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Moving? This Checklist Can Make the Transition Smoother

What to do in the weeks before packing up and changing homes

Closeup of man hand holding cardboard

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En español | When Kim Craft and his wife, Karen, downsized in April from a 3,500-square-foot house in a Gainesville, Florida, suburb to a townhouse downtown, they hired a local family-owned moving company.

“After speaking [by phone] with them, I thought they were very professional and they would follow through,” Karen recalls. The company had good reviews on Yelp, she adds.

The cross-town move cost about $1,600. “It was worth every penny,” Kim says.

The Crafts aren’t alone. Prepare to see more people moving this spring and summer.

While stay-at-home orders and other restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic pushed the peak moving times from spring to fall last year, the spring moving season has returned this year, with people migrating largely west and south, says Eily Cummings, spokeswoman for UniGroup, which owns United Van Lines and Mayflower, two of the nation’s largest moving companies. People are flocking to places like Austin, Texas; Florida and Montana, as the traditional home-buying season heats up, more people get vaccinated and find they can work remotely or retire, she adds.

If you’re moving, start the process early to lower your stress. Once you settle on a closing date to sell your home or leave a rental, start planning your move. Two to three months ahead of time is best, experts say.

“Start as soon as possible,” advises Alison Bernstein, founder and president of Suburban Jungle, a real estate advisory platform that helps people choose where to settle. “There’s no reason to delay that.”

Karen Crafts' basement looked like before they sorted their belongings, donating and selling many items

Courtesy of Kim Craft

Before moving sort your items into piles for keeping, donating and selling.

Expect Pandemic Moving Delays

As more people move this year, you can also expect delays and higher costs of moving services. It may take longer to get quotes, estimates or an appointment for a walk-through. And people moving long distances could see delays due to a shortage of trucks and drivers available to handle the increased demand, which could drive up costs.

Inventory moving needs

Determine what kind of support you’ll need: a full-service move where you do nothing,  a service that has you pack some items or a full DIY move. A portable moving container is another option.

Ask around for recommendations and research reliable moving companies (check their websites, reviews and social media). Make sure the mover is insured and bonded and, if you’re moving to a new state, that the company has a registration number from the U.S. Department of Transportation. Request quotes from at least three companies, schedule a virtual or in-person walk-through, get written estimates and then book your move after being clear on what’s included in the estimate.

Once you’ve started the process, keep all of your move-related paperwork together in one place so it’s easy to find. Moving experts and consumers recommend using print or electronic checklists to keep you on track. Many moving companies provide a checklist, or you can find one online.

Earlier this year, Neysa Bartlett, 52, and her husband, Kevin, 55, hired a well-known moving company to pack larger items, put them in storage for a month and drive them from central Michigan to Ocala, Florida. They were surprised and unhappy to learn later that the company had subcontracted the work to other movers.

“We know they went through our stuff because things were stolen and were returned unwrapped and dirty,” says Neysa, who estimates the damage totaled at least $5,000. “Many, many things were broken.”

She recommends you ask about subcontracting, review the contract and make sure you receive a copy of the document.

Here’s a handy checklist starting six weeks before a move to help ensure it goes smoothly.

Kim and Karen Craft with dog, Bella

Courtesy Kim Craft

Kim Craft (left), wife Karen and their dog Bella downsized to a townhouse.

6 weeks before

  • If you have pets, take them to the veterinarian for a checkup before traveling.
  • Make any necessary travel arrangements, including airfare and hotel reservations. If you’re driving long-distance, make an appointment for vehicle service about two weeks before departure.

5 weeks before

  • If you’re packing yourself, get moving boxes and supplies, including scissors, tape, markers, padding and tools. Look for free boxes at local stores, U-Haul Box Exchange and on Craigslist, Freecycle, Nextdoor.com and Facebook groups like Buy Nothing. Use Moving.com’s Packing Calculator and Moving Cost Calculator to estimate how many boxes you’ll need.
  • Get any documents or items kept away from your home, such as in your safe deposit box.

4 weeks before

  • Declutter. Go room by room and create four piles: items you want to keep, sell, donate and trash. Typically, the less weight you move, the less expensive it will be. The cost of moving, which ranges from $1,250 to over $10,000, also depends on the size of your home, the mileage between locations, labor, extra services and the time of year.
  • “My advice is to get rid of everything. It’s literally cheaper to ... buy fresh,” Bernstein says. “Don’t waste the time, energy and money to move boxes later that you don’t need.”
  • Packing can be overwhelming, so start now with nonessential items, such as holiday decorations and seasonal clothing. Find out if any items, such as paint and propane, are prohibited by your mover. Label each box by the contents and room. Some moving companies provide an inventory list, or you can create one. “I labeled every box so it was easy to identify where it went in the [new] house,” says Kim Craft. “I numbered each room in the new house and put sticky notes with that number on the furniture.”
  • Contact your mover to ensure logistics are on track or if you’ve reduced your load.

3 weeks before

  • File a change-of-address form with the U.S. Post Office and update your address with financial institutions, health care providers, Social Security, Internal Revenue Service and Medicare.
  • Transfer or cancel subscriptions, such as for magazines, and memberships like the gym. Transfer prescriptions for you — and your pets — to a new pharmacy. 
  • Cancel or transfer utility services at your current home and schedule start dates for your new home.
  • Set aside important and valuable items, such as jewelry, passports, electronics and artwork, that you want to carry with you.

2 weeks before

  • Tie up loose ends: Return borrowed items, including library books. Pick up any items from the dry cleaner.
  • Make sure you have enough prescription medication to last a week after your move. 

1 week before

  • Clean your home.
  • Unplug, clean and disassemble all indoor and outdoor electronics and appliances before the movers arrive. Allow 24 hours to defrost the refrigerator and freezer. 
  • Pack a bag for your relocation trip and create a box of goods to get you through a few days in your new home, especially if the movers are delayed.  Include food, clothing, toiletries, a first-aid kit, and a shower curtain and towels and sheets.
  • Confirm arrival time and details with your mover.

Moving day

  • Be on site to oversee loading. Keep your checklist handy.
  • Separate items, such as your travel bags, valuables and prescriptions, that will travel with you so they’re not packed on the moving truck.
  • Take a final walk-through of your home to ensure nothing is left behind. Read and sign all paperwork and get copies. “Try to be as organized as you can up front,” advises Kim Craft. “We closed on both houses and moved in one day,” so it was hectic, he adds.

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Sheryl Jean is a contributing writer who covers aging, business, technology, travel, health and human-interest stories. A former reporter for several daily metropolitan newspapers, her work also has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News and on the American Heart Association's website.

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