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What should you expect from a moving company?

If you’re planning your first big move that doesn’t involve bribing friends with pizza, start by learning exactly what you get for your money from movers.

The good news: you’ve got an array of choices, from paying movers by the hour to load stuff onto and off the truck all the way up to a full-service move.

Most moving companies charge by the hour for local moves and by the weight of your items for long-distance moves, said Nate Nadaz Segal, founder of 495 Movers in Rockville, MD.

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To find a mover, get at least three quotes from certified professional movers, said Michael Keaton, senior director of communications for the American Moving & Storage Association. Keaton recommends the find-a-mover tool on the AMSA website.

“You don’t want to fall into the hands of a disreputable mover,” Keaton said.

Before moving day, you should know how the process works. Here’s a step-by-step rundown of what a reputable full-service moving company should do:

Size up your stuff.

A moving pro should visit your home and look at the appliances, furniture and other items you plan to move.

“That way, you get the most accurate estimate,” Keaton said.

Some companies will let you send in video of your home instead, Keaton said. However, a visit allows the movers to avoid moving day surprises by spotting issues like stairs, tree branches or obstacles to parking the moving truck.

“The good companies will come meet you face-to-face,” Segal said.

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Provide a written estimate.

A written, signed estimate allows you to compare the quotes from the moving companies and will protect you in case of a dispute later, according to AMSA. There are three types of estimates: binding, non-binding and not-to-exceed (also known as “guaranteed price” or “price protection.”)

Know exactly what kind of estimate you’re getting so you can make accurate comparisons. Be leery of a lowball estimate.

“If it seems too good to be true, it may be,” Keaton said.

Lay out your insurance options.

By federal law, moving companies must offer you free insurance for interstate moves, Keaton said. That’s “released value” insurance, which pays out just 60 cents a pound on a claim. So, if your $1,000 flat-screen TV breaks, you might get $18.

“That’s not going to replace your television,” Keaton said.

But the moving company also will quote you the cost, in writing, of full value protection insurance, which would cover repair or replacement for the current market value of a damaged item, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The cost of insurance varies, and you may have different deductible options, so read the details carefully.

One example: 495 Movers offers a policy that costs $120 for every $10,000 in value, with a $250 deductible.

“It’s good if you have a lot of antiques and brand name items,” Segal said.

Set a date.

The moving company will work with you to pick a date for your move and to set the timeline. If you’re moving cross-country, you should get to choose from a range of dates.

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Pack your possessions.

Packing should be included in the cost of a long-distance move, and some moving companies insist on packing everything for insurance reasons.

“Typically, if they’re going to be handling a box or item, they want to pack it,” Keaton said.

However, if you’re taking a carload of stuff with you, you can pack that.

If you’re getting your items packed, employees who specialize in gently packing everything from clothes to wedding china will arrive with bubble wrap, specialized boxes for clothes and TVs, and tape that spells out which room a box should go in your new home.

For local moves, most companies charge by the hour for packing, and some charge additional fees for packing materials.

Give you a contract.

On moving day, the driver of the truck must give you a bill of lading, which is a contract for moving your goods. You sign it and receive a copy, according to federal law.

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Load up the truck.

A crew specially trained to move and secure heavy items will load your stuff onto the truck. Generally, it’s a good idea to be available, but not underfoot, while the crew works, Keaton said.

Keep you posted.

The driver of the truck should get your cell number and email address to update you on the progress, Keaton said. Some companies also offer technology that lets you track your move online.

Store your stuff if necessary.

What if you’ve got a lag between the time you have to be out of your old apartment or house and when you can move into the new one? In that case, the moving company can provide what’s known as “storage in transit.” Some companies offer you free storage at your destination for a few months, but may charge extra for unloading, then reloading your items, Nadav Segal said.

Check ahead of time to make sure you understand any extra charges.

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Deliver the goods to your new place.

On move-in day, a crew of movers will show up at your new home, unload your stuff and deliver each item to the right room. The unpacking? You’ll have to do that, unless you want to pay extra.

What they won’t do.

But, there are some things movers won’t do, including disconnect your appliances, take down a satellite dish and move hazardous materials. Atlas Van Lines offers a list of items its movers won’t take, including: ammonia, car batteries, loaded guns and weed killer.

What does it cost?

So, what will all this service cost? It depends on how much stuff you have, the services you get, and how far you’re moving. According to the cost calculator at Moving.com, it can range from less than $1,000 for an in-state move of a studio apartment with no packing to over $20,000 for a cross-country move of a large house with full packing service.

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