Moving guide and checklist to organize your move
Moving is inherently stressful. We cover each stage of the process so you can plan, budget, and move on to the exciting part of a new home.
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Table of contents:
What to take
How to pack
Option 1: Full-service movers
Option 2: Partial movers
Option 3: DIY
Option 4: Movable freight containers
Option 5: Air freight
Whether your move is inspired by a great job offer in a new city, a growing family, an empty nest, or a desire to upgrade your house, moving is inherently busy, complex and stressful.
This moving guide will show you what to consider at each stage of the moving process so you can make the best decisions for your situation and budget. Use the timeline at the end of the guide to stay on track.
Selling your home
Before moving into a new home, most people first need to sell their existing house. It’s often very difficult to time the selling of your current house with the purchase of your next house because of market demand, seasonality, and life events. We’re making this easier, allowing you to trade-in your home so you can buy and sell in one seamless experience.
There are different ways to sell a home from working with an agent, to selling directly to a real estate company, to For Sale by Owner (FSBO). Learn how to determine which is right for you in our guide on how to sell your home.
Preparing to move
The earlier you can start to prepare for your move, the better. The first thing you should do is create a timeline for your move. Experts suggest two months is ideal, but circumstances (like a new job or selling an existing home) can influence timing. Use the timeline at the end of this article as a starting point, and add in other things specific to your situation as needed.
No matter how you do it, moving is not cheap. It’s helpful to develop a moving budget. This is especially critical if a new employer is not footing the bill. You’ll have to decide how much of the moving work you want to outsource versus how much you can do yourself to keep expenses manageable. Your biggest cost will be related to transporting your stuff from your old house to your new home.
Full-service move: A full-service move means that movers will handle everything, including packing and unpacking your items. Costs vary greatly. The American Moving and Storage Association estimates that the average cost is $2,300 for a local move and $4,300 for a long-distance move based on an average weight of 7,400 pounds, according to moving.com.
Partial-service move: Compared to a full-service move, you’ll save money by packing and unpacking yourself, however you’ll invest more of your time. Home Advisor estimates the cost to hire a professional packer at $50 per hour, on average.
Movable freight containers: This option is cheaper than a partial-service move because you don’t have to pay movers. Costs range from $70 for a single container moved locally to $5,000 for moving a large home long-distance, according to PODS.
DIY: You do it all yourself. Using an online moving calculator is the easiest way to get a ballpark estimate on costs. Don’t forget to factor in the value of your time as that’s an added cost of taking on the work.
Depending on which approach you take, here are some additional items you may want to include in your budget:
Professional cleaners: Typical rates average $25-$90 per hour, according to HomeAdvisor, depending on whether you’re hiring an individual or a professional cleaning company.
Packing supplies: Moving kits are available for purchase. A four-bedroom kit from U-Haul is $380.
Moving insurance: Costs associated with insuring your move can range from $200-$2000, according to Angie’s List.
Professional organizers: Home organizers charge $35-80 per hour, according to HomeAdvisor.
Travel expenses: Costs will vary depending on how far you’re moving, and whether there are hotel and restaurant expenses.
Lost wages: If you need to take time off from work, factor in the cost of the lost opportunity to earn income.
Temporary housing: How much you’ll need to budget will depend on what type of temporary housing you’ll be renting, in what housing rental market, and for how long. Look at current listings to estimate your likely temporary housing costs.
What to move
Figuring out what to take and what to let go of is often a long and sometimes emotional process. Practical considerations include:
Are you downsizing or upsizing?
Will your furniture fit in the new space? Take measurements!
Does the style of your current furniture fit the new house and location?
The more you move, the more it costs. Moving is an excellent time to decide what you really need and want. According to apartmentjeanie.com, these are helpful questions to ask when deciding what to move and what to let go of:
Is there space for it in the new house?
Do you use it often? How often? This is an important question to ask when considering items in the kitchen, garage, and basement.
Is it damaged? Now is a great time to get rid of things that are easier to replace than repair.
Does it fit your current lifestyle? If your workout equipment is collecting dust or the kids have outgrown the air hockey table, don’t bring them with you.
Do you like it? Does it bring you joy? If not, considering donating or selling.
If the thought of decluttering is too overwhelming, consider hiring a professional organizer. This can save you time and help eliminate a lot of stress. Professional organizers typically charge $30 to $80 per hour, according to CostHelper.
Moving is an excellent time to decide what you really need and want.
Perhaps you have things, such as family heirlooms, that won’t work in the new house, but you want to keep for future use. Renting a storage unit is an option if you want to keep the items in your current city. For non-local moves, some moving companies offer storage services. This can be handy when you’re moving out of the house you’re selling before you can move into the house you’re moving into. It’s always worth asking!
If you’re not planning on using a full-service moving company, you will need to purchase packing supplies:
An abundance of paper or bubble wrap
You’ll want a variety of sizes of boxes, mostly smaller boxes, which are easier to move, or boxes that have handles. Big boxes are great for lightweight items, such as linens and pillows.
With people moving all the time, you can often snap up free or inexpensive packing supplies. OfferUP, Craigslist, Nextdoor, and even your neighbors, are great resources to find cheaper packing materials.
How to pack
If you’re going to pack your belongings yourself, you’ll need to pack in a way that minimizes damage and maximizes ease of unpacking in the new house. The thought of packing an entire house can be daunting so come up with a plan to break it into smaller chunks. We pulled together some of our favorite tips from across the web:
Invest in quality moving boxes and don’t over-pack.
“Use as many boxes as you need to create easy-to-lift loads… a good rule of thumb to keep your largest boxes to no more than 50 pounds,” says LifeStorage.
Protect breakables and put things in things.
Expert Home Tips explains, “Keep delicate items secure in boxes by inserting paper inside them and bubble wrapping on the outside… Never leave a space empty that could be filled with smaller things. Grab your pots and put spices in them, make sure every nook and cranny is being used sensibly.”
Label each box with the room it’s destined for and a description of its contents.
“Numbering each box and keeping an inventory list in a small notebook is a good way to keep track of what you’ve packed―and to make sure you still have everything when you unpack,” according to Real Simple.
When possible, just pack your drawers as they are.
Kitchn says, “You likely have nicely organized drawers that would be a pain to unpack and repack on either end. So save yourself the trouble: Pull out the drawer, wrap it… and move it still filled.”
Take pictures of your electronics before you unplug your setup.
Life Hack recommends, “Before you disconnect electronics to be boxed up, take a picture on your phone or camera of the cords on the back… so that you can remember where they all go! This will save you a ton of time when you set it up again.”
Remember to label all sides of the box with the room name — you never know what side you’ll see most easily when the box is unloaded. Include a packing sheet inside the box so you can see right from the start what is in the box when you go to unpack it. Finally, don’t pack boxes so full they become too heavy for you to carry!
How to move
Depending on the scope of your move and your budget, there are several options for getting your belongings from Point A to Point B. Here are five of the most popular options.
Option 1: Full-service movers
Consider this the Ritz Carlton of moving. It’s by far the least physically demanding and mentally draining of any option. It’s also the most expensive. A turnkey move includes:
Professionals who pack everything, disassemble and reassemble furniture, load and unload items and drive to the new house
A moving truck
All the packing supplies you need
Liability insurance (in case of damage)
Be aware that many companies only carry basic liability insurance, which is $.60/pound. This means that if your 100 pound TV is damaged, you would only get a $60 reimbursement. If you have high-ticket items, you definitely want to opt for full value protection, which offers replacement value reimbursement.
To find a reputable full-service moving company, consult the Better Business Bureau and the American Moving & Storage Association. In addition, make sure to do the following so you won’t get taken for a ride:
Insist on a written binding estimate. Make sure all extra fees are included in the estimate.
Make sure you are not dealing with a broker. Brokers often advertise very low rates and sell your move to a third-party that may or may not be licensed, bonded, and insured.
Option 2: Partial movers
In a partial move, none of the packing is done by movers. Packing/unpacking can be a time-intensive task, requiring multiple days and even weeks of effort. Many packing services charge a fixed rate based on the weight of your belongings, which can be hard to calculate. Home Advisor estimates that packing a 3 bedroom house would have an estimated weight of about 9,000 lbs, and it would take 3 professional movers about 4-6 hours to complete the job. If you were to do this yourself, they suggest you’d save $600-$750 in labor costs and the packing materials would cost $250-$350.
Option 3: DIY
As the name suggests, in this scenario you are doing the entire move yourself. You will need to secure packing supplies, pack up all your items and furniture, load it into a truck you’ve rented, and unload and reassemble items at the new home. The largest U-Haul truck rents for about $125/day, but you need to factor in the mileage charge and the cost of gas and damage protection on top of the base fare. Items often get dinged and damaged in a move, and with this option, you don’t have insurance (unless you purchase moving insurance separately). Most homeowner policies do not cover moving damage.
Option 4: Movable freight containers
A modern approach to moving is using movable freight containers like PODS. Customers select a POD from three sizes. The POD is delivered to your home, and you can load items at your own pace — no ramp needed. The items can be stored with PODS or moved by PODS to a new home. According to PODS, long-distance moves start at $800. Other companies like U-Pack and U-Haul offer similar movable containers.
Option 5: Air freight
Some of the major airlines offer cargo shipping, as do courier companies like UPS and DHL. This is an option to consider if you’re moving abroad. Shipping rates are determined by weight and dimension of the item. It’s important to ask specifically where you need to deliver your items and by what time, as some operators expect the cargo ready to load hours before flight time. Different shippers have different guidelines for packing, so make sure to read the fine print before you start loading your boxes.
Even with the actual move finished, the work of putting your home together is just getting started. This might be a great time to hire an organizer. Not only can they unpack for you, they can also help you set up your new spaces.
If you’re going the DIY route, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to unpack everything in a weekend. Allied.com recommends setting up an unpacking schedule that breaks down each task. They also suggest unpacking the essentials first and then focusing your efforts room by room. Another tip is to create a bag for each family member with toiletries, snacks, medicines, a few changes of clothing and any other essentials beforehand so you have everything you need during the period when most of your things are in boxes.
Lastly, after unpacking you’ll likely have a ton of reusable packing materials left over. Consider paying it forward and offering them on a site like Craigslist.org. You may even be able to recoup some of your costs.
A successful move begins with a good strategy and thoughtful budget. Allowing enough time so you don’t feel rushed and having a plan for each stage of the move will help ensure things go smoothly. Here’s a recap of the key considerations that will make your transition to a new home easier:
Create a moving timeline
Establish a moving budget
Decide on what professional help you need
Research and hire help
Obtain enough packing supplies
Decide what to take and what to donate or throw away
Pack items correctly to protect them and make boxes easy to handle
Choose the moving option that works best for your budget and situation
Settle into your new home with a plan. Approach the task room by room.
Moving checklist – tips for planning your move
Knowing when to do what will make your move much easier. Use this moving timeline as a template — add in details specific to your move as needed.
8 weeks before the move
Create a moving binder: This can be a traditional binder, or a digital folder of everything related to the move.
Research vendors: Vet moving companies, organizers and DIY moving truck suppliers.
Declutter: Decide what to keep, donate or trash. Tackle one room at a time.
6 weeks before the move
Have a garage sale or schedule donation pick-ups. Donating large items is a great way to avoid having to move something big and bulky. Garage sales can be a way to make a bit of extra money for the move. Local online platforms and eBay are another way to unload items.
If you’re moving on your own, book a moving truck. Make sure you understand any and all fees on top of the base price.
Purchase moving insurance for DIY moves.
Buy packing supplies if needed.
Get measurements: Know the room dimensions of your new house to ensure you don’t move furniture that won’t fit your new space.
Obtain medical or school records.
4 weeks before the move
Hire a full-service moving company. Make sure you receive a binding written estimate.
For DIY movers, reach out to friends to get help with your move.
Cancel local newspaper and club subscriptions and memberships.
If you’re driving to your new home, have your car serviced to ensure it’s in optimal working order. If you’re flying to your new location, find a company to transport your car.
Make any travel arrangements for the move.
Start packing. Begin by labeling boxes and then start packing less essential items.
2 weeks before the move
Check in with all vendors, including the moving company, real estate agent and storage unit, to make sure everything is on track.
Pack in earnest. Start with items that you do not need on a daily basis: clothes, home decor, some kitchen supplies, and china. Remember to put a packing list inside of the box on top of the items.
Contact utility companies to disconnect services in your old home and to establish them in the new one.
If you live in an apartment, reserve the loading elevator if required, and make sure you don’t need a special permit to have a moving truck parked on the street the day of the move.
Start using up the food you aren’t planning on taking with you.
1 week before the move
Finish packing. Have a few boxes dedicated to things you need from day one: toiletries, medications, and clothes. Label these boxes “Open First”. You can also have each family member pack a suitcase with their necessities, just as if they were going on a trip.
Disassemble large pieces of furniture if this is a DIY move.
Clean the house or hire a cleaning company.
Round up all house keys, mail keys and garage door openers for the new owner.
Schedule a final walkthrough of your new home. Do it yourself or have your agent do it on your behalf.
Defrost the refrigerator if you’re moving it.
Pack all important documents.
File a change of address with the postal service.
Pick up your rental truck if you are DIY moving.
If you hire movers, inspect the moving truck. Make sure the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) number on the truck matches the one on your contract.
Make sure the movers have your contact information and the address of your new house.
Ensure the moving company provides you with an inventory list and signs the list.
Do a final walkthrough of your house to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.
Arriving at your new home
Begin unpacking or have professional organizers get your house in order. After you unpack your survival boxes, start with items in the kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms.
Change the locks.
If you’ve moved to a new state, update your driver’s license and car registration. In many states, you only have 30 days to get this done. If you don’t, you could be ticketed.
Say hi to neighbors and consider planning a housewarming party. Meeting new people eases the anxiety of living in a new place.
If you are a business owner, you may be able to deduct moving expenses. Check with your accountant for details.
By Dena Roche
This article is meant for informational purposes only and is not intended to be construed as financial, tax, legal, real estate, insurance, or investment advice. Opendoor always encourages you to reach out to an advisor regarding your own situation.
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