Dear Angie: I am moving from Denver to Florida and looking for tips to make the move go easier. We plan to pack boxes ourselves to keep the costs down. What advice can you give on how to pack and how to find a good, affordable mover? — Linda M., Denver
Answer: Moving can be a stressful time, so finding a good company to make it a smooth move can make all the difference.
You might be able to save some money by doing the packing, but before you decide how much to do on your own, call at least three moving companies to get estimates for what they charge for different levels of service, from packing all of your stuff and transporting it, to loading and transporting only.
If you pack it yourself, the moving company's insurance might not cover damage to those items, so be sure to ask about that before making any decisions.
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If you decide to pack yourself, instead of using cardboard boxes that often can be flimsy, aren't always easily stackable and usually are good for one use only, you might look into reusable boxes. Many moving companies are offering this more environmentally friendly option of stackable, durable plastic boxes. Some will deliver the boxes to you and pick them up from the new location.
I recommend you transport high-priority items yourself. These typically include personal items you can't replace — family photos, personal documents or jewelry with sentimental value — or items that you might need access to at a moment's notice such as your wallet, car keys or medications.
One way you can make the move easier — and save money — is by weeding out items you don't need. Have a yard sale or donate items you no longer use, clothes you no longer wear, etc., to a local charitable organization.
When you're talking to moving companies, get in writing an in-home estimate, rather than a phone or online estimate. There are a variety of estimates, including a binding estimate, in which the mover agrees to provide certain services for a set price; a non-binding estimate, which is what the mover thinks the cost will be based on the estimated weight; and a "guaranteed not-to-exceed" price that you and the mover both agree to. Be sure to ask about things like moving heavy furniture, moving up and down stairs, and moving on weekends. These often can carry hidden charges.
Also, be sure your move is covered by insurance. Most companies will offer free limited coverage, with additional insurance available to purchase.
Because yours is an interstate move, there are federal regulations your mover must follow, including providing you with a copy of a brochure called "Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move."
Some companies offer an online tracking system so you can "watch" your belongings as they move across the country. Regardless of the distance involved, get phone numbers and back-up phone numbers in case you need to reach the drivers or vice versa. If the drivers can't get in touch with you, they could charge you to store your items.
Once you're at your new home and are reunited with your belongings, don't sign off on the job until you're sure there's nothing missing or damaged. If you notice that a box is damaged at delivery, open it in the movers' presence to confirm the condition of the articles inside.
Here are some more tips:
■ Never pay in full or give a mover a large deposit. Pay only upon delivery.
■ Look for a moving company that carries the "ProMover" designation.
■ Red flags include a company with an unmarked truck, dirty packaging materials and employees without uniforms.
■ Never hire on price alone, especially if that low bid is significantly lower than other estimates. Just because a mover's hourly rate is the lowest doesn't mean it's the best choice. The move could take longer, or items might be damaged — leading to a higher cost in the end.