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Frugal Homeowner®



Moving Cross Country? Buy Your Own Moving Van

QUESTION:  We are moving cross-country within the month, but find that even with the tough economy, moving companies aren’t cutting their prices.  Do you have a suggestion on how we can move a house of about 2,500 square feet of stuff for less than the $3,500 quoted by the moving companies and the truck rental services?   P.S.  We can take the time to move ourselves. Thanks.---PA 

ANSWER:  You’re in luck.  My husband and I just moved furniture from our second home in Florida cross-country to Idaho.    Our house was about the same size and we faced the same type of quotes from companies; but, like you, had time to move ourselves.  We found that the best financial solution was to purchase a twenty-four foot used, dealer refurbished U-Haul® truck with the hopes of re-selling it at our destination.

The following are the steps we took to do the research, find the equipment, and pencil out the costs:

  1. Begin with the end in mind:  Start your research online.  Depending on your beginning destination, many major truck companies have comprehensive websites showcasing the vehicles for sale with “asking” prices.  The standard information regarding available trucks includes size, condition, mileage, year manufactured, and make of engine.  There will be a local phone number for the dealer if you need any additional information.  Here’s where “begin with the end in mind” comes in.  Before you make an offer, visit the dealer and comparison shop the available equipment.  For example, if you’ll be keeping the truck after the move, you may want to go with the vehicle that has the lowest mileage.  But if you want a quick re-sale at the end of your journey, the cosmetic look of the truck is equally important.  (My husband said it was “more of a woman thing” but the dealer corrected him, saying it would attract more potential buyers, especially if someone were going to use it in their business). Additionally, ask for a copy of the maintenance records (corporations keep these for liability purposes) as well as check out the obvious like the engine, overhead door, and tires.

  2. Size matters:  Before you visit the dealer, it’s vital to know how much space you’ll need.  You say you’re moving stuff from a 2,500 square foot house, but what about belongings from a garage, outdoor storage shed, and back yard?  This may amplify the space you need by ten to twenty percent or more.  Decide who will be driving and make sure the seat adjusts to accommodate all.

  3. Ready, set, make an offer:  While most sites let you make a bid online, sales are usually approved at a corporate level rather than with the individual dealer; so be prepared to wait a day or so to hear if your offer is accepted.  Depending on the company and the availability of trucks, you may be able to negotiate a thousand dollars or more off the asking price.  While you’ll be buying the truck “as is”, most companies provide you with free thirty-day call center access in case you have questions about the equipment or need to replace a part (on your nickel, of course).

  4. Be realistic about packing up the house and the truck:  “Murphy’s Law of Moving” dictates that not only will it take at least twice as long as you anticipated, the first thing you load will be the last thing you need!  I suggest making a “road kit” before you pack up the first belonging.  It should contain a flashlight, road flares, a blanket, several types of screw drivers (for disassembling and re-assembling furniture),  a small cooler for drinks and snacks, your important papers especially those you’ll need upon arrival, a cell phone and charger, and a map.  The papers we received with the truck provided instructions on what to load where weight-wise in order to provide the safest load and the best ride. Depending on the size of the city you’re moving from, many large truck companies have labor on-call that you can pay to help pack the truck.

  5. Chart your course:  It’s best to avoid driving through major cities, but if you must, make sure to avoid rush hours and Friday afternoons if possible.  Time spent in heavy city traffic makes for very long days and exponentially burns more fuel.

If you do the research and crunch the costs, you’ll be able to gauge if buying a truck makes financial sense for your cross-country move.  In the meantime, if anybody in Idaho or Washington State wants to buy a great 24-foot truck, send me an email!

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