3 Best Ways to Move Across Country

WASHINGTON (MainStreet) -- A new house, new job or just new scenery are all great reasons to move across country, but you'll pay for the novelty.

Roughly 37 million Americans move every year, according to 2009 U.S. Census data, with more than half doing so during the summer. Of that total, 12.5% move out of state and truck an average of 7,400 pounds of stuff for roughly 1,225 miles. They want new or better homes (14.5%), to tend to family (11.5%), to start their own household (9.5%) or wanted a new job or to transfer within their company (8.7%).

They also pay an average of $4,300 to do so and help kick in 69.6% of the $16.5 billion the moving and storage industry makes annually, according to the American Moving & Storage Association trade group.

Where are they going? According to the AMSA, Alaska has the highest percentage of inbound moves at 63%; Vermont, Oregon and Kentucky tie for second at 57%; and Texas and North Carolina take third with 56%. Their gain is Michigan's loss, as 62% of all moves in Michigan are headed out of state, with New Jersey trailing just slightly with a 60% exodus and Illinois following in third with 59% of all moving traffic heading outbound.

Much as few Americans can agree on where to move and why, seemingly nobody can reach a consensus on how to get there. Of the 3 million households that moved back in 2007, according to the Census, 800,000 hired professional movers, 1 million did so with a rented truck and 1.2 million got from point to point without any commercial help. For those two-thirds of American moving households that will pay someone to lug their stuff, we teamed with AMSA to look at the best options on the table, based on a a residential move of 10,000 pounds from Chicago to Dallas this month. Depending on how much you value your money, time or body, each option has pros and cons for those looking to pack up and go.

Renting a truck

Pro: It's easily the least expensive option -- probably why it is embraced by one-third of all moving households nationwide regardless of destination. Rental companies such as U-Haul, Hertz, Penske, Ryder, Budget and Enterprise have a huge national presence and make it easy to pick up a vehicle at Point A and drop it off after you're unloaded at Point B.

When it came to our Chicago-to-Dallas trek, a U-Haul truck rental came in at $2,207. We tacked on $90 for insurance coverage, $80 for renting dollies and pads and $233 for packing materials and it still came in at nearly $1,500 less than the next least-expensive option.

Con: For one, you're driving a truck across country. This means all of your belongings are with you when you pull into a roadside motel or restaurant and sitting in the back of the truck while you eat and sleep out of view. At the very least, that's going to require some insurance coverage for the contents, but at most it'll cost some nervous nomads a few hours of sleep.

Speaking of hotels and restaurants, you're also going to be paying for that and fuel on top of your moving costs. Oh, and if you're driving a truck, that also means you're not driving your own car, which will cost even more to transport. What's your reward for this "frugality"? The honor of unpacking and lugging all of this stuff into your new place by yourself.

Renting shipping/storage containers

Pro: In recent years companies such as PODS, United Mayflower and Door to Door Storage have taken away the biggest drawback of moving without movers by driving your self-loaded bin across country for you. You're still packing it up yourself, but your bin is loaded onto a semi with others, hauled across country and stored until you arrive. It is dropped off when you make the call.

It's also only slightly more expensive than having to make the trip yourself. The cost of shipping "large" 16-by-8-by-8-foot containers including taxes, fees and $10,000 in protection comes to $4,203 and is only slightly more ($600) when you throw in packing materials.

Con: Despite being seemingly perfect for city-to-city apartment moves, a resident needs a few things that are scarce in urban environments to make these containers convenient: Ample curbside parking space, amenable local parking lots or private driveways. Otherwise, residents will have to pay for permits to block off a section of street and keep on their toes to make sure it doesn't get taken regardless.

The other problem is that, again, you're rewarded for your thrift by having to pack it up yourself. If you don't choose to take that route, hiring labor to pack, load and unload both containers at each site would cost another $3,900, according to the AMSA.

Hiring movers

Pro: Having someone else do all the work for you is a pretty strong pro. Yet there are benefits for people relocating beyond just being lazy or having your big moving day entail buying plane or train tickets and arriving in just enough time to meet the truck.

"One is saving the time and trouble of packing up their belongings, which otherwise would mean rounding up or buying the right type, number and size boxes to protect their items from damage during an interstate move and then properly packing them," says Linda Bauer Darr, AMSA president and chief executive. "There's also the very real risk of physical injury from not knowing the right techniques for moving heavy items in sometimes precarious situations."

Con: Lethargy costs and, in the case of our move from Chicago to Dallas, United Van Lines says it'll cost $6,500 before any packing materials are figured in.

The other not-so-secret downside to moving is that not all movers are created equal or necessarily on the up-and-up. As Consumer Reports warns, "virtually anyone with a truck and a website can claim to be a mover." The Department of Transportation and Better Business Bureau advise looking out for red flags such as movers who don't offer or agree to an on-site inspection, demand large deposits in cash before the move, claim all goods are covered by insurance, answer the phone "moving company" instead of with a company name or show up on moving day with a rented truck instead of a company-owned and marked fleet truck.

If a company doesn't meet those criteria, head to the DOT, BBB or AMSA websites to find one that does.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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