Ah, big mistake. Even a move across town can be very complicated, and takes extensive advance planning. There are a huge number of potential pitfalls, from the wear and tear on your poor body and damage to your household goods, to unexpected fuel costs. In the end, a do-it-yourself move may not be as "cheap" or as fun as you thought (that would be about the time you drop the TV on your foot or discover the truck is fully loaded but a third of your house is still on the sidewalk). Give yourself plenty of time to research how you want to move and discover everything that's involved. Talk to friends who've moved themselves and to movers to get the full picture before you decide.
With almost 40 million Americans relocating each year, there can be a moving "traffic jam" certain times of the year. The most reputable movers get booked early during the late spring and summer months when half of all moving takes place, so plan ahead! You don't want your only option to be a less experienced mover or one who has to hire temporary labor to do your job. Give yourself enough time -- 3 to 4 months before the scheduled move-in day -- to get moving estimates and referrals from several companies, to get your family on board with the idea of moving, and to plan carefully. Ask your mover about overbooking; some make a habit of taking on too many jobs to make sure they get enough work. You don't want to be the job they drop the day of the move.
You don't buy a car or house without knowing its cost and the same should go for your move. Most movers offer two kinds of estimates, binding or nonbinding. The nonbinding kind gives you an idea of how much your move will cost, based on the mover's estimate of the size of your current home and its contents, and how far you're moving. You get the estimate in writing and can only be charged 10 percent more than the estimate. A binding estimate is a legal document that clearly describes the charges, which can't be changed unless you request significant add-on services (i.e., the movers have to climb three flights of stairs they didn't know about). Most experts recommend that you get three estimates, and ask a lot of questions about possible hidden fees. With today's sky-high gas prices, you don't want a surprise fuel surcharge to blow your budget. You also don't want to go with the cheapest bid; there is bound to be a reason that mover is cheaper, and it usually isn't a happy one.
Whoops, that big burly man just dropped a box of your favorite Fiestaware dishes. Who is going to pay for that? Well, nobody is (or you are), if your mover doesn't have enough insurance. Find out before you start the moving process. Your chosen mover may have some insurance but it may only pay for a fraction of your heirloom dishes' or fancy TV's value. Then check with your home insurance provider to see what's covered and when and where. Does your policy cover moving and items in transit? If you don't think you have enough coverage, moving companies offer a variety of deals on additional insurance. Find out, too, if your chosen mover has workers' comp insurance. Some small companies (with fewer than five employees) don't, and that could mean that paying for an injury someone sustains in your home is your responsibility.
Most moving companies won't be held responsible for expensive items, like jewelry. You'll want to pack your valuables carefully and plan to transport them yourself. The same goes for any coin collections, documents, fancy cameras -- if it's fragile or extra special to you, you'll probably want to take care of it yourself and keep it with you. Read your moving contract carefully to find out if your mover can transport your grill (the tank will have to be emptied by a professional first), any firearms you might own, and any alcohol. Best not to end up loading your car last minute with a full bar's worth of booze and artillery.
With all of the other things you're worrying about, it's easy to forget that the family pet needs to move too -- and that's one thing you can't have the movers throw in a box! Visit your vet before moving day to make sure your pet has current shots, tags, certificates, and proper identification. If your pet will be traveling by air or in a car a long distance, ask about travel recommendations, portable kennels, and motion sickness medication. Make sure you carry the animal's papers with you, especially if you cross state lines. When you get to your final destination, reinstate your dog's routine and reward him with a special treat.
Obviously, the inside of a van isn't conducive to plant life. Lots of movers won't handle plants, especially if you're moving more than 150 miles or crossing state lines. If plant moving gets put on your to-do list, first check with the USDA to make sure there aren't rules about bringing plants by car into your destination state (those that have big citrus crops, for instance, may be picky about incoming plant and potential insect life). A few weeks before the move, transplant plants from your breakable pots (the movers can pack and transport those) into lighter-weight unbreakable ones that will be easier to for you to move. If it turns out you can't move your plants, donate them to friends, a botany class, or local retirement home.
Face it, there are tons of things in your home that you haven't used in years. But you'll be paying to pack them up and move them, and then you'll be faced with unpacking them and finding a place where you can store them, unused, for another 10 years. Bad idea! Instead, plan a reuse, recycle, regift weekend where everyone in the family gets rid of the things you really don't need or use. Donate items to charity, hold a garage sale, or give furniture to the kid next door who is getting his own apartment. It'll save you time and trouble in the long run -- and will prevent extra charges when your moving men stumble upon Grandma's old dining room set hidden in the back of the garage!
Smart movers make sure they have a personal survival kit that they carry with them so that move-in day (and night) goes smoothly for everyone in the family. This might include must-haves such as scissors, a screwdriver, your address book, a flashlight (you never know!), a map of your new town, Johnny's can't-sleep-without blanket or favorite jammies, your toiletries, dog food, a can opener, soap, coffee, toilet paper, and necessary medications for the whole family. Remember to have enough handy cash, too, so that you'll be able to tip your movers and pay for that pizza delivery you'll most certainly need.
The inventory list is incredibly important. It's your way of checking that everything from your first home was packed up as it should be and got on the truck. You can't watch every single item get boxed up and loaded, of course, but a perusal of the inventory document before you leave will give you some reassurance that nothing was left behind. Don't let the movers rush you through this inventory process! Check the list again as items are unloaded at your new residence. It's easier to locate a missing item the day of the move than a month later when you discover you can't find the box with your video camera and holiday tapes. Before signing off on the inventory sheet on delivery day, make sure you understand the process for filing claims for missing items.