Moving 101: Hiring A Moving Company

I have decided that moving across the country is rather like giving birth.  OK, not really, there may be a few minor differences between the two occasions. However, somewhere in the middle of both events, I was struck by the mind-blowing idea that people do this every day!!  All the time!  More than once! In terms of moving, the whole experience felt so huge, overwhelming, and emotional that it was hard to imagine that my move was just one of hundreds or thousands that were taking place across the country at the same time.

I still can't wrap my head around the amazing people who bring humans into this world on a daily basis the way others, oh I don't know, book ads and produce brochures.  It is definitely much easier to consider that there is a massive moving industry that sticks people's every possession on a truck and deposits it somewhere new every single day.

In fact, right now someone is frantically marking the last few boxes, trying to keep track of  movers in four different rooms of their house at once, freaking out at the sound of any bang or bump, and trying to process the increasingly dishevelled and empty look of their once beloved home.  At this moment they are peering into an enormous cavernous truck, simultaneously awed by the fact that their whole life has been squished into this one space over the course of a few hours, and that they have so much STUFF. As I type they are watching as their every belonging is driven out of sight by complete strangers with a strange and intense cocktail of emotions coursing through them.

It is possible that not everyone is quite as melodramatic about moving/life as I am (theoretically), but a big move is a big deal.  And having realized that others may one day go through it, I thought I would try to distill the various lessons I learned over the past few months.  Because it is such an enormous project, I'll break it into a few posts, otherwise I'll never get anything up!  Up first is the actual Moving Of Things.

So You're Moving! What's Next?

The papers have been signed, the deals done, the "are we really doing this?" looks have been traded and confirmed.  For whatever reason (usually a big one), you have decided to take a leap and move houses.  As soon as you figure this out, you want to get rolling on the details.  Here are a few things to consider and some tips on navigating the world of Stuff-Moving:

Are you going to rent a truck, pack it, drive it, and unload it?  

While this may seem like the least expensive option, it depends on how much stuff you have, how far you are moving, and how many friends and family are willing to help. When putting the numbers together, make sure you include amounts for renting the truck, but also for dollies, platform dollies, carts, straps and anything else you will need to physically get the stuff into the truck.  Think about your biggest items (sofa, appliances, box spring, freezer, piano, etc) and how you are physically going to move them.  Then add in all the time off you will need  to do all the work.  Even if this is irrelevant - say you are changing jobs and have a few weeks in between - keep in mind that there are a LOT of other things you are going to have to do at the same time as the move (shipping your car, changing your address, getting new insurance - I'll make a list in a future post!).  Then add the cost of gas, hotels, meals, etc.  It may not work out to that big a savings in the end, and it WILL be more of a headache.

Compare that total with quotes from professionals.  

One thing that amazed me was the wild differences in moving company quotes.  The highest quote I got was double the lowest.  To get your quotes, ask friends and colleagues for referrals.  Some friends will have had terrible experiences with the companies that look great on paper and vice versa.  Check online, keeping in mind that people love to complain.  Not quite knowing where to start, I put my information on and within an hour was contacted by several local moving companies to schedule visits.

Give them the tour.  

When getting quotes from moving companies, it is important to have them come out to see what you will actually be moving if you want their quote to be anything near the final bill.  I had five companies send out an estimator and two of them especially were really very helpful and knowledgeable about the process, giving me lots of excellent advice.  When you take them around your house, point out EVERYTHING that will be going - including boxes in the basement, your overstuffed closet, and the lawnmower and outdoor furniture in the garage.  We also had a lot of things in storage that we had taken out when staging our house - don't forget to include those!

Prepare yourself for the number

- of pounds that is.  All the quotes you get back will have translated your houseful of junk/priceless articles into how many pounds it will roughly weigh on the truck, and then give you the estimate based on what they charge per pound. For example, a family of four in a two-story house is usually around the 10,000 to 12,000 lbs range, and from what I saw prices can range from 49 to 65 cents per pound.  Personally I had never thought of my belongings in terms of cummulative weight, and it gives a whole new meaning to your ecological footprint.  In the end I am embarrassed to say that we came in at just over 13,000 lbs, and the number kind of made me ill.  That's a lot of stuff.

Get out your calculator.  

When the quotes come back, you'll quickly notice that none of the moving companies use the same line items or break down their estimates in the same way.  For example, one may show a charge of 49 cents per pound, which sounds great, but then you'll see that they also charge a 10 cent per pound freight charge.  Freight charge?  What is that? One company had an 'origin city charge' of almost $300 and a 'destination city charge' of another $300.  Funny enough, they never returned my call asking what those were for (and they didn't get my business).  So ask a lot of questions, and try to make sure that you are comparing apples to apples.

If it sounds to good to be true... 

then, yes, it probably is.  We got a great-looking quote and were very excited, until I noticed that they were quoting on 8,000 lbs.  That would not have made for a happy arrival in Calgary when they gave me a bill for almost double that amount! And even if they are quoting on the same weight, if the rate is well below the middle of the pack, my advice would be to stay away.  As one mover explained to me, for a quote that much lower, they are cutting costs somewhere - either using less people, paying them less, or paying the driver less, none of which is good news for the safe arrival of your stuff.

Are you going to pack yourself?  

I really feel like screaming DON'T DO IT!!! but my experience was brutal for several reasons:

1.  I massively underestimated the amount of stuff I had.

2.  I massively underestimated how long it would take to pack a box.  My mom and I were working from morning until night, and there were days that we each only packed about 5 boxes.  So many things need to be wrapped carefully, and then packed carefully, and each box is its own puzzle.  Do you find little things to fill in the spaces or stuff it with paper?  What happens when you run out of little things?  What happens when you run out of paper? What happens when the only things left don't fit in any of the boxes?  TEARS.  That's what happens.

3.  I massively underestimated how many boxes, how much paper, and how much bubble wrap we would need - and how much it would cost.  We must have made a million trips to Home Depot (who, FYI, have the best prices on boxes, bubble wrap etc. of all the moving stores - and they did not pay me to say that) and a hundred to our local hardware store for more tape and black markers.  We did make one big trip to a box warehouse (GM Packaging) for the odd-sized boxes for mirrors and art, but it didn't work out much cheaper than Home Depot, even in bulk.

4.  I have kids - kids who like to climb.  And our house was a giant jungle gym of boxes and couches - oh and the toys were packed.

5. Oh and my husband was already in Alberta.

6.  I didn't really want to move.  I am sure it is a very different experience to pack up your house when you are really pumped about moving.  Don't get me wrong, I knew the move was for the best, and am sure we will have a wonderful life here, but I was devastated to leave friends, kids, the school, the neighbourhood - a life I loved.  Long days and nights packing make a girl tired and stressed, and tired and stressed people don't necessarily process impending change very well...

My mom was my saving grace, there is no way in this world that I would ever have managed without her. So if you are packing it all, I suggest calling your mom, or a really good friend. I also suggest getting a quote for packing. Even if you end up doing it yourself, knowing how much moola you are saving will be great motivation!

Get Organized

As the boxes pile up and the packing paper begins to fly, things can get pretty messy.  It's a good idea to keep all move-related papers in one place, and to try to keep that place organized.  If you have one oasis in the house to retreat to after a long day, that helps too.  And wine, you'll need some wine.
In terms of a checklist, I will hopefully put one together for a future post.  In the meantime, I found this one to be helpful when interviewing movers:

As well, Home Depot Canada has an awesome Moving Guide, and I am not just saying that because they asked me to (although they did)!

This document is a really thorough guide to just about every aspect of moving yourself, from questions to ask movers to a countdown checklist taking you from eight weeks out to moving day.  It even helps you calculate how many supplies you will need, which I really wish I had looked at in the beginning!  I am happy to promote it for them, because I honestly think it is a great resource to have and will make your move much smoother.  And, as I mentioned they have almost everything you need there in terms of boxes, bubble wrap, shrink wrap, straps, etc.  Who knew!

So there you have it - should you be planning a big move in the future I hope this helps a bit.  Shoot me any questions, I am happy to answer them.  And if there is anything in specific you think I should blog about regarding the move - logistics or shipping or how to wrap art - I would love to hear from you.  And if you just did a big move and need to drink a lot of wine and commiserate, I AM YOUR GIRL.

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  1. Hi Lisa! I am clearly way behind on my blog reading-- wow, big news! Congratulations!! We too moved to Calgary just in January, and went through all the same things you have. We should meet up for a coffee or a walk.

  2. Sorry-- The Bennett House was my blog

  3. I have done 5 corporate moves (one was international), and even though the company paid for it, it was sooo stressful. Glad you survived!

  4. Thanks Barbara! Gosh, I can't even imagine an international move - bravo to you and your family for surviving that! :)

  5. i LOVE this idea! I will give you a shout Keira!


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