House hunting or shopping around for an apartment is the easy part. Closing a deal on your new home can be tricky. But it’s the actual act of moving that leaves scars – even physically.

Moving is complicated for just about anyone, but if you’ve lived in the same place for years, you typically discover you’ve accumulated more than you imagined as you try to pack up your life to resettle it elsewhere. How do you begin to cut down what’s coming with you, and how do you get it from one place to another without eating ramen for the next three months?

Moving.com, an online real estate and moving service provider, estimates a full-service move – meaning a moving company takes care of loading, transporting and unloading – in Austin, Texas, could cost as little as $640 for a studio and as much as $4,440 for a four-bedroom home.

Local Move in Austin

Studio $640-$1,062
Two-bedroom $1,432-$1,823
Four-bedroom $2,967-$4,440
Source: Moving.com


A long-distance move, naturally, is going to cost more. Relocating from Dayton, Ohio, to Austin starts at $1,794 for a studio and goes as high as $13,512 for a four-bedroom home, according to Moving.com.

Move From Dayton to Austin

Studio $1,794-$3,116
Two-bedroom $4,334-$5,558
Four-bedroom $9,051-$13,512
Source: Moving.com


It costs $12,935 on average to ship a household’s contents within the U.S., according to a report by workforce mobility foundation Worldwide ERC based on 2014 data. While costs can vary greatly based on the size of the home, how many people are moving and how far the move is, the cost to relocate is often an unfortunate surprise.

But it doesn’t have to cost this much to move, and many people don’t have the means to fund that kind of move on his or her own – especially if they just made a down payment on a new house. Rather than looking at moving as a single action, break it into the various parts of the process, and weigh the options below to dramatically reduce the overall cost of setting up in your new home.

[See: The 20 Best Places to Live in the U.S.]

Belongings

Moving gives you the opportunity to start from scratch when it comes to interior decorating, and often you’ll find yourself shopping for a couch or bed while you wait to close on your new home.

If that’s the case, don’t waste time and money moving the old stuff to your new place. A sure way to cut moving costs is to eliminate unecessary belongings – especially larger furniture – from the equation.

Host a garage sale, list your pieces on online marketplaces such as eBay and Craigslist or schedule a local charity to pick up what you don’t plan to take with you. Many moving companies will partner with local organizations and may be willing to haul your unwanted items for you at no charge. Scott Michael, president and CEO of the American Moving & Storage Association, says AMSA partners with Move for Hunger, a nonprofit that facilitates the donation of unused food and kitchen items to local food banks.

“The movers will help [homeowners] collect that and haul it for them to the local food bank, so they don’t have to count that as part of their shipment,” Michael says.

Similarly, charitable organizations like The Salvation Army offer donation pickup, particularly for furniture such as a couch or dining room table that you might not be able to drop off yourself because of its size. You can schedule a free pickup, and the movers who retreive the items from your home will provide you with a donation receipt for a potential tax deduction.

How low can you go? If you’re starting fresh or moving somewhere fully furnished, why not sell or donate all your furniture and downsize your wardrobe? Without the bulky pieces you could potentially fit everything you own in a car. Cost: $20 for gas and some packing materials, though it's worth checking with local retail stores to see if they have boxes they're discarding.

Transportation

The distance of your move will naturally have a major impact on the cost – with fuel costs, the cost of transporting your stuff and the possible overtime for movers, the price adds up. Plus, with a long-distance move there are fewer chances to go back and grab stuff you missed the first time, and organizing movers in multiple locations can get complicated.

To streamline the process of a long-distance, full-service move, consider hiring a national brand such as United Van Lines or Mayflower Transit. This should reduce the need to work with two different moving companies, and by including representatives in each area, you'll lower the possibility the moving truck gets lost trying to reach your new home because the movers are unfamiliar with your new city.

If you’ve managed to purge most of your belongings down to clothes and small items, it’s worth examining the cost to check bags on an airplane. While you might consider checking bags a rip-off any other time, moving your belongings via a few suitcases as you fly to your new home could be much cheaper than having them professionally moved.

Virgin America, for example, charges $25 per checked bag up to a maximum of 10 bags. Keep each bag under the 50-pound weight limit, and you could successfully get your belongings from one side of the country to the other for just $250 plus airfare. If you're a real minimalist, Southwest Airlines allows two checked bags per ticketholder, free as long as they remain under 50 pounds. Combined with a carry-on, you could transfer your belongings for no more than the cost of your ticket.

Ground shipping through the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, FedEx or another package delivery service could be similarly inexpensive, though it will take longer for your belongings to arrive. UPS Ground estimates it could transport 10 50-pound boxes from Dayton to Austin in five days for just over $500.

Both locally and long-distance, you can also go the DIY route – drive it yourself. Companies like U-Haul, Penske and Budget Truck Rental have locations all over the country where you can rent a vehicle for your needs.

Towing a trailer is one option that can easily get overlooked, but it will usually save a lot of money, explains Sperry Hutchinson, moving and product expert for U-Haul. “There’s a cost savings involved when you drive your own vehicle and tow a trailer,” Hutchinson says, noting you don’t have the same mileage costs you would for a rented truck.

For local, relatively small moves, you can also rent a pickup truck from home improvement stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s for less than $100 for a few hours.

How low can you go? Towing a U-Haul 5-by-8-foot cargo trailer behind your vehicle for a local move could cost you as little as $18.95 in Austin. The same-size trailer for the haul between Dayton and Austin is still cheaper than renting a truck but comes in just over the cost to check your bags on Virgin Airlines at $254. Cost: $18.95 local, $250 long distance.

[See: The Best Apps for House Hunting.]

Labor

Depending on how strong your friends are – and how likely they are to help – it’s possible to cut out labor costs entirely. But packing and unpacking a truck can be an overwhelming task, and moving an entertainment center isn’t always an enticing way for friends to spend an afternoon.

Fortunately, there are options for those just seeking the labor aspect of the move. If you intend to rent a truck yourself, many reputable companies, often local to the area, are able to provide as many movers as necessary to show up to the site and move only what you can’t do yourself for a few hundred bucks.

HireAHelper.com is one service that connects you with local laborers that you can hire to help you with the part you may hate most – getting things in and out of the truck. Being able to hire the muscle without having to pay for the full-service move cuts costs significantly, explains Mike Glanz, CEO of HireAHelper.

“All of a sudden you could get the full-service move that was over $3,000 in this hybrid move for under $1,000,” Glanz says. HireAHelper facilitates the transaction for you as well, with a consistent online payment and cancellation policy for every company that works with the site.

How low can you go? You could have friends and family help out for the price of a pizza, but for the sake of your friendship we’ll cut that out. Glanz says the average job through HireAHelper consists of two laborers, lasts two hours and includes insurance on the items being moved. Cost: $200-$300.

[See: The 20 Most Desirable Places to Live in the U.S.]

Where Else Can You Save?

The key to saving money in your move is to know what parts of the planning process can lead you toward cheaper rates. Here’s what the pros recommend:

  • Research, and research early. It’s best to start your research early to determine the best method for you – full-service move, DIY or hybrid. And reserve any necessary equipment far in advance to make sure you don’t find yourself up the creek without a moving truck on the last day of your lease or hiring the only guy available. “Doing your research online and looking for reputable reviews on companies is really going to be key to making sure the experience goes right,” Glanz says.
  • Get three different quotes. As with any service you hire, you should always weigh your options and speak with multiple companies to not only find the best deal, but also to ensure who you choose to work with is reputable. Michael recommends getting quotes from three different moving companies. “If you find that some of the pricing is way out of line, either way high or way low, it might be a red flag that there’s something wrong there.”
  • Consider the off-season. Summer is the most convenient time to move, but it often brings the cost of renting equipment and labor up due to higher demands. “Memorial Day to Labor Day is when we get busy, and really, that makes sense: kids are out of school, people are more inclined to take vacations, the weather is nice,” Hutchinson says.
  • Move on a weekday. Moving on a weekend isn’t very original, either. If you can take a day off work at least for the movers to come or to use the rental truck, you’re likely to find lower rates. Hutchinson adds you’ll also be able to communicate better with utilities offices, which are often closed on weekends. “Everybody’s going to be open when you want them to be."

Tags: real estate, moving, renting, housing


Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.