moving truck

Follow these 9 tips to avoid moving rip-offs

Lost possessions, damaged furniture, overinflated charges — complaints about moving companies stretch practically as far I-90, the longest highway in the U.S. In 2014, the Better Business Bureau logged more than 6,500 complaints about movers, without about one-fourth of those complaints going unresolved.

“We hear too many horror stories from people who were tricked by shady moving companies or have had their personal belongings held hostage for more money,” said Tyler Andrew, CEO of the Better Business Bureau for Alaska, Oregon and western Washington. “Moving can be exciting, but it is a stressful step. With the right preparation and research, there’s no reason moving shouldn’t be hassle-free.”

Want to avoid moving hassles? Pay attention to these nine tips.

1. Do some digging.

Any company that’s undertaking a state-to-state move should be licensed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. To find out whether your moving company has the federal seal of approval, visit protectyourmove.gov.

If you’re doing an in-state move, then your mover likely needs to be licensed by a state agency. In Massachusetts, for instance, it’s the state Department of Public Utilities. In Washington, it’s the state Utilities and Transportation Commission.

magnifying glassFurthermore, check the websites of the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) and the American Moving & Storage Association (promover.org) for reviews, accreditations and other information about moving companies that you’re considering.

“Before you entrust all of your worldly possessions to a moving company, make sure they are properly permitted,” said Steve King, executive director of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission. “In our experience, we have seen many illegal movers with extensive criminal records. Some have even held customer’s goods ransom or disappeared with them altogether.”

2. Obtain estimates.

Secure at least three written estimates of your moving costs based on visits to your home. These estimates are free of charge.

“No legitimate mover will give you a firm price online or over the phone,” according to the Better Business Bureau. “Remember that the lowest estimate may be an unrealistic low-ball offer that can cost you in the end.”

3. Look beyond price.

cash register

Shopping for a mover based on price alone is “a dangerous gamble,” said Dan Wood, co-owner of Dial-A-Move Relocation Services, a moving company in Aberdeen, SD.

“Lower price probably means lower wages for your movers, which probably means less-qualified individuals,” Wood said. “This, in turn, leaves you with a subpar moving experience and a bad impression of the industry as a whole because this one experience is the only one you have to relate to.”

4. Ask around.

Check with friends, relatives and colleagues for recommendations about reputable movers.

“The best information you will get regarding a company isn’t going to come from their best salesman. It is going to come from previous and current clients,” Wood said.

5. Know the difference between movers and brokers.

A mover actually moves your belongings, while a broker serves as a middleman between you and a mover. The broker doesn’t own trucks and doesn’t employ moving laborers. In other words, the broker isn’t responsible for anything that goes wrong after the mover has been picked.

“Make sure you talk directly to the company handling your move, especially if you hire a broker,” the Better Business Bureau recommends.

6. Pore over the paperwork.

stack of paper

Reading a moving contract can be more mind-numbing than reading instructions for assembling IKEA furniture, but you should study it thoroughly so that you’ve got a good grasp of costs, deadlines, liability obligations and other details. The most important document is the bill of lading, which serves as the receipt for your belongings and the contract for their transportation, according to the American Moving & Storage Association.

The moving association urges consumers to not sign any blank forms.

7. Be wary of financial demands.

If your mover insists on cash or a big deposit before even one box is loaded onto the truck, then you might want to rethink hiring that company. Such demands raise a red flag that this moving company could be shady.

8. Ensure that there’s insurance.

The moving company should carry insurance that covers your goods while they’re going from your old home to your new one. The Better Business Bureau recommends looking into “full value protection” insurance, which probably will bump up the cost “but could save you headaches after the move.”

Make sure you know what the insurance covers, including whether items will be repaired or replaced if something happens to them, or whether you’ll receive a cash settlement instead.

9. Hang onto your valuables.

Cash, coins, jewelry, photos and important papers should be taken with you or shipped separately through a service like FedEx or UPS, the moving association says.

Categories Moving