Finding a reputable mover can be a daunting task. It can sometimes be difficult to decide where to begin. Whatever you do, take your time and don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. Failing to take the proper precautions up front can lead to a rocky situation down the line.

Plan Early

It’s important to do your research and decide on a company plenty of time before your move. This way, you can ensure you have a moving company lined up well in advance – at least four to six weeks before your move. By planning early, you will have more control over your move and will still have time to handle any unexpected challenges that may arise.

Finding a Moving Company

There are many ways to find out about movers in your area. The best advice on the right company to use is to listen to people you know. Friends and family can give you information on great and not so great experiences they may have had. Also, don’t be afraid to research on your own. The Yellow Pages or the Internet can be great resources for movers in your area.

Important Questions to Ask

When you first speak with a moving company, there are several important pieces of information you will need:

  • Full company name or any DBA (doing business as) names
  • How long the company has been in business
  • Address
  • Phone numbers
  • DOT and MC license numbers
  • Web site address
  • Email address
  • Ask for referrals! A reputable mover will be happy to provide you with information on satisfied customers. A company unwilling to give you this information should not be taken into consideration.

Getting Cost Estimates from Moving Companies

Once you have narrowed down your search to several movers, it’s important to get an estimate from each company. Obtaining estimates from at least three companies will help you determine the best mover for you.

Use the terms ‘MSRP’ or ‘base price’ in retail and everyone generally understands that the amount being considered for a box of chocolate, custom draperies, or new car probably won’t be the price actually paid. The same should be true when you see or hear the phrases ‘estimate’ or ‘estimated cost of services’ when pricing relocation services.

Unfortunately, many folks shopping for a mover, an equipment rental or material supplier, or fixed or portable storage option for the first time are drawn to the low, low prices advertised to get them in the door.

Moving is expensive. The desire to save money sometimes clouds a consumer’s understanding of what’s actually included in the final bill. To make things worse, pricing issues are often complicated by unclear or conflicting information. – especially when you can’t do an apples-to-apples comparison.

If you are moving locally, expect most reputable full service moving companies to quote you based on an hourly rate. The price is usually determined by the number of laborers, type of equipment and amount of supplies, and the level of liability protection selected. Individual prices are based on the scope of defined services and degree of risk each individual is willing to accept. Don’t forget to ask about travel time(s) to and from the job and how break periods are handled when making your comparisons.

Some companies use a minimum charge in their pricing – either a fixed amount (i.e. $250.00), an hourly rate (4 hr mini.), or mileage radius (up to 25 miles). The $19.99 price you see for the rental truck is just FOR THE TRUCK. Expect to pay extra for moving pads, packing supplies, insurance, and gas. The $6.00 per month storage locker is for the room the size of your closet.

The pricing used to rate most intrastate and interstate moves is usually based on tariffs that the household good (HHG) motor carrier is required to maintain based on applicable licensing requirements. Some state and municipal authorities stipulate what movers can charge.

A decision by the Surface Transportation Board, an adjudicatory and a regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation, to remove the collective rate ability in the household goods moving industry in 2008 means that each of the 8400 licensed interstate carriers must now maintain their own separate tariffs. This action was taken to increase competition in the marketplace.

Interstate household goods motor carriers are required, by law, to provide either a 1) binding* or 2) non-binding estimate according to the provisions outlined in the federal Consumer Protection Regulations using the unique definitions in their individual tariffs. Most prepare their estimates using a combination of dimensional size and corresponding weight to calculate the linehaul transportation cost, accessorial service charges (material, packing, shuttle, stairs, storage, elevators, excessive distance, …etc.), and selected valuation costs using the results of in-house visual surveys.

Some interstate HHG carriers and move brokers insist that a visual estimate isn’t necessary if the customer submits their own list of items to be shipped. Although this exception may be true under the applicable regulations, the lack of a physical survey prepared by a carrier’s qualified representative is the biggest area of contention in most consumer disputes. Many reports involve a customer’s inability or unwillingness to pay for unexpected charges. Frequently these result in ‘hostage load’ complaints.

When moving long distances, the best insurance against potential problems is to get several estimates from reputable, well-qualified industry professionals. Do not trust the prices you’re quoted based on a list of items or services that you submit online or over the phone!

Most people contemplating relocation will admit to having a heavy queen size mahogany sleigh bed and overstuffed pillowtop mattress. Frequently, however, they forget to list the two bed pillows, four oversized designer pillows, the mattress bolster, floor-length down comforter, and fancy knit dust ruffle that complete the ensemble. To them, they’re all part of the same piece of furniture. They’ll list the double dresser and its contents yet forget the 60” x 44” x 8″: attached mirror and full-sized jewelry box sitting on top. See the problem?

Intentional or not, these types of oversights not only create pricing inaccuracies (and often unwarranted criticism) for full service movers but also wreak havoc on capacity estimates required to arrange many do-it-yourself (DIY), “you pack, we drive” truck rental, mobile/portable storage, or general freight options.

Unlike licensed household goods carriers which are required to comply with Federal oversight regulations, however, consumers using these types of DIY relocation options shoulder the responsibility when a mis-estimate results in a personal injury incident, worker’s comp claim, or unbudgeted pricing or capacity problem.

* Guaranteed-Not-To-Exceed (GNTE), MaxPrice, or similar pricing products are all variation of binding estimates developed by the established interstate HHG moving industry. Carriers using these sales tools must still comply with all of the applicable Consumer Protection Regulations regarding binding estimates.

Check Them Out

There’s nothing wrong with going to the company’s office to check them out. It’s your right to make sure they are who they say they are. Be sure to ask whether they will be doing the move themselves or whether they are outsourcing the work. If they aren’t doing the move themselves, you should probably select a different company. Also, make sure their trucks are permanently marked with the company’s name and that they have an adequate storage facility (if storage will be necessary).

In most cases, it is rather easy to check up on a company simply by visiting your local Secretary of State’s office. For example, if you live in Florida, visit www.google.com and type in “Florida Secretary of State.” You can also call the Secretary of State’s office and ask for their Articles of Incorporation. This will help you to verify how long your company has been in business, as well as their address and phone number.

As for those DOT and MC license numbers you asked about when you first called the company – make sure you have them handy. You will need these numbers to check the company’s licensing and insurance.

It’s also a good idea to check out potential movers through the Better Business Bureau (BBB). A reputable moving company should be listed with this agency and will have no claims registered against them. The BBB depends on dues from its members; therefore, it will not report negative comments about its members’ business practices if they are untrue, as that could cause them to lose their members. Ask the BBB for reports they may have on the company and use the reports as a guide.

Where are they located

Does the moving company or relocation provider you’re considering have a physical ‘bricks and mortar” business address? A real place you could visit, if necessary, to see the quality of their operation or obtain supplies?

Beware of companies that don’t provide easy access to contact information in their advertisements or on their website, have no business documents, or, when asked, are hesitant to provide you with their physical business address, direct phone number, or administrative managers’ names. You should know how and where to find them if a problem arises down the road. Remember, you’re allowing them into your home to take everything you own!

If the company that you’re considering is an interstate household goods motor carrier or licensed property broker, their advertisements must, by law, be truthful and straightforward and include their trade name as it appears on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued operating authority and their assigned US DOT #. Use this information to verify their location and compliance record by visiting the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Protect Your Move.gov website. Several states have similar advertising compliance requirements

By choosing a mover with local representation you probably don’t need to worry as much. Their reputation in the community is at stake with every move they do.

Also, call the FMCSA’s Safety Violation and Consumer Complaints hotline at 1-888-368-7238 and ask them about the complaint history of your moving company.

Do the movers have the required indurances

When it comes to movin’, two things are certain. It’s expensive and it can be dangerous. Before getting started, it’s a good idea to determine your risk in your relocation decision. Here some things to consider when making arrangements for full service or do-it-yourself moving and storage services.

Liability, Cargo, and Property Damage Insurance

Most municipal, state and federal governments require proof of liability, cargo, and property damage insurance” before they’ll issue or renew an operating license to a “for hire” common, contract or household goods property motor carrier. Requirements vary based on the type of equipment being operated and the scope of the operating authority.

This expensive requirement will probably disqualify most of the anonymous fly-by-night labor contractors, and small “man and a van” hauling entities found posted on the bulletin board in the supermarket or peppered around popular online classified resources.

For intrastate and interstate exempt hauling, most licensing entities require that a Form E “Bodily Injury and Property Damage Certificate Insurance” or a Form G “Uniform Motor Carrier Bodily Injury and Property Damage Surety Bond” must be filed. Household goods motor carriers are required to file Form H, a “Uniform Motor Carrier Cargo Certificate of Insurance”. Each is the standard proof of insurance form issued by insurance companies. Ask to see a copy if you’re unsure about a particular company’s qualifications.

All authorized interstate ‘for-hire’ property motor carriers, brokers, and freight forwarders based in the U.S. or Canada must obtain operating authority from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) before they can begin operations in the United States.

Consumers can check on a moving company’s insurance and licensing compliance records at the FMCSA’s Safety and Fitness Electronic Records (SAFER) System database. This site offers public access to up-to-date company information, safety data and related services. It is searchable by name, USDOT# or motor carrier (MC#) number. The Licensing and Insurance page requires a state location if searching only by name.

Can the company you’re considering provide you with proof of insurance such as a current “Insurance Certificate” issued by their insurance carrier? Some real estate property managers require it before they let a company’s workers on their premises. So should you.

Transit Protection

Ask the mover about their liability if something is damaged during your move. Again, individual states have different valuation and/or insurance requirements for local or intrastate service providers.

Under Federal law, interstate movers must offer two different liability options referred to as valuation coverage: (1) Full Value Protection and (2) Released Value. The Protect Your Move.gov website offers an excellent explanation in Understanding Valuation and Insurance Options on interstate moves. Be sure to note the implications if you pack yourself.

Workers Compensation Insurance

Ask each vendor you’re considering if they carry Workers’ Compensation Insurance. Rules vary from state to state. Contact the State Insurance Board to furnish you with detailed information regarding the applicable worker comp rules and regulations in your locale(s).

Without Workers Compensation Insurance you will be potentially liable for anyone hurt on your premises. This higher level of required insurance protection substantially adds to a mover’s cost of doing business, but it protects you if someone is injured during your move. Be suspicious of the “very low” bidder, especially those found at a find-a-mover websites or the popular online classified ad lists. They may be cutting costs by “cheating” on essential Workers’ Compensation Insurance protection.

If you’re planning to move yourself with the help of hired laborers, you should consult with your insurance agent and/or attorney about your liability as a primary employer under the Borrow Servant Doctrine. This common law principle holds that the employer of a borrowed employee, not the employee’s regular employer, is liable for the temporary employee’s actions that occur while the hired employee is under the control of the temporary employer.

Dispute resolution with the moving company

One of the biggest considerations shoppers often overlook while researching moving or storage service options is the kind of dispute resolution programs each company participates in. This can be important when relocating since logistic problems and handling issues occasionally result in loss, damage or delay in service.

Interstate household goods motor carriers and property brokers licensed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) must, by law, have an arbitration program for individual shippers to resolve disputes about property loss and damage and applicable charges. Some states and metropolitan areas have similar legal requirements for motor carriers and storage operators within their jurisdiction.

Many interstate moving companies and some local moving companies participate in the American Moving and Storage Association’s (AMSA) Dispute Resolution Program which is administered by the National Arbitration Forum – an independent, non-governmental organization that’s not connected to the AMSA or any household goods moving company. Normally there is a $500 fee to arbitrate most cases for disputes up to $10,000. You may be expected to pay half.

Since most interstate logistic and general freight outfits, do-it-yourself ‘U-Pack, We Drive’ moving services and mobile/portable storage transportation companies do not qualify as household goods (HHG) motor carriers under the U.S. Code, they are not subject to the same FMCSA consumer protections as properly licensed HHG carriers, move brokers and freight forwarders and, therefore, are not required to participate in mandatory arbitration.

If the company that you’re considering is a member of the Better Business Bureau they may qualify to participate in the BBB’s Moving and Storage Dispute Resolution Services program.

You always have legal recourse to fall back on if a problem arises. Pursuing that option, however, may be a very long, expensive process that involves high attorney fees and court costs. Unscrupulous rogue movers use this financial hurdle to repeatedly scam budget conscious shoppers. They know most people can not afford to take them to civil or criminal court.

That’s one reason many customers involved in disputes with their mover may opt for arbitration. Whereas a judge and jury are bound by legal principles, an arbitrator is more likely to decide based on the merits of the case and what’s fair as compared to what’s “legal”.

Consumers are always encouraged to register a complaint with the appropriate federal, state or local authorities if a mover refuses to discuss or resolve their claim according to the contract terms or applicable laws. Recurring reports about similar issues are more likely to place the company under scrutiny. In most cases, however, enforcement officials will not get directly involved in civil disputes.

Regardless of which option is used, you will become less frustrated and realize more success if you’re prepared. Keep copies of all forms and paperwork and maintain a detailed log of who you talked to and what was discussed. Avoid aggressive posturing. Most responsible companies are interested in retaining the goodwill of their customers and will negotiate a settlement in good faith.

The trick to a successful move is doing the research to find the best relocation options before you begin.