Finding a Reputable Moving Company
Perhaps the most important decision you'll make in any sort of relocation process—after actually choosing your new home, of course—is in hiring a moving company. Even if you're just looking at moving companies to help haul your stuff from a few blocks away, from your current small apartment to your new small apartment—no packing or unpacking, just loading and unloading the truck—the difference between hiring reliable workers backed by an honest organization and sloppy can mean hundreds of dollars and lots of unnecessary anxiety.
Horror stories are legion, some of which we've lived through: of moving companies that take your deposit and never show up again, leaving you on moving day with no truck, no help, an apartment filled with boxes, and no more time on your lease; of sloppy packing and klutzy hauling, leading to broken possessions or, in the case of irreplaceable items, broken hearts; and, most commonly, of moving companies "revising" their estimate, sometimes by 150% or more, on day of the move itself, when you're exhausted and frantic and will agree to anything just to get it done.
How Do I Know if a Moving Company is Reputable?
1.) Ask around, get references. Talk to friends, coworkers, family... ask who they used, and how was their experience. If you used a good real estate agent that you trust, ask if they have any recommendations.
2.) Check with the Better Business Bureau. You can read the complaints, how they were resolved (or not) and see their rating. Once caveat with the BBB... they don't care if the business was in the wrong, or if the customer was unrealistic, or unreasonable. They look to see how many complaints were resolved to the customer's satisfaction. So, when reviewing an unresolved complaint, ask yourself if the customer had a legitimate complaint, or were they not being reasonable in their complaint. Also keep in mind there are two sides to every story.
3.) Look at Online Review Sites & Message Boards. Sites like Angie's List, Yelp, MovingScam, etc. can be great resources. That said, be wary of overly enthusiastic reviews (positive), or overly negative reviews. Many of these sites are subject to false reviews from competitors, or in the other direction, from "friends" of the company. So, use them as a guideline, but not always an end all, be all. And as with the BBB, remember to ask yourself, is the customer being reasonable in their demands/complaints? The other thing to remember is that people are much more likely to leave a review when they're unhappy, than when they're happy. So, the ratio of positive to negative experiences is often out of balance online.
4.) Research Their History. The longer the company has been in business, the better. That's not to say a new company can't be great, and on the up-and-up. But "fly-by-night" companies can pop up, take a lot of money from people in a short period of time, and then disappear.
5.) Check Their Licensing. Get their DOT and MC licensing information, and check it out with the appropriate organizations. A good place to start would be ProtectYourMove, a government website.
6.) Do They Have a Valid Address? Anyone can (and at times, has) put up a website. Do they have a physical location, and is there an actual office there?
7.) Are The Prices Too-Good-to-be-True? If one company is substantially cheaper than the rest, it could be that their estimate isn't accurate (intentional or otherwise)... which would mean surprises on moving day.
8.) Do They Refuse to Give you an Estimate in Writing? While many legitimate companies will give you estimates based on pictures taken, or an online tour of your home (and occasionally over the phone if you're super organized and detailed), they should follow that up with an estimate in writing, via email or snail mail. If they won't, go elsewhere.
9.) Do They Demand Upfront Payments? Most reputable moving companies won't ask for payment upfront. If they do, it may be a red flag that they won't show up on the day of the move.
I've Narrowed My Search To a Few Moving Companies: Now What?
The good news: many moving companies are honest, hard-working, and helpful, and there are several easy steps you can take to avoid those that are less so, most of which involve just a little research and a lot of communication. For example, make sure during the in-house estimate phase (if it's a big move, you should get a least three or four moving companies to do this) that you remember to include everything you want moved, including outdoor items as well as stuff in the closets, attic and/or basement.
Be sure you communicate clearly to the moving company what you will be packing, vs. them. You can save a lot of money by doing your own packing. Of course, depending on the size of your home, it can also take quite a bit of time to pack -- but that's why it's so expensive to have the moving company pack for you. What may take you weeks to pack, they have to bring a team in and pack it all up in a day or so. One good strategy is to do most of the packing yourself, but leave certain items for the moving company to do, such as TV's, large expensive artwork, over-sized and easily damaged items, etc.
Double-check what their insurance will, and won't cover. Some movers won't cover items they didn't pack themselves, or have limits on the liability. Often you can buy your own insurance, or they will have insurance available for purchase. Factor that into your final decision, and into what items you will pack, vs. what items they will pack.
Also, be sure to let the mover know if the building you're moving into (and out of, if they don't do an onsite estimate) is a walk-up, and if so, how many flights of stairs are involved. You don't want the movers to get to your apartment building, and suddenly want to add a surcharge for all of the stairs (it has happened to many people). Disclose this upfront, and make sure the estimate includes the number of flights the movers will have to carry your belongings.
Even a written binding estimate, or a not-to-exceed binding estimate can be challenged on moving day if the moving company feels as if there are substantially more items than previously estimated. At that point, on moving day, tired and stressed, you are pretty much at their mercy.
It's important to understand the different types of estimates. With a binding estimates, you will pay an agreed upon price. If more items then estimated are added to your move, or additional services are added (such as more packing, more boxes, etc.), the estimate will be increased before loading and shipping.
Nonbinding estimates determine the final price after your belongings are weighed, and the move distance is confirmed. If everything is lighter than first estimated, you'll pay less. However, if it weighs more, the bill will go up.
Not-to-exceed estimates allow you to pay whichever is less expensive: the binding estimate, or the actual cost. If you can get this kind of estimate, it protects you from surprises (unless you surprise the moving company with items or services not in the estimate).
Details, Details: Moving Boxes, Moving Storage, Renting Your Own Moving Trucks
As with any complicated mission, relocation of any sort is filled with dozens of small details. The more smoothly each thing goes, the greater security you'll feel from start to finish. Take moving boxes (and packing tape, and bubble wrap), for instance. If you're packing everything yourself, you'll need supplies. Most local movers will sell you moving boxes and packing supplies even if you're not using them to do the actual move. Big box retail outlets such as Staples and Home Depot also sell moving boxes in many sizes, and for specialty items, such as wardrobe moving boxes. You can even buy them online at places like Amazon. Prices can vary, so shop around. For those on a super tight budget, go to the local supermarket and ask if you can have some of their boxes.
Moving storage could be ideal for you if your relocation involves moving from a large house to a smaller apartment, and you don’t want to sell or donate everything that can't fit in your new home. Many of the larger moving companies will take care of hauling and storing your temporarily unwanted items on the same day as your move, saving you time and money.
Finally, if you're looking to rent moving trucks and do all of the packing, hauling, and driving yourself, the same rules apply: do your research, and make sure you understand and can communicate exactly what you need.
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