Moving just down the street or across the country can strain your emotions and your wallet.
The cost of interstate moves averages $5,630, and in-state moves average $1,170, according to federal data and industry research, but careful research and planning can help you avoid most financial problems.
“It’s almost like planning a wedding,” says Bill Adams, an American Moving & Storage Association-certified moving consultant for Joyce Van Lines, Inc. “There’s so much involved, and you want that day to go perfectly. And when things don’t go perfectly, it just makes it a stressful time.”
Extensive planning will help you avoid paying more than expected or for replacing cherished items, according to industry and consumer advocacy professionals. Here are five hidden costs to dodge being a victim of fraud or to keep unscrupulous moving companies from taking advantage of you.
1. Fraudulent moving companies
Nearly 35 million Americans move every year, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). In 2016, around 3,000 consumers filed claims associated with moving fraud, and the average claim totaled $10,000.
News articles and internet forums are full of horror stories about consumers’ items being held for ransom that results in consumers having to hand over hundreds, or even thousands, of extra dollars to ensure their safe return.
When you’re researching companies, get their U.S. Department of Transportation and motor carrier numbers, and use the FMCSA’s mover registration search tool to make sure they’re properly licensed and insured. If they don’t have the proper credentials, they probably are a fraudulent company and you should scratch them from your list.
Check websites like the Better Business Bureau to see the company’s ratings — on a scale from A+ to F — and be sure to check how the company responds to complaints. If you have been scammed by a moving company, you can contact the FMCSA and file a complaint. You also can file a complaint with the state’s attorney general and state trade associations, but be aware that it’s difficult to recoup costs in court.
“If you’ve gotten to the point where you’ve been scammed, you’re in trouble,” says Jeff Walker, president of MovingScam.com, an advocacy website dedicated to helping consumers avoid fraudulent movers. “The laws dictating the moving industry favor the mover. They do not favor the consumer.”
MovingScam.com offers reviews and endorsements of moving companies and forums for consumers to talk about their experiences and get advice — like making sense of licensing and insurance information.
2. Bad or inaccurate estimates
The first rule of estimates is that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
“If you do an internet search on moving, you’re going to see all sorts of ads for cross-country moves for $699,” Walker says. “If you think about that, you’re not even going to get across the country in a diesel truck for that kind of money just paying for gas.”
Be sure to get at least three in-home estimates before you choose a company. Don’t get estimates by email or over the phone. Walker says these estimates should be free if you’re in the range of service for a company — usually around 100 miles — and suggests moving on to the next company if you’re asked to pay for one.
When the estimator comes to your house, they can see your possessions to determine how much weight you might be moving (how interstate moves are priced) or how much time it might take to load and unload everything (how in-state moves are priced).
“If they don’t want to agree to an on-site inspection, that’s a problem. Go somewhere else,” says Claire Rosenzweig, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York.
Heavy items like a piano will increase the total cost of an interstate move because they add weight. But a piano also could add to the total cost of an in-state move because it requires special handling and adds time to get it onto or off a truck.
Adams says if customers moving to a new state are unsure of everything they’re going to move, he gives two weight estimates, with the most expensive including all potential items that might go. If your three in-home estimates have different weights and prices, he suggests asking the other companies to give you new estimates based on the heaviest weight, so you can have similar comparisons.
If you’re moving in-state, Adams says if two out of two companies say you’ll need four movers and the third says three, go with four. The price per hour will be higher for four movers, but they’ll get the move done in less time.
There are also different types of estimates, such as binding and nonbinding.
Binding estimates guarantee that the mover won’t charge you more than the agreed-upon price. If you move less than you expected, you still have to pay the full price of the estimate. And if you add more to the move than was in the original estimate, it may need to be rewritten. A nonbinding estimate states an estimated price. If the cost of the move is less than the estimate, you save money, but you also risk running over.
3. Poor packing planning
Walker says the cheapest option is to pack and move everything on your own.
“If you’re young enough and able enough, we always recommend a do-it-yourself move,” he says.
Adams adds that you can save even more money by buying your packing materials from a store such as Home Depot and return what you don’t use.
You can also opt to pack everything yourself and have the moving company load and deliver it. In this case, Adams recommends having everything packed one to two days ahead of the move.
If anything left unpacked is boxed up by the movers on moving day, that could add an unforeseen cost to your final bill. The cost of the packing materials, such as boxes and bubble wrap, also could add at least a couple of hundred more dollars. Anything not packed by the company also can’t be covered by any repair and replacement protection you purchase. If there’s damage to any of your self-packed items, you’ll have to cover the repairs yourself.
Adams says don’t worry about that too much, though. “My experience with my customers doing their own packing is they usually do a fine job of it,” he says.
Other unexpected costs can pop up if you haven’t been honest with yourself or your estimator. Adams says to think carefully about what you want to bring when you move. Do you have the space for it? Do you love it? If the answer to these question is no, he recommends selling or donating the items.
“Donating something is better than moving and having to deal with it at your new house because you paid to move it,” he says.
4. Tight building access
If you live in an apartment complex or condominium, you also can incur expenses based on building rules. Some buildings charge a fee — usually a couple of hundred dollars — for using the elevator during a move, and Adams says many require you to reserve the elevator in advance. If you don’t plan accordingly and make your estimator aware of these circumstances, they could add a surprise cost to your bill. Elevators and stairs add time, Adams says, so he’ll add that to the price for an in-state move or an elevator fee — about $110 for an interstate move of 5,000 pounds.
If the truck your items were loaded onto can’t reach your new home — if the streets are too narrow, for example — then there may be a shuttle fee when your boxes are loaded onto a smaller truck. Adams says this is especially prevalent when moving to major cities. For example, if you're moving from New York to Dallas with 5,000 pounds, Adams says the shuttle fee would be about $570, if needed. This fee should be in your original estimate, but could wind up as a surprise if you don’t give the address for your new home to the estimator before you move.
You should also check the times a building allows you to move. Adams says moving is often allowed only between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. during weekdays. If you show up outside of those hours, the result could be a surprise charge, like extra days of storage. Rosenzweig says you should be sure to get the pickup and delivery dates and times in writing in your contract.
“You might wind up paying for an extra day of storage,” Rosenzweig says. “You want to think this through from beginning to end.”
5. Lost or damaged items
Trying to repair or replace items that have been damaged or lost during a move can be another surprise expense, but most moving companies offer different kinds of protection you can purchase to avoid this kind of hassle.
Released value protection comes at no additional charge, but covers only 60 cents per pound per article.
Full-value protection is an additional cost, but means the moving company is liable to cover repair or replacement expenses for any item valued over $100. In an estimate, Adams charges between $168 and $325 for $30,000 worth of protection, depending on the deductible you choose. Companies will automatically enroll you in full-value protection and add this charge to your total unless you select released-value protection in your contract.
And don’t forget that if you pack your items yourself, you may not be eligible for this type of protection. You should also check to see if your homeowners insurance will cover damages incurred during moving.
Adams says for many in-state moves, customers opt for the released-value protection — especially if the items will only be loaded and unloaded once during the trip. For long-distance moves, he estimates 80% of his customers buy the replacement-value protection.
The No. 1 cost saver, though, is picking the right mover from the start. Plan ahead, so you can choose wisely.
“The best way to make sure you get your things safely where they need to go is research, research, research,” Walker says.
MagnifyMoney is a price comparison and financial education website, founded by former bankers who use their knowledge of how the system works to help you save money.