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Moving Costs: What You Need to Know to Budget Your Move

January 6, 2022

Whether you’re making your way to a new city or are finally moving into your dream apartment, moving is a cause for celebration! However, before you start a new chapter in your new home, you’ll need to make a transition — namely, getting your belongings from your old home to your new one.

When planning a move, there is a high chance that estimating expenses and looking for moving services are somewhere at the top of your to-do list. Remember that moving costs are a case-by-case matter and there are a number of factors that will play into how much you ultimately spend.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or simply don’t know where to start when it comes to fitting moving costs in your budget, you’re in the right place. This guide will teach you everything you need to know about moving costs, from the cost of professional movers to scoring free boxes. Let’s dive in!

Moving Distance: Local or Long-Distance

Typically, professional movers will calculate the cost of services based on the size of your house, the average weight of your belongings, and the amount of time it takes movers to load and unload them.

You can save money on your moving costs by allowing your move to serve as an excuse for downsizing and decluttering. Unless you’ve fully embodied the Marie Kondo magic, you'll likely have many older, unused, or unnecessary items that can be recycled, given away, sold, or trashed. Taking the time to declutter will not only save you money, but it’ll also save you some time spent packing.

Local Moving Costs

If you are moving down the street, somewhere within your town, or maybe even a neighboring city, like San Francisco to Oakland, you fall into the category of a local relocation. This means you don’t have to look far for movers, because a local moving company is often cheaper than a nationwide franchise. On average, movers for a one-bedroom apartment cost about $350, and closer to $1,500 for a four-bedroom home. Here is a more detailed break down of the average moving quote of an intrastate move:

  • 1-bedroom apartment or house: $200-$500, 3-5 hours of labor

  • 2-bedrooms apartment: $375-$750, 5-6 hours of labor

  • 3-bedrooms apartment: $800-$1,500, 7-10 hours of labor

  • 4-bedrooms and up: $1,000-$2,000, 10+ hours of labor

Long-Distance Moving Costs

Let’s say you are moving from Los Angeles, CA to Tampa, FL. An across the state move or further would be considered long-distance relocation. When your move falls into this category, long-distance moving companies also take distance into their cost calculations. Check out this more detailed break down of the average prices for long-distance movers:

  • 1-bedroom apartment or house: $900-$1,200, Average distance: 1,000 miles

  • 2-bedroom apartment: $2,000-$3,000, Average distance: 1,000 miles

  • 3-bedrooms apartment: $3,500-$5,000, Average distance: 1,000 miles

  • 4-bedrooms and up: $4,000-$6,000, Average distance: 1,000 miles

Here are a few companies that fall within this range:

Just remember that all these costs are highly variable. It will save you money and headaches in the future to get a good idea of just how much your belongings weigh (even guesstimates are okay!) and how much storage space you’ll need to move. Use these numbers to get estimates from the top contenders on your professional movers’ list.

Understand How Time of Year Impacts Moving Costs

This may seem like a simple task: pick a date that best suits your calendar, right? Actually, that’s not all that there is to it. The day of the week and time of the year can affect the price of your move, so if you have flexibility, you may want to change your move date by a day or two, or even a month, to optimize for decreased moving costs. Being off work or out of school makes the weekends and summers an attractive time to move. In turn, due to high volumes of relocations, this also makes it more expensive to hire movers.

The late fall and winter months are the best time of year to move if you want to avoid the headaches of trying to plan a move during peak moving season. Not only will you have more flexibility in terms of scheduling your move, but you may also benefit from lower rent rates. As fewer renters are interested in moving in the winter months (hello: snow), landlords and property managers are more eager to fill vacancies. They may offer incentives such as move-in specials.

Research Moving Companies to Get the Best for Your Budget

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is sacrificing quality service for a lower rate. Trust that you don’t want to learn this the hard way. When looking for a reputable moving company, consider a few things. First, you want to make sure that you receive clarity about the services and utmost support from the company that you hire. To achieve that and get the best bet for your money, here are some pointers to help you cruise through the selection process:

  • Make sure the company is licensed and insured. If you aren’t sure and would like to check whether the company you’re thinking of choosing is licensed, the Department of Transportation website is a good place to visit.

  • Read the reviews. Nothing will tell you more about the company than previous customers speaking about their experience.

  • Look for industry recognition. Is the company you’re looking at certified by the American Moving and Storage Association? Maybe some other legitimate industry recognition, such as a local award? If yes, that’s a good sign that they are reputable movers who will have your back.

Getting Moving Quotes and Estimates

Once you’ve found your perfect moving company or have a few solid companies to pick from, it’s time to figure out their quotes to include in your budget plan.

Here are a few steps:

  • Share details about your move: Your moving company needs to know the size of your home and the number of belongings you will be taking with you. Don’t forget to mention if any of your items are antiques! The movers will need to pay extra attention to these items and may have to bring additional tools.

  • Your moving date: Find out how much a particular company charges as the base price for the move in date you have chosen.

  • Compare and contrast: If you haven’t found “the one” yet, compare and contrast all the information you have gathered across multiple companies.

  • Ask questions: Don’t forget to check for additional costs and fees that may apply! Inquire with the movers if the services such as packing and unpacking, large item (i.e. pool table) and antique moving, furniture disassembly and assembly are included in the hourly rate or are additional charges. Here are some questions you can bring up with your moving company:

    • Are packing services included? Will they also unpack for or with you?
    • Are disassembly and assembly services part of the base price?
    • Is cost calculated based on hourly rate or weight of items?
    • Are there any extra fees for stairs or far off parking?
    • Is this a binding estimate? A binding estimate is a written agreement between your moving company and you guaranteeing that estimate provided is the total cost of the move based on estimates of your items prior to the move date. If instead it is a non-binding estimate, then you may be surprised with fluctuating fees and additional charges later.
    • Are there any specialty items provided by the movers, such as stretch wrap, felt pads and mattress bags or would you need to take care of that yourself? If there a fee for using theirs?
  • Save the date: You did you homework and now you’re halfway there! Reserve the moving company and let’s move on to the next part of our guide for an affordable move.

Source Moving Supplies

On average, boxes cost $2.81 per box, but prices vary depending on material, size, and retailer. And that’s just boxes. When you start packing, you’ll soon realize that you’ll need a lot more than just boxes in the moving supplies department.

The price of common packing supplies like boxes, tape, plastic bins, and stretch wrap can add up when you’re preparing for your move. Ask your moving company if they provide packing supplies and if there are additional costs involved for using their stock. Here are some great ideas for places to find free moving boxes and save on your moving costs:

  • Craigslist

  • U-Haul Box Exchange

  • Large Retailers (i.e. Office Depot, Costco)

  • Grocery Stores

These items may be obvious, but just in case you forget something, here is a short checklist of basic supplies you will most likely need:

  • Cardboard boxes

  • Plastic bins

  • Bubble wrap/packing paper

  • Cleaning supplies

  • Storage units

Choose the Right Liability and Valuation Coverage

Knowing that the handmade chair your great-grandpa built is protected during the move can take a load off your mind. In accordance with federal law, moving companies are required to offer at least two types of coverage. Most widespread are the BVP (Basic Released Value Protection) and the RVP (Full Value Protection).

  • Basic Released Value Protection (BVP): This plan covers .60 cents per pound of cargo liability. It is a good idea to get this type of coverage for local moves.

  • Full Value Protection (RVP): This option holds movers accountable for any broken or damaged items. It also requires them to replace the article with a similar item or pay a cash settlement. This coverage will typically cost somewhere between $8 to $12 per pound, per item, and is the highest level of protection available besides insurance.

Remember that a moving company cannot sell you insurance and neither of these options are that. The difference between valuation coverage and insurance is that insurance is a contract between you and an insurer, whereas valuation coverage is regulated by federal law. It is an extent of liability that moving companies take on and in the event of damage caused by the movers, they are agree to pay a specified amount.

Low-Cost Moving Option: A DIY Move

If you want to cut some costs and maybe have a bit of an adventure in the process, a DIY move might be just the thing for you. This is definitely not something that can go completely unplanned. Besides all the regular moving supplies, such as cardboard boxes and some tarp, there a few other things and services you might need.

  • A portable moving container: A moving pod is a cheaper version of the full-service movers. The price will be determined by the size and number of containers you will be renting, as well as the amount of time you will be holding onto them for, or how far you’ll be moving.

  • Call on your friends and family: Ask your best friends to help out with a lift or two, and make a gathering out of packing. Who knows, maybe your best friend will love that loveseat you wanted to leave behind, but didn't know how to get rid of it.

  • Rent a moving truck: The amount a rental truck will cost you depends on the distance and the number of days you’re going to use the truck. Pro tip: A local truck rental company on average will cost less than the big, nation-wide counterparts. Note that they business may not cover as much territory and thus, may not be a good fit for a long-distance move. Also, remember that you will have to cover gas expenses, tolls, and possible cleaning fees.

Additional Moving Costs to Consider

Moving costs aren’t just about getting your belongings from one place to another. You’ll need to consider a few additional costs when setting your moving budget. Here are some hidden costs of moving to consider.

  • New Furnishings & Shipping Costs: Shipping costs and taxes on big purchases for your move to a new place can often add a substantial sum to your initial purchase amount. For example, if you are shopping for a new couch with a budget of $1,000, that doesn’t mean you can choose a couch that costs $1,000. Instead, it will mean that your actual couch budget is around $800 plus shipping fees and taxes!
  • Tipping Your Movers: Tip your movers! It’s a common courtesy to tip your movers from 5% to 10% of the move’s total cost. However, if the move is more straightforward, opt for a rate of $5-$10 per person per hour.
  • Storage Options: Whether you misjudge the space you’ll be working with or aren’t sure what you’ll be doing with all your belongings in the long run, renting a storage space can help provide you with a little more time to wrap up your moving process completely. Storage space rental costs vary depending on your location, the vendor, and how much space you’ll need. However, most storage unit rentals will start around $100 a month.
  • Getting Your New Apartment Checked for Pests: You can file this tip under overly-cautious, but anyone who has moved into an apartment building with pests will cosign on this step. An initial pest inspection will cost a lot less than tossing a mattress, moving to a new place, or paying to replace damaged electrical devices.

Key Takeaways

Budgeting for your move can be challenging because so many variables will impact moving costs. When looking for an affordable, reliable moving strategy, your best bet is to do extensive research on moving companies whose services fit your moving needs or consider the cost/benefit analysis of attempting a DIY move.

Or you might consider a move that offers the best of both worlds — using a storage container moving service like PODS. Check out our post: How Much Do PODS Cost? for more details on how you can use PODS for your move and how much the services will impact your budget. Happy moving!

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Angelina is a Marketing Specialist at Apartment List where she writes content on rental lifestyle. Angelina previously worked as a Russian and German language specialist at Facebook and Google, and has a BA in Applied Linguistics from UCLA. Read More
Davina Ward is a contributing author at Apartment List and freelance writer specializing in real estate and digital marketing. She received her B. Read More
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