Help Desk: How to hire movers and save money

Ask the Expert
. Lesley Becker/Globe Staff; Adobe Stock

A collaboration with The Boston Globe’s Help Desk:

When you’re bouncing around the city in search of cheaper rent, and most of your belongings can still fit inside a beat-up Honda Civic, moving day may be a test of friendship and endurance, the unglamorous grind greased somewhat by pizza and beer. But as the years add up, so do your possessions and backaches. And at some point, you realize that cashing in a friendly favor just isn’t going to cut it anymore: It’s time to hire professionals.

The last few times Sean Carpenter and his wife moved, including into their first house in Quincy in 2006, they got by with help from friends and family. But when they moved into a new house in July, they called in the pros. “Those were all easy moves compared to this one, because now we have 13 years of crap that had piled up,’’ Carpenter said. What’s more, the father of two suffered a heart attack in October 2018. “I still moved a bunch of stuff, but I have physical limitations I have to be cognizant of now.’’

Carpenter said it was absolutely worth the cost — a sentiment he’s heard others share. “I was talking to some parents the other day, and they all said the best thing they ever did was use a moving company,’’ he said. “Those guys come in — and we were not ready for them, nobody ever is — but they just suddenly take over the whole moving process.’’

Playground banter can do more than just affirm your decision to hire pros: If you have friends or neighbors who’ve had a good experience with movers recently, that’s probably the best starting point in your search for a reputable moving company in your area, said Scott Michael, president of the American Moving & Storage Association. Realtors can be a good resource, too, Michael added. “It’s important for consumers to really do their research to make sure they’re aware of who is coming into their home,’’ he said.

Beyond checking a company’s reputation with the Better Business Bureau and online review sites, Michael also suggested driving by the company’s physical location if possible, to confirm that there’s an actual business there. “There are some companies that have great-looking websites and look like they know what they’re doing, but there’s no physical address. And when you dig into it, the company’s not real; it’s just somebody at a desk making things up,’’ he said.

Nicole Rideout, a relocation expert at Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty, suggested choosing a moving company with a dedicated consultant or point of contact who’s readily available to you. “Dealing directly with a specific person also creates a relationship where you know this person has your best interests in mind,’’ Rideout said.

Like any other home-related endeavor, Rideout and Michael both recommend getting quotes from multiple movers. “The cost really varies wildly,’’ Michael said. Between the demanding labor involved, expensive equipment, and high price of fuel, “it’s not a cheap process,’’ he added.

It’s important to get a detailed quote that includes all potential extras, said professional organizer Sarah Buckwalter, founder of Organizing Boston. “If you just call them and they say, ‘It’s $100 an hour,’ that doesn’t really tell you how much it’s going to cost,’’ Buckwalter said. “Get an actual quote with the cost of fuel charges, permits for parking, travel charges, and any materials they use. If they wrap your couch in plastic, they’ll charge you for the plastic.’’

The website has a free cost calculator to give you a ballpark idea of what you can expect to pay. For example, moving the contents of a three-bedroom home from Brighton to Quincy at the end of September would cost roughly $1,201 to $1,564; adding full packing services would bump up that range to $2,429 to $3,283. The cost of packing and moving a four-bedroom home from Newton to Portsmouth, N.H., meanwhile — an almost 70-mile haul across state lines — could hit five digits, according to the calculator, from $6,801 to $10,186.

There are ways to trim those costs, though. The price of a move is determined by a few main factors, Michael said, including the distance, the amount of stuff to be moved (measured either by total weight or the time required to move everything), and any additional services, such as storage or packing. Timing matters, too: You’re simply not going to get a great deal around Sept. 1 — if you can even find a mover who’s still available. “The last week of every month is busy, and so are the summer months when kids are out of school,’’ Michael said. “If you have some flexibility, you might be able to get better pricing.’’

Perhaps the simplest way to lower the cost of your move is to put less in the truck. “People might have boxes in their basement that have been there for 20 years, and they’ve never looked at them since their last move — but they’ll move them again,’’ Buckwalter said.

While many of us tend to struggle with decluttering, the relatively rare process of uprooting your entire life can prove a powerful motivator. “Moving is a great time to part with things you don’t need,’’ Rideout said. “Starting over is a great feeling mentally, and paying to move or store things you don’t need is one of the biggest mistakes and a waste of money.’’

Packing items yourself is another way to trim your moving costs, though you might find the paid service worth every penny during what is often a stressful process.“You can save money by doing your own packing, but that only works if you know what you’re doing and pack things correctly,’’ Michael said. “If you’re unsure, it may be worth paying extra to have the pros pack for you, and then they’ll be responsible for any damage to the packed items — and hopefully they do it the right way so there’s no damage in the first place.’’ If you do pack yourself, Buckwalter recommends going room by room, making sure to label or color-code every box (no “miscellaneous’’ allowed).

Either way, you’ll want to have an inventory of your items (some movers require one or create their own list for you to sign). This doesn’t mean tallying toothpaste tubes, Buckwalter said, but making note that you have, say, 11 boxes of kitchen items. “Take photographs of your furniture beforehand, so if it gets damaged you can show that it wasn’t damaged to begin with, especially if you’re moving cross-country,’’ she added.

Speaking of damage, check your homeowners or renters insurance to see whether your items will be covered by your policy (or whether you can purchase extra protection if not), since the minimum coverage interstate movers are required to offer is a paltry 60 cents per pound. “You could have some lightweight items worth a lot of money, and they wouldn’t be covered anywhere near their value, so we recommend people look into full replacement coverage,’’ Michael said.

As for items that are extremely valuable or irreplaceable — family heirlooms, cash, jewelry, old photographs — Michael recommended taking them with you personally. Buckwalter also suggested keeping some urgent items with you, such as toiletries, medications, linens, and a few days’ worth of clothes. “Carry it with you or put it in a box that says ‘open first’ so you have those things right away,’’ she said.

On moving day, you should be present to direct the movers and answer questions. It’s nice to make water available to the crew, Michael said, and if the move will take all day, ordering lunch for them goes a long way. While a gratuity isn’t expected, Buckwalter said she generally tips $50 to $100 per person, depending on the job they do, or $20 apiece for a small local move.

If that sounds like a lot to keep track of … it is. Carpenter said the most stressful part of moving was simply coordinating the many pieces. They were juggling two closings a week apart, which demanded an interim storage solution, and finding movers who could handle it all on those specific dates proved to be a challenge. With one of the home sales hinging on a VA loan, they were nervous about meeting the timeframe. “Then you’ve got to get your moving company on board with it as well,’’ he said. “It’s almost like getting married again. You have to make sure the priest is there on time and the drunk uncle is there in the right seat.’’

But when the moving truck pulls away, leaving you with literal metric tons of cargo that you and your friends didn’t have to heave in and out of a truck, you can focus on the more joyful process of setting up your new home — without a raging backache. And your friends will probably appreciate being invited to a housewarming party instead of a full day of physical labor.

Jon Gorey blogs about homes at Send comments to Follow him on Twitter at @jongorey. Subscribe to our free real estate newsletter at