The process of finding a reliable mover can seem daunting. But doing a little research is worth it. By shopping around, you can save money (sometimes more than $1,000) and avoid scams. Here are a few steps to help you through the process.
Get recommendations. Ask friends, coworkers, and local real estate agents. Look online for moving companies that have offices near your home. You’re going to want to get an in-person estimate of how much your move will cost. Don’t rely on any estimate that comes from someone who hasn’t looked in every one of your closets. Don’t assume that big-name companies are best. Do not get estimates through websites that offer to “find you a mover.” Find the mover yourself and avoid the numerous scams associated with some of these sites. And don’t use household-goods brokerage services that find a moving company for you as they are not regulated by the laws that movers must follow.
Do an initial screening. When you have a list of recommended movers, go online to do a quick background check. Call or go to the website of the Better Business Bureau. You also can contact the American Moving and Storage Association to see if a moving company is a member, which means it has agreed to abide by the organization’s published tariffs and to participate in its arbitration program. AMSA membership is voluntary. As long as a moving company checks out in all other ways, the fact that it is not a member shouldn’t rule it out.
Be sure to check the consumer-advocacy sites. Each of these has a blacklist of companies with a history of consumer complaints, as well as tips and general information about the moving industry. You can also do a search using the company name at Rip-off Report.
Select at least three or four companies to call for an in-home estimate. If you’re moving to another state, ask if the company will give you a written binding estimate or a binding not-to-exceed estimate. Both types of estimates put a guaranteed cap on what you will pay for your move. While nonbinding estimates are legal (as long as they’re given free), as the U.S. Department of Transportation moving guide warns, “You should expect the final cost to be more than the estimate.” And while interstate movers are allowed to charge you for binding estimates, most will offer them free. Estimates for interstate moves will be based on the weight of the items you’re moving and the distance of the move. For moves within the same state, rules about estimates vary: States such as California, require that movers give a written and signed binding estimate. Either way, estimates for these movers are based on the amount of time the move will take.
When an estimator comes to your home, show them everything. Be sure to show the company every nook and cranny including closets, the backyard, the basement, the attic. If on the day of your move the foreman believes you have significantly more stuff than was calculated in your estimate, they can challenge the original estimate (before everything is on the truck, not after). They cannot force you to pay a higher amount, but they do not have to move your stuff for the original amount, either. And at that point, you probably don’t have a lot of other options. Make sure the estimator knows about any conditions at your new home that might complicate the move, such as stairs, elevators, or a significant distance from the curb to the closest door. While the estimator is at your home, get as much information as you can about the company. Make sure it will be moving you itself, not contracting the job out to a third party. Find out how long the company has been in business.
Review the estimate. The estimate may be a combined document that, when signed by you and the moving company representative, serves as your order for service and bill of lading. These, along with the inventory list created when your goods are loaded, are the basic documents any mover should provide you with. Make sure you see the words “written binding estimate” on top, as well as the mover’s signature with a date at the bottom. If you want to purchase additional insurance from your mover (above the standard 60 cents a pound that the mover’s insurance covers), make sure you understand the costs and details of that coverage. For an in-state move, for which you can’t get a binding estimate, you should still get a written estimate that sets out the hourly rates and any additional costs you may incur (i.e. supplies, tools, driving time to and from the mover’s facilities). If you’re not sure about anything in the estimate, call and ask. Additionally have the company send you a revised written estimate if necessary, don’t just take someone’s word for anything.
When you’ve gotten all your estimates in, compare the bids. Be wary of any company that comes in much lower than the others. Look at high bids to see where the extra costs are coming from. Call and ask questions if you don’t understand anything. If you have several reasonable-sounding bids from reputable companies, don’t be afraid to negotiate to get the best possible rate. Especially in a market where there’s lots of competition, most movers will work with you on pricing.
Check out the contenders in more detail. Take the information you’ve gathered and get back online. First, make sure they’re incorporated in your state and confirm how long they’ve been in business by checking at the secretary of state’s office. Some have searchable databases of businesses online; if not, call the number listed in the government pages of the phone book.
Make sure your moving company has a license and insurance. There are movers who solicit business without the legal authority to do so. Go to fmcsa.gov, the website of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and enter the company’s USDOT number and click on “Search”. If you have an accurate DOT number, you’ll be shown a screen with a lot of information on the company. You can also call the FMCSA to get information on the status of a company’s licensing (202-366-9805) and insurance (202-385-2423).
Call the FMCSA’s Safety Violation and Consumer Complaints hotline at 888-368-7238 and ask about complaints against the moving company. And, if possible, go to the company’s address and check out the facilities in person.
Select a mover. You should feel confident about any company you’ve run through the checks above. Confirm the dates and details of your move, and make sure you get a signed order for service and a bill of lading.
On moving day, get a written copy of the mover’s inventory list. Provide the movers with specific directions for getting to your new home, and make sure you have a number where you can reach the movers throughout the move.