Broken and missing belongings…damaged floors and walls…strained backs…and frayed nerves. A lot can—and often does—go wrong when you pack up and move to a new home, whether you pay professional movers or rent a van and do the job yourself. Here’s how to avoid moving blunders…

Packing Mistakes

Mistake: Disassembling Ikea-­quality furniture for transport. Modern ­assemble-it-yourself furniture usually is designed to be assembled only once. If you take it apart for a move, it likely will seem shakier when you put it back together. It might not even go back together at all if some of the particleboard chips when it is disassembled.

Better: Pack furniture that you assembled yourself in its fully assembled form, space permitting. Tables are the exception—it’s almost always worth removing table legs before moves. Tables often are damaged when transported in one piece—too much weight might be stacked on top of them, or their legs might be subjected to stress.

Mistake: Packing dishes flat. Dishes that are stacked on top of one another often shatter under the weight of boxes stacked above.

Better: Stand dishes on their ends in the box—they’re stronger that way. Individually wrap each in blank newsprint paper first so that they don’t scrape against one another. (Blank newsprint, available at packing and craft stores, is preferable to newspaper pages, which leave ink on dishes.) Wrap fine china tightly in small cartons, and put each carton in a so-called dish pack, which has double-corrugated cardboard walls.

Mistake: Sealing boxes with masking tape or clear packing tape. Masking tape isn’t strong enough to reliably hold boxes closed. More surprisingly, clear “packing tape” isn’t great either because it requires a blade or finicky dispenser to cut pieces off the roll, slowing packing. 

Better: Use self-adhesive paper packaging tape. This tan-colored tape rips easily by hand when you apply it, sticks well to cardboard and is strong enough to keep your boxes closed. 

Mistake: Wrapping bubble wrap directly over paintings. Some of the paint might pull away when you remove the wrap.

Better: Put a sheet of cardboard over any paintings before wrapping them with a layer of bubble wrap. 

Loading and Unloading Mistakes

Mistake: Loading the van in the wrong order. People tend to start by loading whatever items they can get onto the van fastest—often the boxes they’ve stacked close to the front door in preparation for the move—and end by loading whatever has to be carried the longest distance. This is too random and often results in the need to unload and reload to make everything fit.

Better: The first items onto the van should be your big, awkwardly shaped stuff—the riding mower…the full-sized barbecue grill…the corner sofa. Get these on first so that you don’t have to worry about making room later. Next, fill the space above these big items with all the other unboxed, unusually shaped items—the lamp shades and ladders, pillows and bicycles. Take care not to stack anything heavy on top of anything fragile.

Next, pack anything that remains in your basement, attic and upstairs rooms (except mattresses, linens and rugs—see below). Carrying stuff up and down stairs is draining and ­potentially dangerous. The odds of a fall increase if you leave this until late on move day when you’re fatigued.

Run-of-the-mill boxes should go on next…and then the very last things onto the van should be your mattresses, bed linens and rugs. Loading these onto the van late means that they can be unpacked first. Why does that matter? If you reach your new home late in the day, you could unload your mattress and get a good night’s sleep before unloading everything else the next morning. Rugs are best unloaded before most other items—and laid out on floors where you want them—­because that ensures you won’t have to move so many other things out of the way to unroll them. 

Mistake: Using a low-quality hand truck. The moving equipment rented out by van-rental companies often is of poor quality, making moving more difficult…and sometimes damaging homes. The hard, undersized wheels on low-end hand trucks can leave ­scratches, scuffs or ruts in flooring, stairs and thresholds. 

Better: Buy or rent a professional-quality hand truck that has pneumatic (that is, inflatable) tires at least 10 inches in diameter—these tires are less likely to damage steps and floors than are solid wheels. You can buy one for $75 or less.

Mistake: Not protecting walls. People often spend many hours carefully packing their possessions to reduce the odds of damage—but they do little or nothing to protect their homes from moving damage. 

Better: Use blue painter’s tape to secure large pieces of cardboard over walls and trim near turns in stairways and hallways—these are the spots most likely to get scuffed, chipped or dinged. Do this in both houses. 

Mistake: Depositing items haphazardly during unpacking. It’s tempting to set boxes down anywhere inside so that the van gets unloaded quickly. But this means that you’ll have to lift each box again to get it where it needs to go within the house.

Better: When packing, clearly label each box with the room it should go to in the new home. Then, when unloading the van, carry each box directly to its designated room—and put it in a closet in that room if possible. Placing boxes in closets means that they won’t have to be picked up and moved to clear space for the room’s furniture. 

Mistakes When Hiring Movers

Mistake: Hiring a moving company that isn’t really a moving company. Some services that you find online or in ads actually might be moving brokers. These companies don’t move anything—they sign customers to contracts and then bid the jobs out to the moving companies willing to do the work for the lowest prices. These are the moves most likely to go wrong. The low-bid mover you get stuck with might not be reliable or even honest. 

Better: Confirm that it really is a moving company and that it has its own trucks. Look up its address, and drive past it (or examine photos of it using Google Maps online) to make sure that the company really owns trucks. Search for images of the company’s trucks online. Consider it a good sign if the person who owns the company is mentioned by name on the company’s website. Consider it a red flag if the company gives you a quote without first sending someone to your home to look carefully at how much there is to move. (Brokers are more likely to ask customers themselves to estimate how much there is to move.) 

Mistake: Paying more than necessary for moving insurance. The coverage that moving companies are required by law to supply on interstate moves is laughably inadequate—it pays 60 cents per pound for broken items. That’s right—your possessions are valued by weight. The replacement-value coverage that moving companies sell for an added fee is better but usually pricey—often 1% or more of the estimated value of the items being shipped, which would mean $1,000 for every $100,000 in value. 

Better: Ask your homeowner’s (or renter’s) insurance provider whether your policy includes coverage for losses incurred during moves or whether you can buy a rider to cover this. 

Mistake: Warning movers that certain possessions are particularly valuable. People imagine that these warnings will encourage movers to take extra-special care of high-value items. Actually, it might only encourage movers to take extra-special care to protect themselves against damage claims in case these items get broken. Drivers write up detailed inventories that describe the condition of the items being shipped. Loading won’t begin until the customer signs this inventory. If you say that an item is very valuable, the driver will take extra care to note every single imperfection he sees on the item. These imperfections will be described in code that only movers understand. If the item is damaged during the move, the moving company will, if at all possible, point to this inventory as proof that the item already was in bad shape.

Better: Pack valuables (or have them packed) as safely as you can. If it’s very valuable and breakable or irreplaceable, consider having a specialty-moving service, such as one that transports fine art, move it instead.