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Moving pro or no?

The world is divided into two groups: those who move themselves and those who hire professionals to handle it for them.

Put Tammy Lyn Phillips firmly on the "get a pro" side. She took this route for her first uprooting, but chose the do-it-yourself method the next few times to save money. But after she ruptured a disk using improper bending, lifting and carrying techniques -- racking up at least $10,000 in recurring medical bills over the next three years -- she wised up to a different definition of "expensive."

"If a professional incurs any unfortunate injuries, you're not held responsible. Plus you feel completely at ease overseeing and not pressured to physically assist, so you avoid hurting yourself," she says.

Still, in this age of cash allowances for moving expenses rather than an automatic company-covered perk, it's tempting to play the odds and pocket the extra bucks. It's rather like sitting on a pitchfork: either way you squirm, it hurts. Experts offer these points to help you decide which way to go:

Single people rarely accumulate enough stuff to make throwing it in a U-Haul an ordeal. "But the minute you get two people in a household and start adding children, the things really accumulate," says D'Arcy Goldman, president of Humboldt Storage and Moving Company in the Boston area.

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By her guidelines, anyone living in a one-bedroom apartment not stuffed to the gills -- meaning a basic bedroom set, closets that aren't spilling their contents onto the floor, no overly large furniture that needs to be shoved out a window because it won't fit through a door -- could lean toward doing this themselves.

Professional organizer Maureen Gainer asks her clients to assess what their free time is worth before making the final decision. If the move is far enough in the future to allow you to pack a box or two each evening, go for it. However, when the maverick route costs you time off from work, the bargain begins to fade.

"If moving is stressing you out -- perhaps you're doing it in less than a month or because your spouse is in the military you're handling the details alone -- it might be time to get a mover," says Donna Kozik, co-author of "29 Days to a Smooth Move."

The younger you are, the more likely you have strapping, healthy friends to pitch in on moving day. Score one for going it alone. But when your support network begins to develop bad knees, tennis elbows and weak backs, professional movers look more attractive.

Remember, the farther you move, the more economical the professional angle becomes. That's because industry de-regulation back in the '80s ushered in an era of competitive discounts. And pros work in volume. Combining four families' goods into one truckload bound for Los Angeles means your share is proportionately lower than using an entire Budget truck to yourself. According to Goldman, it typically costs between $3,500 and $4,000 to take a one-bedroom apartment's worth of items from Boston to California; $1,000 to take it across town.

On the good side, if you're only moving across town, the items don't need to be packed as expertly to survive, Kozik says, so the do-it-yourself option isn't such a nightmare.

City dwellers will appreciate letting professional movers figure out where to park the moving truck on the street and secure potential permits they need for that space. When you have a private driveway, taking control of the wheel can make more sense. Just double check that the size vehicle you rent doesn't require a chauffeur's license or other permits to operate. According to Goldman, state transportation departments started cracking down on who can drive what since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Even the time of year can sway your decision. Kozik discovered through her myriad moves that June, July and August are harder to book with professional movers, thanks to high demand. Consequently, companies are less likely to negotiate on price in the summer than in January.

Taking both sides
Often, families opt to take the best of both worlds: Pack their items but hire the professionals to load and drive the truck. Goldman says this is a good way to save money, as long as you go into it with eyes wide open. Moving companies won't accept liability for any damages to items you packed, "short of us throwing the box and you can see the outside was visibly tampered with," she says.

And no matter which route you take, you won't escape all responsibility. The burden of making arrangements to relocate plants, animals, precious jewelry, stocks and bonds, collector coins and any hazardous materials is on you, says Goldman. Add pianos, antique furniture and pool tables to that list of specialty items the average mover won't touch, in Kozik's experience.

"In general, the more precious the item, the more susceptible it might be to damage when you move," she says. Whether that translates to pro or no is up to you.

-- Posted: July 7, 2004

Guide to Moving
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