Many removal companies work to a "domestic removals seasonal planner", which really means they charge more to move you at a time you find convenient. For instance, during school holidays, on a Friday (when you could have the weekend to unpack before returning to work) or when the weather is sunny and your belongings won't get sodden between van and house. The difference could be as much as 20 per cent of the removal cost.
Some lenders give a spiteful twist to the equation by charging a redemption fee on your mortgage to the end of the month. Move in the middle of the month, and you've lost two weeks' redemption money.
It is, of course, impossible to predict exactly when your property will sell - and your buyer may be less enthusiastic about a winter move than you are - but solicitors can be chivvied to avoid landing you with a Friday completion.
Although 90 per cent of moves are within a 10-mile radius, according to the National Association of Estate Agents the cost can easily run into several thousand pounds. Solicitors dealing with "virgin" buyers find it easy to prolong the procedure - and hike up their fee - by sending frivolous letters asking the vendors if they intend to leave the dustbins behind. Cheeky estate agents sometimes demand a deposit of a couple of hundred pounds from the buyer, over and above the deposit lodged with a solicitor, "to show serious intent".
By the time you have paid an agent up to 3 per cent to sell your home, and handed over Stamp Duty of 1 per cent on the purchase price (above pounds 60,000), money seems to be haemorrhaging faster than in a scene from Cardiac Arrest.
The Halifax will run off a quick quotation for customers, showing what likely costs will be on a given mortgage figure (for illustrative purposes only; a firm offer depends on a detailed interview). A pounds 100,000 repayment mortgage over 25 years, for instance, will attract a conveyancer's mortgage charge, a bit of flannel which translates as more cash for solicitors for dealing with the deeds (pounds 148.05); mortgage indemnity if more than 80 per cent of the purchase price is borrowed (pounds 259.40); initial interest (pounds 305.57); and the survey and valuation fee, often around pounds 400.
Having change of address cards printed usually costs about pounds 40 and asking the Royal Mail to redirect the post for three months will relieve you of another pounds 13. Children changing schools? New school uniforms to buy. New carpets, new curtains... By the time you think about booking a removal company, the instinct is to keep a firm grip on what money you have left.
A DIY removal should be considered only if you have hardly any possessions, are totally broke and have a hefty friend with free use of a van. Cheap deals with removal companies can be negotiated if the customer packs, but then the removal firm won't cover breakages. Given that a recent Which? report revealed that in 25 per cent of all household moves something is lost, stolen or damaged, it's worth finding a reliable remover who is a member of the British Association of Removers (BAR), and even more important if you are shipping goods overseas. Shark shippers will take your belongings, take your money and then go bust, leaving your container bobbing about in some foreign port - or, worse, running up dock charges.
Removal costs will depend on the cubic capacity of your household goods (including the contents of the shed and garage); whether you have difficult items such as antiques or pianos, which may involve a sub contractor; and ease of access. If you have unwanted china, glass, pictures and clothes, prepare to shed them now: Oxfam, in partnership with BAR, will supply you with Oxboxx cartons and sacks to fill with items not wanted on the voyage, which can be sold to raise funds.
Some firms, such as East Anglia-based Abels - who have moved the interior designer Nina Campbell - can provide upmarket extras such as a maid service. Until recently they owned a team of heavy horses which pulled a Victorian pantechnicon and appeared at country shows.
"The horses also worked," says Abels' Andrew Hoyle. "One customer had moved into his house 60 years ago, using our horse-drawn pantechnicon. When he moved out he used it again."
These days, says Mr Hoyle, you should be asking your removal firm whether their vehicles have air-ride suspension, which reduces the risk of damage due to vibration.
"Ask if the same team will work on your move from start to finish. Some firms cut costs by swapping crews half-way through a job, especially if the move is outside the `footprint' of a particular branch. This increases the risk to furniture if the team that wrapped isn't the same one doing the unwrapping. Check they are not casual part-time staff, and that they carry identity."
No removal firms will be quoted on an average house move price, but you would be lucky to pay less than pounds 600 on the contents of a two-bedroom flat, moving 20 miles. If the firm is a BAR member, try to negotiate free cover under the Careline scheme as part of the quote. It provides assistance if your car breaks down on the way to your new house, help in a domestic emergency, accommodation if you are stranded and can't move in as planned, and general drama-solving. Or you can forget the whole idea and stay where you are.
PS: 31 January 1997 is a Friday, and so is 28 February.