“I can’t wait to pack everything I own and set it all back up in a completely different house,” said no one ever.
Indeed, moving is routinely included in life’s list of major stressors. It ranks right up there with loss of employment, a death in the family, and personal bankruptcy. It’s no wonder that many people consider hiring a professional moving service to help them complete this daunting transition.
A quality professional moving team has the experience to ensure the job is done right. It has the manpower to handle your heavy and valuable possessions with care. But not all moving companies are created alike, so before you sign a legally binding contract with a specific mover, it pays to do some comparison shopping.
At BestReviews, we want our readers to have the best experience possible when moving, whether across town or across the country. This shopping guide will walk you through the process of selecting and hiring a mover. We urge you to shop local first when it comes to professional movers.
In an ideal world, a person could hire a professional moving company, then watch as the crew packs and unpacks every possession he or she owns. However, the idea of full “door-to-door” service is an expensive fantasy for most of us.
Moving companies charge by the pound, and any extra services — such as packing and unpacking — can be costly. Here are some free things you can do before calling in the professionals.
Before you sign a contract with a professional mover, make sure you understand the company’s liability policies for lost or broken items.
Months before a planned move, start getting rid of excess possessions by any means necessary. Hold garage sales. Donate clothes and other items to local charities or nonprofit organizations. Sell larger items through online buy/sell sites, or place them on consignment.
Sometimes a person has no choice but to pack up one house completely and move directly to the new one, often in a matter of days. However, there could be a way to negotiate more time for your move. For example, if your current home is still unsold and the new home is move-in ready, you might be able to make several manageable trips over time instead of hiring an expensive moving service for a massive one-day haul.
Some people turn to professional moving companies simply because they don’t believe enough volunteer help is available. Even if no one agrees to haul your upright piano or sectional sofa down three flights of stairs, you might have co-workers, friends, and family members who wouldn’t mind packing boxes into a rental van.
Before you hire a mover, ask the people you know which moving service they used, if any. Some human resources departments keep a list of local moving companies for transferring employees. Local real estate agents also deal with moving services on a regular basis, so they can provide referrals and references. You can also check with the Better Business Bureau, online service provider websites (think Angie’s List or Thumbtack), and other review sites.
When faced with a big move, you might find it easier to replace some items with new ones rather than pack them.
The first step in hiring a professional mover is to collect estimates from at least three to five companies. This means arranging for a trained estimator to come to your home and physically examine all of the possessions you intend to put on the truck. If your refrigerator, living room furniture, or other heavy items will stay with the original house, make sure the estimator does not add them to the weight calculation.
Remember that an estimate is not a contract, and moving companies have the right to make upward adjustments on an actual invoice. The destination may have unexpected challenges, or the total weight could be higher than estimated. That said, a better moving company will generally honor the terms of the original estimate, even if the final weight is higher than expected.
If you’re moving across state lines, make sure the moving company you hire is licensed to perform an interstate move.
As you discuss a potential contract with a moving company, keep these considerations in mind.
Does the moving company you’re considering hire temporary help or independent drivers? This practice is not unusual, and it could actually save you some money. However, a legitimate moving company should also have employees of its own, especially in supervisory and truck-dispatching positions. Someone from the company itself needs to oversee the entire moving process and work as a liaison between you and the moving team.
One reason we cannot recommend a completely online moving service is a practice known as moving brokerage. A moving broker does not actually own a brick-and-mortar store or a fleet of moving vans. Instead, the broker negotiates a price with the client and then farms out the actual work to a subcontractor.
Sometimes this arrangement translates to major savings for clients, but often, it becomes a nightmare. Why? The moving crews are often inexperienced. The moving van could be mis-routed. And often, the broker is difficult or impossible to contact. The last thing you want when hiring a company to move your possessions is the inability to talk to a manager about what’s going on.
In short, moving brokerages are legal operations that may not be the bargain some budget-minded clients are hoping for.
Home organization experts often speak of a “six month box rule.” Any items still in boxes six months after a move are probably not essential and can be safely donated or sold.
Most moving service providers quote at least two prices to potential clients: the one you’d pay if you boxed everything yourself and the one they’d charge if they were to do the boxing for you. Be prepared for serious sticker shock, as full-service packing fees tend to be sky-high. For most clients, self-packing is clearly the way to go.
One reason self-packing is much more affordable is that you can usually find inexpensive boxes and other packing supplies on your own. Professional moving services charge premium prices for their branded boxes, and the client also pays for the labor and materials required to prepare them for transport.
Furthermore, if you pack your own boxes, you assume almost all of the liability for any damages. But if a moving company packs your boxes, they assume the liability themselves … and they spare no expense making sure the boxes are packed correctly.
When searching for a reliable moving company, you may appreciate thoughtful recommendations from local family, friends, and acquaintances. Your local real estate agent may also have some companies to endorse.
Where you’re moving matters just as much as what you’re moving. A move across town or to another part of the state is considered an intrastate move. Any move that crosses at least one state border is considered an interstate move.
Some smaller moving companies are simply not equipped to handle interstate moves.
Interstate moves are under the purview of federal bureaus like the Department of Transportation (DOT).
Moving companies should not promote interstate moves if they are not properly licensed to perform them.
As you discuss your move with a potential mover, the company’s customer representative should be able to provide proper licensing and insurance information and also inform you of any blackout dates for scheduling.
Many local moving companies have a limited number of trucks in their fleet, so if your move is time-critical, you may have to look elsewhere.
When the big day arrives, you naturally want all operations to flow as smoothly as possible. We offer these tips.
Have everything packed before the day of your move.
Mark the destination on each box (living room, kitchen, etc.), and stack them for easy pick-up. Anything less organized than that could result in a surcharge on the initial estimate.
The lowest estimate is not always the best estimate when it comes to moving services.
Keep a supply of cash on hand to pay for highway tolls and refreshments during the trip.
Make sure the driver and crew have your cellphone number and other contact information.
Organize volunteers into teams, and work out a fair schedule. One team can pack the truck and another can unload it, for example.
Wear comfortable clothing, and have access to a second set of clean, dry clothing if necessary.
To minimize your stress level on moving day, you may wish to find someone willing to babysit or pet sit during the moving process.
Once the moving crew has delivered your worldly possessions to their new location, a few bits of business remain.
The moving company should have performed an inventory of all the items placed on the truck. You and the supervisor will do a walk-through to make sure all boxes have arrived.
You’ll receive your final invoice and pay your bill. The invoice might match the company’s original estimate to the letter. However, it might be legally adjusted to include unexpected expenses or additional labor costs.
With luck, this will be the end of your transaction with the moving company, and you can now proceed with your life in your new home. But if you find yourself compelled to file damage claims for any reason, there are a few things you need to know. We’ll address these issues in the next section.
Before the moving van departs your company, you and a supervisor should perform a walk-through to make sure all of your possessions arrived as planned.
Did you complete your move only to find that the leg of your dinner table is now broken or your box of heirloom china shattered during transport? If so, you need to know a bit about liability and damage claims.
If you packed the boxes yourself, you are considered liable for any damage. But if the company packed the boxes, it is contractually obligated to repair, replace, or otherwise compensate you for the damaged.
The damage claim process can be tricky, however, Many moving companies estimate the value of your belongings based on poundage, not intrinsic value. In other words, a damaged antique dinner plate and a damaged toilet paper holder are both considered two-pound losses to the movers. As such, you’d only be compensated for two pounds of damage.
It is possible to purchase additional liability coverage for items of exceptional value (jewelry, antique furniture, collectibles, etc.), but in general, the moving service is only on the hook for the weight of the damaged items.
Most moving companies, from local two-men teams to national chains, are exceptionally scrupulous in their business practices. There’s simply too much competition in the marketplace to inflate prices or tack on additional fees.
But scammers exist, so you must proceed with caution. Scammers tend to get referrals from online “front” companies that change names frequently or are impossible to find offline. Here are some common rip-offs to avoid.
Rogue movers pressure clients into signing blank or incomplete service agreements, promising to add the rest of the charges after final delivery. But in signing a blank contract, you also sign away your right to dispute additional surcharges or damage claims later.
Never sign an incomplete legal document, since the other party could easily add hundreds or thousands of dollars in charges to the pre-signed contract. Only sign a finalized contract after the move is complete and an inventory has been taken.
Some movers may decide to tack on additional surcharges if the walk from the truck to the house was too long or a door had to be removed. It’s reasonable to anticipate a few adjustments to your initial contract; but if surcharges seem unreasonable, you should definitely file a complaint with the company.
There is very little you can do to force a driver to finish a job. An unscrupulous driver could use a signed contract against you, refusing to deliver all of your property until you pay a “ransom.”
To avoid having your belongings held “hostage” for an exorbitant payment, read and understand everything you sign.
For many families, one important key to a smooth move is inventory reduction. Try to get rid of as many unwanted or unnecessary possessions as you can before the move. Moving companies rarely want to wait for clients to continue packing when the moving truck arrives. Everything that can be packed should be packed by moving day.
Most legitimate moving companies do not require a cash deposit during the estimation and invoicing phase. The few companies that do can ask for only 20% of the total invoice.
A mover who demands a large cash deposit is a scammer. This money will never be returned and will most likely not be applied to the final invoice, either.
The moving company you work with should have a brick-and-mortar presence in the local area, not just a toll-free number or website.
The industry standard for estimating an invoice is total weight, not cubic feet or other measurements. A legitimate moving company cannot charge you more money based on the dimensions of a box.
Scammers rely on the fact that most clients don’t understand how the estimation process works. Never accept moving charges based on cubic feet or any other measurement except total weight.
Estimators who only take a cursory glance at your inventory could easily underestimate the actual weight of your possessions, skewing the estimate too low. There really is no such thing as a guaranteed or fixed estimate, although a few moving companies still offer one as a sales incentive.
DBA stands for “Doing Business As.” When a company ceases operation under one name and opens a new business under another, this information is included in the official business license.
Any local moving company that does business under several names (or changes names frequently) is one to avoid.
There may be some outstanding litigation under a former business name.
From start to finish, the moving process can be physically, emotionally, and financially draining.
However, you can sidestep much of the stress by hiring a moving company you trust. Thorough investigation into your local area’s offerings will help quell your anxieties and ease your transition to your new home.