Tuesday Tips: Choosing a Moving Company

The last time my husband and I moved, we hired three guys who were recommended by a neighbor. They showed up in an unmarked truck covered in graffiti to move our pitiful collection of furniture. It was a little sketchy but in the end our stuff arrived at our new house in pretty good condition. Things are a little different now with our second move. We have grown-up furniture and a lot more of it. So after several weeks of researching companies and gathering estimates, here are my tips on shopping for a moving company:

Tip #1: As soon as your house hits the market you'll start getting promotional cards in the mail and phone calls. Look through them for interesting deals. Research some of the names and see how they fare on consumer review services like Washington Checkbook magazine and Angie's List.

Tip #2: Get recommendations from friends and family. Anyone who's ever used a moving company will have strong opinions about whether they were good or not. Some of the best moving companies just get business through word of mouth, so you may not even get a promotional card.

Tip #3: Get several in-home estimates. No company will be able to tell you an accurate figure of how much it will cost to move your stuff over the phone. A salesperson from the moving company will walk through your home, making note of large furniture, breakable items like china and how much furniture needs to be broken down for moving purposes. Don't forget to show them the attic, garage and basement where many items get stored. Moving companies kept telling me that my attic would be the most expensive piece of the move because of how much stuff we have stored there.

Tip #4: If you're working with a local realtor, ask if they have any discounts or coupons with moving companies. My realtor was able to get me a 10 percent discount with a large local moving company.

Tip #5: Pack your own stuff, especially if your moving date is a few weeks down the road. Having a moving company pack your items will double the price of the move. Even tackling a few boxes every weekend is worth saving the money. I've even heard of people having packing parties where they get a few friends together for food and drinks and some packing.

Tip #6: Most moving companies will offer a few options for insurance to cover items that are broken, damaged or lost. You pay a certain amount, usually $4 to $9 for every $1,000 of your items' value. Movers aren't perfect so insurance is probably a good way to go. But check with your own insurance policies to see if you already have coverage for moving damages. If not, choose an insurance plan based on the type of items the company will be moving. If you have lots of sentimental antiques, more coverage may be the best way to go.

Tip #7: Don't plan your move for a holiday weekend like Memorial Day or Labor Day. The rates go up on three-day holiday weekends, especially those that fall at the end of the month.

Tip #8: Once you get a few estimates, figure out who your favorite is and ask if they can tweak their estimate to compete with the others. All the moving companies I spoke to said they would consider bringing down the price if the other lower estimates were from companies that were about the same size and caliber as their company.

So what are your tips for hiring a moving company? Who are some of the better moving companies out there?

By Tania Anderson |  April 14, 2009; 12:00 AM ET Home Improvement , Tuesday Tips
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There are many more things a customer for a moving company should do. We didn't and paid the price. We advised relatives and friends after our disaster and saved them big bucks.
1. Go with the mover (the day of the move) to the weigh in. Get a copy of the official weigh in and match it against the copy you receive when you receive the good.
This is especially important if you store your goods. Moving companies have a habit, especially if there is some storage, to combine shipments and charge several customers double or triple, not really separating their load. We paid for three other loads. (got our money back which I'll explain later).
If you can follow the truck, do so. On long haul moves, this is not possible but you might be charged mileage for your goods because the mover didn't take the most direct route to your house and misquoted you on mileage.
2. Label everything and have your own copies. Number your boxes and make sure you have the inventory list. Make the movers go through your system of inventory, even though they have their own. Two systems are good. That way, you can be sure all the items are delivered.
If you didn't get your goods, file a complaint immediately, if you can.
3. Check everything for breakage or destruction. You generally have nine months to file a claim. If you have one, do so.
4. If you have had a "mafia" like company in charge of your move (we had to pay double or they would sell our goods in our move to Oregon from California), be sure you get ahold of a) your Representative, Senator, and the Surface Transportation Board in Washington. The STB is very helpful as far as giving you contacts.
There is a group that represents the moving industry. Write them, send copies to your representatives and senators. Write the companies HQ. Like North American, etc. Most interstate moving companies that have the "big" names are owned by two organizations, North American and United. Allied, for example is owned by North American. Since all moving companies are franchises, quite often the parent company, which is generally legit, doesn't have a clue. It took us nine months to get a refund. The parent company was somewhat gracious after we wrote to everyone about the "mafia" type of "holdup" for our goods.
What ever you do, don't blame the movers on the scene. They are independent movers who are just doing their job.
We've saved friends and relatives lots of money and grief because of what we've learned.
5. If you can, get the sales person who estimates you costs in your old house to "guarantee" the cost. One of the big advantages we had in recovering our costs was the statement on our estimate, "'x' dollars and NO MORE, Guaranteed." This really helped. If the person giving you the estimate is unwilling to guarantee price, go somewhere else.
I hope this helps those who move, especially long distance.

Posted by: diamond2 | April 14, 2009 7:36 AM

Plain and simple: First, contact IM Trucking, only upfront flat rates. Second, call your insurance company. Buy a policy for inland marine insurance which covers moves, usually runs about $25 and covers all of your belongings. That way you avoid getting ripped off by hourly movers and the hassle of having to figure out who you actually file a claim against, you just call your insurance company. When your move is complete, cancel the policy.

Posted by: metoscano | April 14, 2009 9:21 AM

We just used a new company called Two Marines and a Truck, and we had a very good experience. I would recommend them most highly.

Posted by: rschenk | April 14, 2009 9:55 AM

Not all moving companies are franchises. JK Moving & Storage is a worldwide company located in Sterling, VA and is still run by it's founder Charles Kuhn.

The type of mover you use should be based on what you have to move. If you have a 1 bedroom apartment with cheap furniture, then go ahead and use the cheapest company you can find. But if you have a large house with valuable furniture, you should research for an established company that will give you a quality move but not necessarily the cheapest. As Ms. Anderson wrote, someone from the moving company should go to your house to give you an estimate.

I had a bad experience with a company (that I can't remember the name of) when I used the internet to get an estimate. I submitted an online form with information about what items I was moving, and no one from the company came to my apartment. On moving day I got a phone call from the movers asking me what size truck I needed. I should have taken that as a sign as to how bad the move was gonna be. They showed up 2 hours late with a truck that was too big. The final price of the move was a few hundred dollars more than the online estimate said it would be.

If you decide to pack your own boxes I don't think that you should tape them close. Some companies will want to inspect the boxes that you packed and will charge you for that time. If you have boxes in a storage unit, the moving company might charge you to inspect them too.

Moving prices are higher in the summer than in the winter. Don't be surpised if a moving company that advertised a low rate in December, charges double the amount in July.

Posted by: ZebraLover | April 14, 2009 1:34 PM

Here's the best moving advice: call Gullivers. We used them 3 times and have recommended them to everyone we know.

If you live in an apartment and have to make any tight turns to get to your building, the moving company may not be able to get the truck to the front of your building. If this is the case, they'll use a van to ferry your stuff out to the truck -- and charge you at least $500 to do that.

When you get your estimate, don't accept a verbal "we'll try" to get the truck to the building. The estimator knows whether or not the truck can get there. Either have the cost included in thein binding estimate or expect to pay an extra $500+ on moving day.

BTW, this is NOT a problem we had with Gullivers. I was warned about this from an estimator at another company. Many companies don't like to include this cost in the estimate because then their estimate is higher than the ones that don't include it and they lose the business. The cheapest estimate will not necessarily cost you the least money.

Posted by: lalalu1 | April 14, 2009 1:34 PM

Gotta agree that Gulliver's is the way to go. I've used them twice. Each time, they were upfront about costs, fairly accurate with estimates (within $50), nice and hard working and I have never had anything break with them. I had one move where neither worker took a break at all - in 8 hours - even to go to the bathroom!

But fair warning - they are more expensive than others in the area. But they are worth every penny.

Posted by: LawDancer | April 14, 2009 11:34 PM

I'll also chime in with a rec for Gulliver's--they were careful and jolly throughout the process. I could not have been more relieved or pleased using a moving company for the first time.

Posted by: 1shot | April 15, 2009 3:55 PM

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