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Shopping for a Mover? Read Our Insider’s Guide

If you’re planning a move this summer, you’ll probably need to hire a moving company. Here’s how to find the best one, avoid surprises and lighten your load.

When Michelle George was hired as a math teacher at Ridgeview Middle School in Gaithersburg, Md., she had six weeks to move from the Pittsburgh area. So she and her family rented a U-Haul, packed it full and moved all of their possessions themselves. As grateful as she was for the help they got from family and friends, “I think using a moving company would have been easier,” George says. 

Teachers who choose to hire a moving company need to do their homework first. “Moving is a major expense,” says Katherine Hutt, national spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau. “It pays to know exactly who you’re trusting with your worldly goods.”

Shopping for books, downloading music and ordering pizza can be done easily online, but that’s not the best way to select a mover. “It’s a different sort of consumer experience,” says John Bisney, director of public relations for the American Moving & Storage Association. Look at it this way, he says: “You’re going to invite people you don’t know to come to your home, pack up everything you own, put it in a truck, padlock it and drive away.”

Research movers online

A good resource is the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), which has about 17,000 reviews nationwide on moving-related services. Last year, the organization fielded an estimated 1.4 million inquiries on movers and dealt with more than 8,000 complaints.

Bisney suggests two steps you can take to avoid being in the position of filing a complaint. First, if you’re moving to a new state, visit the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration website (www.protectyourmove.gov) to make sure your potential movers are listed there. Every interstate mover must be registered with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Second, look for a street address and phone number, then map the location. In addition, Bisney notes that his association offers ProMover certification to companies on which it has done background checks.

One company that has earned the right to feature the ProMover logo on its website is Wheaton Worldwide Moving | Bekins Van Lines, headquartered in Indianapolis. Whether you’re moving locally or across state lines, vice president of sales and marketing A.J. Schneider recommends several estimates via in-home visits, then reviewing them in detail.

Make sure the estimates are comprehensive

Make sure you give the salesperson a thorough list of everything you plan to move, Schneider says. Estimates for interstate, for example, are based on both weight and distance, “so if those weights are altered significantly, the whole process can get slowed down.”

The cost for local moves is calculated by the hour, so the amount of stuff that needs to get loaded and unloaded is important then, too.

For local moves, find out how many men and trucks each estimate is based on, says Amy Stowell, vice president of Sterling, Va.-based BoxCart. Underestimating the resources needed could explain why one estimated price is much lower than another.

Storage costs also factor in: If temporary storage is needed as part of your move, Stowell says, make sure the estimate covers both the cost of items to go into the storage unit and the cost to bring them back out.

Summer is the busiest time for movers, Schneider says, so it’s best to make plans as early as possible. You also might get better rates than you would if you wait.

Be aware of the different types of estimates

As you compare estimates, be aware that there are three types: binding, non-binding and “not to exceed.” With a binding estimate, you pay what’s shown on the estimate for the services provided. However, if you need any additional services, Bisney explains, you’ll be responsible for those costs—say, the 18-wheeler can’t get near your new townhome so you need a shuttle to move your goods from the truck to your entryway.

With a non-binding estimate, if the weight or distance is greater than anticipated, there’s a 10% limit on additional charges, which is due within 30 days. With a not-to-exceed estimate, you pay either the amount on a binding estimate or the actual cost, whichever is lower.

Find out what’s covered by insurance

For any move, federal regulations now require that estimates automatically include “full value protection,” a fee for the cost of full replacement or repair for your goods. Each mover sets its own charge. So-called released value, which would pay you 60 cents a pound for damages and replacement, is free. You can opt out of full value protection and choose released value.

Consumers also should ask each mover for proof of workers compensation coverage and call the insurance company to verify the coverage, say the BBB and the Southwest Movers Association.

Be proactive on moving day

On moving day, be present when your goods are packed into the truck, and be sure to tell your mover how to reach you at your destination, suggests the American Moving & Storage Association suggests. Carefully read the bill of lading—the inventory of everything that goes into the truck. Never sign forms that have blank sections left to be filled in later by the mover.

If things don’t go according to plan, give the movers a chance to rectify the situation. “Voice any concerns immediately,” Schneider says. If you decide to file a claim, do so promptly and in writing with the mover, and keep a copy of your letters, payment records and contract documents. The mover must acknowledge receipt of your claim within 30 days and must deny or make you an offer within 120 days of receipt of the claim.

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