The average American moves every seven years.

There are those, however, who move more frequently -- once or even twice a year -- because of job requirements. Typically, these folks are assisted in their moves by the relocation department of the company for which they work. Moving, which is a headache for most of us, is for these frequent movers angst-free and painlessly executed.

How do frequent movers succeed?

The first piece of advice is don't go cheap. Even if you are moving within the same town, or even down the block, hire a professional, reputable moving company to do the work.

This doesn't mean you cannot handle some of the move yourself. On a recent move from a six-bedroom house to a three-bedroom one, my wife packed the china and glass, the newest computer and the table it would sit on, as well as most of the kitchen, and transported it by car from one place to the other.

That way, we had a place to eat and were never without the ability to send and answer e-mail. In addition, Aunt Jeannie's wedding china was intact when it was moved from the box to the china closet.

Before you even start your move, take a complete inventory, which will be helpful if you need to make an insurance claim.

Such an inventory should include clear photographs of tables and chairs, antiques, living room furniture and bookcases. You'd probably not be surprised how things get nicked, even by reputable movers. While a moving company may be the top of the line, there is no guarantee that every employee will adhere to that philosophy, and when the foreman isn't looking ...

You should also photograph "tight" parts of the house through which the movers will be bringing your possessions so that you can have evidence of damage. By tight, I mean stairways and doorways.

No mover is perfect, and accidents do happen. But since most movers offer insurance coverage for various amounts -- we paid $50 for $10,000 worth in our recent move -- you should have the proof if a claim is necessary.

In addition, keep some spackle and paint around to do repairs.

Finding The Right Mover

Begin your search for movers immediately after you know the date of the move. This is especially important during peak moving time, which falls between May and August.

The longer you wait, the less of a choice you will have. And that means an increase in angst.

How do you find a mover?

Check with your broker. Brokers routinely deal with home sales and can both recommend movers and make suggestions that will cut costs and save time.

Also, look in the Yellow Pages. There are local subsidiaries of most nationally known moving companies -- Allied, North American, Mayflower -- listed among pages of small and large moving companies in the book.

To be a part of such corporations, these subsidiaries need to adhere to the strict standards these moving giants maintain. These days, most large movers have Web sites that provide information, advice and contact numbers for both corporate headquarters and local movers.

Another source of reputable movers is from the corporate relocation department of your employer, if you have one.

A third, but less reliable, is from friends, relatives and neighbors. My wife insists that journalists tend to do things cheaply, so most of my colleagues fail to pass the reliable source test.

When you do get a recommendation, get all the details:

  • Were they prompt?
  • Courteous?
  • Did they choose the shortest route from one place to the other?
  • Did they put the boxes and furniture in the places you designated?
  • Did they follow directions?

If you are able, get estimates from five movers. Ask for references. And call those references, making certain they are "real" people -- not friends or relatives of the mover.

Get estimates within the estimate. For example, how much would it cost if the movers packed rather than you? If they pack, will they also unpack and set up beds, bookcases and other furniture?

If you choose to pack, how much will the boxes cost and how many will you need?

What kinds of things should go in what kinds of boxes? By this, a small box should hold books, but a large box should be packed with lighter things, such as clothing.

Will they wrap the furniture in bubble wrap, and carefully pack the computers, small appliances and breakables?

One mover was so efficient that he packed my coffee maker, including the grounds from that morning's pot, in a box and unpacked it at the other end.

Will they move antiques and pianos, or will you need to find special moving companies for such items? Not all movers are capable of moving a baby grand, so you might prefer to have your piano moved by a licensed piano mover.

You also need to ask if moving items up and down stairs is an extra cost. Or if moving on a weekend or holiday will incur a surcharge.

Most estimates are based on hourly costs by a certain number of movers, and, of course, on what needs to be moved. Make sure that you are provided with information on number of movers needed, the time it will take (including transportation time) and the number of trucks.

Once you obtain all the estimates and check out references, then it is time to choose a mover. Base your decision on service, not price. And don't skimp.

You'll need to make a deposit -- usually about 10 percent of the total estimate. Movers usually will not begin unloading the truck until they receive the balance.

That doesn't mean your work is done.

You or someone you trust needs to be on hand when the move is under way. You need to supervise and double-check, and be around for questions the movers will certainly have.

Develop a checklist. Make sure that the movers adhere to the letter of the contract, and don't hesitate to complain to the foreman of the crew or the supervisor back the office if things aren't going as promised anytime during the move.

Lastly, don't forget to have enough money for a tip -- probably about $50 per mover per eight-hour move.

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