Removal-industry insiders have warehouses full of horror stories. Linda Schofield, marketing manager of Pickfords, says that "many people move into a property which they have seen only once. When they arrive they find that there is no room for the cooker, or it fits, but it is a gas cooker, and there is no gas supply."
"There is always stress and always surprises," says Sarah Kampe, the moving force behind Moving Solutions. "For example, our eyes tend to gloss over our kitchen appliances, and it doesn't happen often, but occasionally someone will forget to take their refrigerator or cooker."
Some people move into converted properties which have large rooms and also, they soon discover, unusually narrow corridors. "The rooms themselves are spacious but there is a dogleg turn in the hallway. If you have not arranged for a crane, you end up with a piano or wardrobe with nowhere to go," says Ms Kampe.
Civil war is a common barrier to smooth moves. "Even though a couple is splitting up, you would think that they would at least communicate about the move and who gets what," says Ms Schofield at Pickford. "But many quarrelling couples use moving day as a sorting day, so it takes twice as long."
Ms Kampe agrees that multiple locations are a recipe for disaster. "When some items are staying and some are going, or furniture is moving to two addresses or some is going into storage, something is certain to end up in the wrong place."
When Ms Kampe handles a move, she verifies the correct completion time. Often the incoming family arrive at noon but the keys aren't available until two or three o'clock. "I've heard of people waiting in the lorry for seven hours."
While waiting, there is generally little to do except cultivate an ulcer farm. And they are the lucky ones.
Good planning is vital, and 90 per cent of good planning means planning well in advance. Almost everyone grossly underestimates the time and effort needed to pack, and some people take this foible to extremes. William Karslake, of the south London removers Ward-Thomas, remembers one seller who "waited until literally the 11th hour to hire a self-move van and start packing and loading. They were still at it at midnight."
Removal companies need notice to reserve the appropriate lorry. Aside from owning twice as much as you think you do, numerous factors need investigating, including insurance.
Many standard household contents policies cover removals. But Keith McGregor, assistant household underwriting manager for Royal & Sun Alliance, warns: "Most insurers will insist that brittle and breakable items, like china and other glass items, be packed and moved by professionals. And we anticipate that these items are going into the new premises. Furnishings going into storage are excluded."
Selecting a removal company can be tricky. Ms Kampe notes that it is not enough to obtain several quotes. "You need to find out what is included. Quotes can vary by pounds 1,000 or more. But how many men are included? How large is the lorry? How many trips will be required? Without answers to these questions, you can't compare like with like."
Some variables don't show up in the numbers. "In the busy season the less reputable companies are less discriminating in who they hire," notes Ms Kampe.
Professional removals people know things we don't know, like how to correctly pack delicate items. They have things we don't have, like tail-lift trucks and trolleys.
Large companies such as Pickfords offer a self-move service that includes van hire and packing materials delivered in advance. Pickfords can also arrange for a plumber, electrician, carpenter or other craftsman as part of a full-service move.
And organisations such as Moving Solutions can arrange for just about everything, including advice on local schools and redirecting the post. "I have a huge checklist and cover things people might overlook, like whether a catflap has to be cut in the new door. We can attend to council tax, photography, telephone, cleaning old and new premises, and arranging plumbing for the washing machine," says Ms Kampe.
If entirely stress-free moves are rare, traumatic relocations are also unusual. With removal companies, size matters, but so does temperament. Mr Karslake classifies removal companies as "sympathetic or surly". A large sympathetic company can cushion many a hard landing. In the move involving the half-day wait to midnight, "we had other crews who had long finished their jobs and we were able to re-direct them to help us when we finally started unloading."
Worse luck befell a family who arrived at their new home only to discover that the old owner refused to complete. The sale was off. "Except that they had vacated their home and all of their belongings were in the truck in front," says Mr Karslake.
Quick action on all fronts salvaged the wreck. "Their estate agent immediately found an empty house for them to rent. We delivered some furniture to the rental house and put the rest into storage."
Pickfords' Ms Schofield cautions that "moving is not just being transported from A to B, it is more than lift and shift. It is to get you settled in." Preferably in one piece emotionally as well as physically.
Moving Solutions, 56 Denton Street, London SW18 2JS, 0181 355 4477; Pickfords, Heritage House, 345 Southbury Road, Enfield EN1 1UP, 0181 219 8000; Ward Thomas Removals, 13 Abbey Business Centre, Ingate Place, London SW8 3NS, 0171 498 0144; 13a Heath Street, London NW3 6TP; 0171 794 0600; Association of British Insurers, 51 Gresham Street, London EC2V 7HQ, 0171 600 3333.