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A little-known moving timesaver that's worth its $500 price tag

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I recently made one of the best decisions of my life: I hired my movers to pack my stuff. What, you didn't know this was even possible? Well it is, and it's spectacular--and a lot more affordable than you might think.

The morning of my move, my filled-to-the-brim one-bedroom apartment looked exactly how it did any other day (if slightly more organized, with odds and ends tucked away), and a few hours later, the whole place was in boxes. 

Another perk of outsourcing the packing is that having movers bring the materials means you're not hoarding boxes in your apartment for days before the move--a real space saver in a small apartment like mine.

If you can afford to do it (and believe me, it's worth working overtime, begging, borrowing or stealing), I can't think of any reason why you wouldn't.

Below, an overview of the basics, plus some tips for getting the most out of the service:

Cost: My husband and I used Oz Moving & Storage, a large moving company, and the additional packing services cost $500 extra. One other company quoted us a little less to pack our 650-square-foot apartment (but more to move) and a third quoted us $900.

Some companies charge an hourly rate for packing, but I suspect that would have turned out to be more expensive. The quote we got from the company that charges hourly was $85 per hour for two packers; we had four packers and they took four hours, so if we were to assume that it would take closer to eight hours with two people, we're looking at $680, instead of $500. The hourly thing might work if you were only having them pack your kitchen, which many people do as it's one of the most labor-intensive rooms to pack in any apartment or house.

Obviously, the number of bedrooms factors into the cost -- the more stuff to pack, the more it'll cost, but in our case we were talking about a one-bedroom apartment. 

The $500 quote included all the packing materials--boxes, tape, bubble wrap, etc.--that I suspect would have cost us about $200 alone if we bought it all retail. One quote we got from a moving company said it would cost $149 for 35 boxes (standard for a one-bedroom, though we had about 10 more), and things like packing tape and packing paper (which we needed tons of for our dishes),  are extra.

The cost of packing (and moving overall) is something you can try to negotiate on, so don't always take an original quote at face value (though in general packing is less open to negotiation than moving). We had a bit more negotiating power because it was the slow winter season. Another trick is to plan the packing/moving for the middle of the month, when things are less busy.

Time: It took four guys about four hours to pack up our place. The one who packed my kitchen actually used the whole four hours (yes, we have a lot of kitchen stuff). The entire process of packing and moving took seven hours (and about 50 boxes).

You can also choose to have the movers unpack for you for an additional fee--usually a couple hundred dollars higher than packing, our movers said, but another set said it can be less than the packing because it doesn't require materials. In my case, since I hadn't done the traditional sorting through/getting rid of things that people usually do in the packing process, I wanted to unpack myself and get that done.

The movers also did a nice job of asking me where each of the boxes should go in the new apartment, so that I didn't have to move heavy boxes around much during the unpacking process.

Tips:

1. Before the packing begins, set aside a bag of essentials you need overnight. Once everything is packed into boxes, it can be hard to locate to them right away on the the other end since you didn't pack yourself. Among the essentials worth setting aside: Toothbrushes, pajamas, extra underwear, medications, contact solution, etc. Another helpful thing to leave out of the boxes: garbage bags. You'll need them when you're unpacking, and you'll want to get to them easily.

2. Make sure you check the apartment before you're leaving. My only complaint was that our packers left a few things behind in our old apartment (some in the liquor cabinet, some in the medicine cabinet). Had we not had time to go back and check, the landlord might have charged us for not leaving the place entirely empty. Plus we would have lost some pretty good whiskey.

3. If you feel uncomfortable having a stranger pack your underwear (or other private things), pack them yourself first. I have no shame and didn't mind them folding my underwear, but I realize many people are more modest.

4. Tip extra. The packing process normally adds about four hours to the process of moving, so obviously, you should tip the packers/movers a bit more. We tipped about 17 percent of the cost of the move, and divided it by the four guys. They seemed pretty pleased.

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