Summer is, of course, the peak moving season.

Some people will move themselves, renting a 24-foot truck from U-Haul or Ryder and paying friends with food and beer to help. Others will hire professionals, with mixed results, depending on the reliability of the moving company and the quality of the crew.

In any move, timing is essential. With so many people moving in so short a time, moving companies can be booked so far in advance that the best you can do might not do at all.

The experts suggests that four to six weeks in advance of the move is a good time to begin contacting companies for estimates.

The best thing to do first is to decide what you will be moving. That is, you should think about getting rid of the stuff you don't need, and that will make your move easier and less expensive.

There's no reason to pay to move junk you'll never use from one house to another. If you can't get rid of stuff yourself, you can always hire a professional to help you.

By the time most people have reached their 40's and 50's, they have been collecting stuff without pause for more than 20 years. Garages hold a collection of bikes and lawn equipment instead of cars. Closets have clothes that their owners would wear again if only they could lose 10 pounds.

Remember that moving companies base estimates partly on the number of pounds they have to move. So the less extraneous stuff to move, the better.

If you hire professional movers, a good source for names is your real estate agent.

Though professional movers generally return telephone calls from prospective customers, that's no guarantee that the first one you call will be able to pencil you into the schedule.

So get several names and keep calling until you get one whose schedule meshes with yours. By calling several weeks in advance of the move, you give the mover a chance to look at what has to be done at your end.

You get what you pay for. Usually, the size of what is being moved is not as important as how it is being moved. And if you go for the lowest price, you take your chances.

Rates, while regulated, are somewhat competitive and dictated by consumer needs.

Local moves are based on an hourly rate and the amount of time it takes to load and unload your possessions. There usually is a minimum charge, often three or four hours.

The minimum depends on the time of year. If you move locally at peak time, it could be as much as eight hours.

Laws in many states provide a choice to movers and consumers on whether the charge is determined by hour or weight.

It is customary to give each member of the moving team a tip. If you are uncertain of the amount, you should ask the representative of the moving company when he or she visits to provide the estimate.

The final cost of the move is based on the weight of the shipment and whatever additional services you asked the mover to perform, such as packing your belongings or crating delicate items such as computers and television sets or works of art.

The costs of packing material also are extra.

In pricing a move, the estimator takes a number of things into consideration other than weight.

Most movers don't depend on weight as much as they do on volume or quantity. It involves determining how much space the items being moved will take up, how large a truck will accommodate it, and how much one guy can move in X number of hours.

In addition, the estimator considers the physical barriers that may be involved that will make the work longer and tougher -- lots of stairs, difficult turns, big furniture, whether the building has an elevator.

If the estimate was too low, you will likely be asked to pay it and up to 10 percent of the overage upon delivery, with the balance due in 30 days.

By law, payment of the estimate is made before your possessions can be unloaded at your new address. In addition, payment must be made by certified or cashier's check, traveler's checks, or a money order payable to the mover. No personal checks are accepted.

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