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Preparations for your move to a new home are underway and you're starting to pack, get rid of items you don't need and schedule movers. But you're not ready to move until you've set up your utilities at your new address.
Here are answers to common questions about setting up your utilities:
-- What utilities do I need?
-- What utility company services my address?
-- How do I set up an account?
-- When should the previous resident turn off their utilities?
-- How do I transfer utilities from my old address?
-- How do I set up bill pay?
-- Are there services to help me set up my utilities?
-- How do I manage my utility bills?
[Read: The Guide to Title Insurance]
What Utilities Do I Need?
The following are the utilities you'll need to set up in your new home (some, like phone and cable, are considered optional):
-- Trash and recycling pickup.
How utilities are split up or managed may differ by city or neighborhood. In many communities that have a homeowners association, for example, trash pickup and sewer are included as part of the monthly HOA dues.
In places where septic systems are used as opposed to a municipal sewer, the utility is not required, though a septic system needs professional maintenance from time to time.
What Utility Company Services My Address?
Often, your real estate agent or landlord will be able to provide detailed information on the available utility companies for you to consider and contact regarding starting service. You can also visit InMyArea.com and search by ZIP code to see which utility companies are available, or ask neighbors, friends or family who live nearby to get recommendations based on service experience.
Many states and counties allow for a monopoly on specific utilities -- gas, water and electricity in particular. These will limit your options to one or two companies to choose from for certain utilities. Water is often monopolized and operated by the local government, so the water authority will be a department under municipal or county management.
When you do have choices, get recommendations from long-term locals. Consider frequency of connection or service issues, response time to questions, overall ability to resolve issues and total cost.
Texas has a competitive power market, for example, which gives residents multiple choices when it comes to selecting which company will provide their electricity. Bill Clayton, vice president of customer care and retention for Reliant, a Texas-wide electric provider, says this type of market means the company works hard to appeal to customers in the long term, leading to "better offers, better services and better products to our customers."
How Do I Set Up an Account?
Many utility setups can be initiated online or over the phone -- the best place to start is by visiting the utility company's website for instructions. Many utility companies are able to turn on service within a few hours of setting up an account, but it's often a good idea to reach out a few weeks in advance.
To set up your account, be sure to have this information on hand:
-- The address of your new home. This includes the apartment number if you're moving into an apartment or condo community.
-- Meter number for your new home. This isn't required but can make the setup process easier for power or gas if you have it on hand, Clayton says. This number should be visible on the meter itself. If you're renting, your landlord may have this number as well.
-- Forms of identification. A driver's license and Social Security card are often sufficient, or your passport can work as well.
-- Email address. Know which email address you'll want to use for bills and other communications. It's possible you'll need to be able to access the email while you're setting up your account.
Depending on the company and where you live, there may be a credit check using your Social Security number. "A deposit may be required depending on the customer's credit score and credit history," Clayton says.
However, Clayton stresses that there are alternatives to a deposit -- which can be a couple hundred dollars or based on the last bill that went to that address. The deposit may not be affordable if you're starting a new job and haven't yet received your first paycheck. A letter from your previous utility company noting consistent on-time payments may help, or you may be able to have a local relative co-sign to the account.
"Each utility is going to be a little different, but there are options available for deposit waivers," Clayton says.
The Federal Trade Commission notes that deposit or letter of guarantee requirements must be the same for all customers. The FTC also states that if you are denied service or required to pay a deposit, you have the right to know why, as long as you submit your request in writing within 60 days of the response to your application.
When Should the Previous Resident Turn Off Their Utilities?
When the previous residents of your new home are moving out, they'll need to notify the utility companies of the change as well, and sometimes you can't set up your account until they've done so. For this reason, it's good to reach out to the utility company a few weeks prior to your move, but be ready to call again a couple weeks later if needed. A turnoff date should be for the day after the previous resident's move-out.
If the previous resident has a scheduled move-out date soon but still hasn't informed gas or electric, for example, the utility companies will typically allow you to set up the account transfer to avoid an untimely turnoff that leaves you without lights, heat or other necessary functions. Simply explain the situation and the known move-out date for the previous resident to allow the service to transfer to your account at that time.
How Do I Transfer Utilities From My Old Address?
If you already have an account set up with a utility company at your current home and will have access to the same provider at your next residence, you don't have to set up a new account -- just notify them of the change in address and schedule the turn-on and turn-off dates for each place. Clayton explains that this is considered a transfer of services rather than the move-in setup designed for new customers.
How Do I Set Up Bill Pay?
Depending on the company, you may be able to set up bill payments the day you create your customer account, or you may need to wait for the first bill to arrive in the mail, which will provide you with your account number and instructions for paying the bill by phone, online or possibly by mail.
Almost all utility companies offer paperless bill pay options, which allows you to pay online or via phone without receiving monthly bills in the mail. Depending on the company, you may also be able to set up automatic payments, ensuring that your bill is paid in full and on time each month.
Are There Services for Helping Me Set Up Utilities?
If your plate is already full, you may opt to take the stress of setting up utilities off your to-do list by hiring a service that will do it for you. Companies like Utility Connect, My Utilities and Utility Concierge offer price comparison for finding the best rates and will also help by setting up all the necessary utility accounts based on the information you provide.
Depending on the company, it may be a service provided for free to you by your real estate agent or property manager, or it may be one that requires a fee. Either way, the goal is to help you streamline the process.
How Do I Manage My Utility Bills?
While monthly bills for services like internet and trash removal are the same from month to month, with possible annual changes, your water, electricity and gas bills are based on how much you use each month.
If you're new to the area, it's a good idea to ask your utility service providers what the average bill amount is during different times in the year to manage your expectations. If you're seeing charges that don't match the typical bill for the area, you may need to check for plumbing leaks, inefficient systems or other issues in the home causing the higher charge.
"If (homeowners) see that there's a big increase in energy use with their air conditioning, certainly getting it looked at is a good idea," says Mike Phillips, CEO of Sense, a company that makes home energy monitors.
If you are having trouble paying your bills, the FTC recommends reaching out to the utility company right away. During temperature extremes, cities or states may place a moratorium on utility shutoffs to ensure residents facing financial difficulties are not forced to live without power, heat, cool air or water. In the COVID-19 pandemic, many parts of the U.S. instituted a shutoff moratorium so residents are able to remain at home comfortably even if they are unable to pay their bills due to job loss or heightened medical costs. Some of these moratoriums have expired, however, and it's best to check with local policy before relying on a utility shutoff moratorium to keep your lights on.