Tip #9: Use caution with large deposits
Be wary of any moving company that wants to charge you more than 20% of the total cost of the estimate upfront. Many long distance moving companies won’t need any payment at all until they complete the move, so any company that wants a large chunk at the start should set off alarm bells.
If you do make a deposit, it’s the best practice to put it on a credit card so you can contest the charges if there’s any monkey business.
‘A Few Good Movers:’ The top 5 best long distance moving companies we could find
Trusting a company with your long distance move is a big deal and it’s hard to narrow down who to call among all the options out there. So we vetted the most reputable ones we could find on the web based on their years of experience, online reviews, awards or recognitions, and special services.
United Van Lines
Years in the business: 90
Core services: Local moves, Long distance moves, Corporate moves, International moves, Small moves, Full-service moving
Awards or Recognitions: 2018 Logistics Management Magazine Quest for Quality Award in the Household Goods and High-Value Goods carrier category
United Van Lines offers full-value moving coverage on every move along with in-home tech support to uninstall or set up computer networks or home theatres, and also offers transparent package pricing online.
Allied Van Lines
Years in the business: 90
Core services: Household moving, long distance moving, corporate moving, and international moving
Awards or Recognitions: Women’s Choice Awards’ “Most Recommended Moving Company” (2015-2018)
Allied Van Lines offers flexible moving solutions for any type of move including packing options; one-of-a-kind stretch wrapping and packing techniques to keep your valuable household items protected; a certified labor program that formally screens all Allied crew members for your safety; a committed Personal Relocation Consultant to assist you in creating your own Personal Moving Plan; and online shipment tracking so you can keep tabs on your stuff.
Bekins Van Lines
Years in the business: 127
Core services: Household moves, corporate relocation, international moves, military and government moves, and specialized moves, such as business or industrial site moves.
Awards or Recognitions: 2017 Logistics Management Magazine “Quest for Quality” award winner in the Truckload & Van Line Carriers category.
Unique offerings: Instant “ballpark” online quotes to help give you an idea of what your move will cost; clearly advertised discounts on their website; and an array of low-cost moving supplies available to you.
Atlas Van Lines
Years in the business: 70
Core services: Local moves, Long distance moves, Corporate relocation, Military and Government moves, and Special Item moving.
Awards or Recognitions: Better Business Bureau A+ rating
Unique offerings: Customizable packing services, flexible options for storage, can handle hard-to-move items like cars, motorcycles, swing sets, and pianos, AAA member discounts.
International Van Lines
Years in the business: 18
Core services: Residential moving, international Moving, automobile Transport, and logistics
Awards or Recognitions: Ranked #1 by Consumers Advocate in the “Top 10 Moving Companies of 2018” list
IVL offers easily accessible moving and logistics services with customer service representatives on call to answer your questions over the phone or with their easy-to-use chat feature. They also offer one month of free storage with each move in their spacious storage units as well as a “Best Move Ever Guarantee:” to provide their customers with the best moving experience from estimate to move completion.
The key to any move no matter the distance is good organization. Plan ahead and vet long-distance moving companies well to cut your stress and get your new life in a new place started off on the right foot!