Moving Season: 5 Ways to Make the Transition Go Smoothly — and Avoid Costly Problems

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You know what makes moving even better? Getting scammed!

With the warmer months upon us and school about to let out for summer, it’s high season for moving. That also means it’s also peak time for ripping off those who are relocating.

The Better Business Bureau, which fields 9,000 complaints against movers every year, teamed up with the American Moving & Storage Association to issue a warning to consumers to beware of scams. “A con artist with just a truck and a website can claim to be a legitimate mover, with unfortunate results for consumers who don’t check out a company in advance,” said Linda Bauer Darr, the association’s president and CEO.

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While every move comes with stress and challenges, there are a few rules to follow to help ensure that you get what you’re paying for instead of becoming a victim of a rogue outfit that loads up your things and holds them hostage until you pay a lot more money.

Detailing the sagas of moves gone awry over the past 15 years has yielded a profile of the typical victim and how they become one. It starts something like this: they go online and find a mover that quotes a low rate. It falls apart after that.

Here are five tips to avoid costly problems:

1. All movers are not created equal
Not even close. Movers, like many service providers, perform at a variety of levels. Some are top-notch. Others are a nightmare.

Always research movers before soliciting bids (use the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, American Moving & Storage Association and Better Business Bureau sites as a start). Then get at least three moving companies to visit your home, especially if you’re moving across state lines. In some jurisdictions, movers are regulated and consumers have some protection, but interstate movers are largely unregulated. Here is a link to some state and local resources.

You need to get a feel for whom you’re going to do business with. They need to give you a cost estimate. Prices will vary by movers. It’s to your advantage to meet them in person and get a feel in advance for how they conduct themselves.

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2. Never rely on an online price quote
Movers need to see, in person, what you’re moving. It’s fine to start a dialogue with a moving company with an e-mail, online or phone inquiry. (The longer in advance of the move you start, in fact, the better.) But a mover — particularly for an interstate move — has to come to your home to size up what it will cost. Only then will they give you a written estimate that they’ll be held to (though there can be minor adjustments of up to 10%).

Online quotes, by contrast, are meaningless and often the setup for a scam: you agree to a price, and once your goods are loaded, you’re asked for substantially more money. These so-called hostage situations have been the scourge of the industry for more than 20 years.

3. Watch for the classic warning signs
Less-than-scrupulous movers tend to follow similar patterns as they go about bilking customers. These signals should set off alarm bells:

  • The movers require a big deposit or payment up front
  • They don’t provide (or have on their website) specific information about their address or license or insurance
  • They answer the phone, “Movers,” rather than using a company name
  • Their truck is a rental or doesn’t have the company name on it
  • They claim their low price covers everything and that their insurance protects everything — claims that are almost always too good to be true

Be on the lookout for these warning signs — and be ready to walk away when you see them.

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4. The lowest price is not always the best deal
In fact, most folks who have complained about being ripped off during a move will tell you they got sucked in by a low price quote. Be sure you know what’s included and what’s not. Ask a lot of questions. Get the answers in writing on your quote. Any reputable mover will tell you what various extra services would cost. If you’re paying for their boxes, how much are they? Are they packing, or are you? If you’re packing, will it cost you extra money if they need to throw some odds and ends into a box? How much? Remember, though, that if you pack yourself, most movers won’t accept liability for damaged goods inside those boxes.

It’s also worth knowing that the cost of a state-to-state move is typically based on the weight on the load being shipped and the distance, whereas local moves are generally billed at an hourly rate. For some general perspective, the American Moving & Storage Association offers these figures: the average interstate move costs $4,300. (That’s based on a loaded weight of 7,400 lb. — about the content of a typical two-bedroom house or three-bedroom apartment — being shipped 1,225 miles; the figure includes packing.) If you’re moving in-state, the association says that same-size move, including a driver and a crew of three charging about $200 an hour, would cost about $2,300.

5. Start planning now
You’ll be best served by planning your move rather than scrambling at the last minute. The longer in advance you can get the ball rolling, the more options you’ll have and the better price you’re likely to get.

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