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Movers (From CHECKBOOK, Fall 2012/Winter 2013)
 
Go to Ratings of 11 Bay Area Movers
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Think first about what moving-related services you’ll need. You’ll save a lot of money by doing work yourself—particularly your own packing. But keep in mind that having a company pack both saves you time and improves your basis for filing a claim if damage occurs. No matter who does the packing, plan to pack and move fragile items, jewelry, framed art, and other especially valuable belongings yourself. 

You’ll want to hire a moving company that provides reliable pricing and other helpful information, takes good care of your belongings, takes care of both the home you’re leaving and the home you’re moving into, and does the job on time. Our ratings of area moving companies will steer you to an outfit that can do it. 

To get a good price for your move, have several different companies send representatives to your home to give you written, signed estimates showing the rates used to calculate the estimate—either per-hour rates or rates based on weight and mileage. Our shoppers collected prices for a local move and three hypothetical long-distance moves. As tables 1 and 2 indicate, we found dramatic company-to-company price differences for each of our sample jobs. 

Estimates should detail the services to be performed and include an inventory of items to be moved; otherwise, on moving day you may get into a dispute with a mover who wants to charge extra for work you thought was included. 

Be on the scene and attentive when your belongings are loaded and unloaded. Make sure the moving company prepares an inventory of your belongings (including cartons) by number, and that it specifies the condition of each item. Carefully read the bill of lading before you sign it, and retain it until your shipment is delivered, all charges are paid, and all claims, if any, are settled. As your goods are unloaded, make sure each item is in good condition. Don’t sign the inventory or any other paper without first noting any damage that has occurred. 

Determine in advance whether you need to purchase extra insurance protection. Before you pay several hundred dollars for moving insurance, check your homeowners or renters insurance policy: You may already have the coverage you need. 

Once there was a time when you could call your cousin who had a pickup truck. And your friend “The Bull,” who could carry two bookshelves all by himself. And an assortment of buddies easily recruited by the promise of “free pizza and beer.” 

That was a long time—and a lot of acquired stuff—ago. Your cousin’s pickup has been replaced by a family-friendly minivan, The Bull has had back surgery, and your pizza-and-beer-hound buddies now spend their weekends coaching kids’ soccer. You now need professional help to sort it, pack it, move it, and unpack it. And since you too have grown up, you want a crew who will handle your possessions with more care than your friends did. 

We sort out your moving options and provide evaluations of local moving companies. We also advise you on how to prepare for the move, deal with the moving company, and keep costs down. 

How Things Work 

To deal effectively with moving companies, it helps to know how the industry works. A key is to know about the differences between local and long-distance moves. 

Long-distance interstate moves—from San Francisco to Chicago, for example—are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The FMCSA has rules regarding documents movers must provide to customers; the mover’s liability for loss of, or damage to, your belongings; types of estimates that can be provided; and other matters. Intrastate moves—both local and long-distance—are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission. 

Along with differences in regulations, there are also differences in practice between local and long-distance moves. 

For local moves, you contract with a single company that does the entire job; for long-distance moves, the process is more complex. 

For long-distance moves, interstate carriers (for example, Allied, North American, and United van lines) coordinate the operations of many independent moving companies throughout the country. The various small, medium, and large companies that own trucks arrange to carry customers’ belongings long distances, obtain loads to utilize their equipment for return trips, and find personnel to pack, load, and provide other services wherever needed. 

The roles of interstate carriers, their local agents, and independent contract truckers vary among companies and moving jobs. 

Some interstate carriers maintain employee-staffed branch offices, but most rely on independently owned moving companies to serve as their agents. 

The agent sends a representative to your home to prepare an estimate and “order for service.” If you agree to use the agent’s affiliated interstate carrier, the agent will notify the carrier, which will dispatch a driver and truck to pick up and deliver your goods at the scheduled time. 

Most local agents have their own trucks, which they use both for local moves and long-distance moves performed under contract with the interstate carrier. If your move is only a few hundred miles, the local agent will likely ask the long-distance carrier to give it the contract to do the haul, and the interstate carrier is likely to honor that request. But for longer moves, the interstate carrier’s dispatcher will use any trucks that happen to be in the area and are available to travel in the direction of your move. These will probably not be the local agent’s trucks. 

Even if the interstate carrier dispatches a contract trucker from some other part of the country for your move, the agent that prepares your estimate and books your move is likely to have a substantial role in the move. Your agent can offer advice, provide packing assistance, and may arrange for local hourly labor to load your belongings. 

How to Plan 

Invite several movers to your home to help you think through the best way to do your move and quote a price. But before you have anyone out, think about what services you’ll want and need; then refine your plans as you learn more about your options and likely costs. 

What Can You Haul Yourself? 

You’ll save a lot of money by doing all of the work yourself (see below), and you may even cut costs considerably by dividing up the work. For a local move, you can make trips back and forth with your car. For either short or long hauls, you can rent a truck. You could haul boxes and other small items that account for a substantial amount of the weight and cost of a move, and let a mover handle the piano, dressers, and other heavy, hard-to-move items. 

Plan to move jewelry, framed art, and other especially valuable belongings yourself. 

Who Will Pack? 

You can also save by doing the packing yourself. On some moves, especially local moves, having the moving company pack can amount to half or more of the total price. 

But having a company pack for you saves you time and gives you a better basis for filing a claim if damage occurs. Most movers will not pay a claim for damage to items you packed unless the outside of the carton is visibly damaged. One solution is for you to pack items that aren’t fragile and let the mover pack high-risk items. 

You’ll be able to make a better decision on how to divide up the packing if you get companies to give you alternative price quotes—for packing by you and for packing by them. 

When to Move? 

Think carefully about the date for your move. If you can be flexible, give yourself a lot of lead time. Preparation will probably take longer than you expect, and an otherwise easy move can be miserable if you have to work frantically to meet a short deadline. 

It may be hard to get the best mover at the best price during certain peak times. May through September are the busiest months; some companies charge 10 or 15 percent more during this time. Also, the end of each month is usually busier than the middle, and Saturdays are usually the busiest days. 

What to Move? 

Go through your entire home and identify the items you’ll want the mover to handle. Get rid of anything you can bear to live without. The longer the move, the more you save by lightening the load. Have a yard sale or place ads on Craigslist to sell what you don’t need. You can also donate belongings to charities or give them to friends and neighbors. Or just recycle or throw stuff out. (Get estimates for moving with and without certain large items to help decide what to leave behind.) 

Where to Get Boxes? 

Having your mover supply the packing boxes can cost more than $600 for an average-size home, and our surveys revealed a wide variation in prices. But some movers will supply used boxes for free, and you can often get discarded boxes from local retailers or other companies that receive shipments in boxes (such as supermarkets and copy shops). In addition, check prices for new boxes from companies that sell packaging materials; their prices may (but may not) be less than the mover’s prices. 

What Insurance? 

Your mover’s standard contract language probably severely limits its liability for loss or damage (scratches, broken legs, fire damage, etc.) to your belongings. Most movers offer additional “valuation” insurance protection. But before you pay several hundred dollars for moving insurance, check your homeowners or renters insurance policy; you may already be covered. If not, you’ll need to decide how much risk you want to take (see below). 

How Tight a Schedule? 

To be profitable, long-distance companies often cram several households on a single truck: One trailer can carry three or four loads. Setting accurate pickup and delivery dates is very difficult because a delay with one load affects the others. Long delays (five days or more) are more common on deliveries than on pickups, but the problem can occur at either end. 

At best, delays are inconvenient. If pickup is late, you may wind up with your belongings packed, utilities shut off, and a commitment to a buyer or landlord to vacate by a certain date. If delivery is late, you may have to live with the bare essentials you brought with you, and be forced to check in to a hotel. Although you can make a claim for costs resulting from delays, there is no way to be compensated fully for the inconvenience. 

If you have room for error—friends to stay with at your destination, no date for vacating your old home—you can afford to hope for the best. But if the date is critical, you need to focus on movers with high ratings for promptness on our customer survey (see our Ratings Tables). Also, many movers offer an option called “guaranteed pickup and delivery service.” With this option, if the mover fails to pick up or deliver the shipment on the agreed-upon dates, the mover will reimburse the customer for the delay, typically $100 to $200 for each day that the shipment is delayed. Another common practice is for the mover to reimburse customers for a portion of their living expenses (hotels and meals) caused by the delay. A guaranteed pickup and delivery provision will spare you from having to prove damages and give your mover a strong incentive to be on time. Although a premium is usually charged for this provision, it may be worth it if you are on a tight schedule. 

Will You Need Storage Services? 

If your new home won’t be ready by the time you must leave the old one, or if your new home is too small for some of your belongings, have the mover arrange for storage. Obtain documents indicating where the goods will be stored and check on the charges. If possible, inspect the storage facilities. Also get proof that insurance will cover your belongings against theft, fire, and other risks while in storage, because insurance for goods in transit will not cover them while in long-term storage. 

If you aren’t present at your new home when the mover arrives, to get at another customer’s belongings on the same truck the driver may place your goods into temporary storage. Try to avoid this extra unloading and loading, which substantially increases the risk of damage. 

Do You Have Special Items? 

Most companies charge extra to handle certain bulky or exceptionally heavy items, such as pianos, ride-on lawnmowers, and grandfather clocks. 

Is Your Move Unusual in Some Way? 

Because movers charge more if special conditions increase the time or effort required, discuss such matters with company representatives when getting estimates. For example, movers’ price schedules may include special charges if the truck is too big to get down the street to your home and a small truck is needed to shuttle your belongings, or if the truck has to pick up or drop off belongings at an additional location. 

How to Find a Reputable Mover 

Once you have thought about the details of your move, select companies to come to your home and bid on the job. Naturally, you’ll want companies that provide reliable bids and other helpful information, take good care of your belongings, take care of both the home you’re leaving and the home you’re moving into, and do the job on time. Our ratings and advice will help you find such companies for both local and interstate moves. 

Local Moves 

Feedback from Customers 

“Where did they find these guys?” 

Our subscribers make this comment about movers time and again, the tone depending in large part on which company they hired. 

Often, it is said in appreciation— 

  • “These guys are awesome! They moved our four-bedroom house (with garage and basement) in eight hours. Three guys worked nonstop with only a 20-minute lunch break. When it became obvious that a second truck would be necessary to remove all of our belongings in a single trip, they provided it at no additional charge… Employees were pleasant and respectful throughout the day. I hope to never move again, but if it was necessary I would definitely use them.” 
  • “Great company. Very careful with items. Pointed out damage on things before moving them. Arrived exactly on time and worked hard all day. They moved two houses into one for us, which was complicated. They were very willing to relocate items that didn’t fit in rooms. Cannot recommend them enough.” 
  • “This was by far the best move I’ve ever had. They wrapped everything that wasn’t boxed that could get damaged. I had almost 300 items and they were done in 6 1/2 hours. Wow.” 
  • “We met with the estimator, and he informed us fully of all of the costs and made a recommendation as to how we should accomplish our complex move. The movers arrived ahead of schedule and worked diligently to complete multiple stops. One piece of furniture was scratched—it was repaired without hassle and looks good as new.” 
  • “Made moving easy.” 

But on an alarming number of occasions, it is said with disgust— 

  • “I would not recommend these folks if you are emotionally connected to the items you are having moved.” 
  • “Very poor. Six hours late. Rude service. I had to pitch in or else they wouldn’t have finished by 9 p.m., when they threaten to charge for storage. Avoid!” 
  • “These people should not be in the business. They broke many pieces of furniture. They changed the price of services when they arrived.” 
  • “Bottom line: Never, ever hire these movers. They showed up seven hours late and took 24 hours to move a townhouse and quadrupled the quoted rate. They also damaged furniture, and it took forever to get them to pay for it.” 
  • “The worst move of my life even though just across town. They completely underestimated the time and size of truck. Had to call in an extra truck and crew and grumbled as if it were my fault. They left a full pickup load of stuff behind that I had to collect and move myself… Every single lamp ended up needing repair. Also some dings in some furniture. They did not do very much to protect my belongings, just threw things on the truck.” 

Our Ratings Tables tell you how local consumers (primarily CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers) we surveyed rated moving companies they had used for local moves. Our survey asked them to rate movers they had recently used “inferior,” “adequate,” or “superior” on several questions related to service quality: “doing service properly on the first try,” “starting and completing service promptly,” “letting you know cost early,” and “overall performance.” For companies that received at least 10 ratings on our survey, our Ratings Tables report the percentage of surveyed customers who rated it “superior” (as opposed to “inferior” or “adequate”) on each question. Our Ratings Tables also report the percentage of surveyed customers who rated it “adequate” or “superior” (as opposed to “inferior”) for “overall performance.” Click here for further description of our customer survey and other research methods.) 

As you can see, there are substantial differences in how the companies were evaluated. 

Complaint Histories 

For firms that were evaluated in our last full, published article, our Ratings Tables also show tallies of complaints we gathered from local Better Business Bureaus (BBB) for a recent three-year period. 

You can check current BBB complaint information on any company by visiting www.bbb.org or calling the BBB that serves the area where the company is located (click here for contact information). You can check current customer survey ratings by clicking on the company’s name on our Ratings Tables and, in the details under our listing for the company, click a link to go directly to the BBB’s most up-to-date report on the company. 

When using the complaint information, keep in mind that complaints are not always justified; sometimes customers are unreasonable. Remember that we didn’t have a measure of business volume; large companies are more likely to incur complaints simply because they serve more customers. Also be aware that some companies may be at greater risk of incurring complaints than others because of the specific types of business they do. 

Certified Moving Consultants 

A moving consultant is the person who comes to your home to give you an estimate and advice on packing and other moving matters. To become an American Moving & Storage Association Certified Moving Consultant, a consultant must pass written and practical tests. Certification indicates knowledge but says nothing about whether an individual practices “lowball” bidding or other unethical behavior. In fact, we find that companies with Certified Moving Consultants score somewhat lower on our customer survey than other companies. 

Affiliation with Interstate Carriers 

We have indicated which companies serve as agents for interstate carriers. Although you might expect interstate carriers to appoint only the “cream of the crop” as their agents, our customer survey data do not support this theory. In fact, companies that act as agents of interstate carriers rate lower than independent interstate carriers or local movers. 

Insurance Coverage 

Be sure that the company you use carries liability insurance coverage for damage to your house, your neighbors’ property, or any person, and that it has worker’s compensation coverage to compensate any of its workers injured while working on your property—otherwise you could be liable for these workers. Ask to see proof of insurance before signing a contract with a mover. 

In addition, consider only companies that offer the level of insurance you desire against possible damage to your belongings. Some companies offer only limited coverage on local moves—even if you are willing to pay for more (see below). 

Interstate Moves 

For long-distance interstate moves, there are other quality factors to consider. 

Each major carrier uses several local agents and hundreds of driver-operators. While interstate carriers presumably make an effort to maintain overall quality throughout their systems, industry experts believe there is substantial variation. 

You can enhance the odds of a successful interstate move by choosing a high-quality local agent. Although your local agent probably won’t actually haul your goods or unload them at the other end, it is likely to do the packing and may provide help loading the truck. In addition, a good local agent can advise you on how to make your move go smoothly, pack properly, and minimize costs. And your local agent can step in on your behalf if problems occur with the driver or personnel at your destination. 

You can get additional protection on interstate moves by making sure your mover is properly registered and insured. Check www.protectyourmove.gov or call the FMCSA at 888-368-7238 to look up the licensure status of any interstate movers you are considering. 

How to Keep Costs in Line 

Good service is only part of the picture—you also want a good price. And you’re likely to find substantial price differences. 

Moves Within California 

For moves within California of 100 “constructive miles” (actual miles adjusted for driving conditions) or fewer, almost all movers set prices based on the number of workers and the amount of time needed for the job. For longer intrastate moves, charges must be based on mileage and weight, subject to a maximum set by state regulations; carriers usually charge less than the maximum rates. For packing assistance on both short- and long-distance intrastate moves, the price will also include charges for labor and for any company-supplied containers. 

The only way to get a good price is to have several companies bid competitively. Get each mover to come to your home and give you a written estimate. Ask for an estimate that includes the total dollar cost for the move, rather than just a rate quote. 

Before your move begins, the mover must give you a “not-to-exceed price,” which means that you won’t pay more than that price but will pay less if the job is smaller (less weight or fewer hours) than the estimate assumes. For within-California moves, a written estimate that states total dollar cost is automatically a not-to-exceed price, because the mover is required to enter the estimated total dollar cost as a not-to-exceed charge in an “agreement for service” document before work begins. 

A few companies may offer a fixed price, which means that you will pay neither more nor less than the estimated amount regardless of how much your shipment actually weighs or how many hours are required. When getting quotes, keep in mind that, if the amount is the same, a not-to-exceed price may be preferable to a fixed-price contract, because there is a chance the job will come in at less than the not-to-exceed amount. 

For local moves, estimates should include number of workers, estimated hours, hourly rate, and any other details; then you can check whether the job went faster than estimated. For long-distance moves, you can be present at the weighing of the truck or have the mover inform you of the charges immediately after the weighing. If you disagree with the total weight, you may request a reweighing before delivery (although you may have to pay for it). 

Make sure your quote details services to be performed and goods to be transported. Otherwise, on moving day you may find yourself in a dispute with a mover who wants to charge you extra for work you thought was included. Prepare a written inventory describing the rooms and major items to be moved; then have the estimate refer to this list, with an attached copy. 

To illustrate the range of prices you might expect to find when getting bids, Table 1 shows illustrative prices for a local move. As Table 1 shows, our shopper collected widely divergent prices. 

Table 1—Illustrative Estimates for a Local Moving Jobs

Illustrative Estimates for a Local Moving Jobs
CompanyMove a 3-bedroom home from Oakland to Piedmont
Estimate to move Estimate to pack Total estimate
Ben‘s Moving & Trucking$1,430$800$2,230-$2,400
Celtic Moving & Storage$1,470$1,550$3,020
Cummings Moving & Storage$1,765$1,175$2,940
Delancey Street Movers$1,872$1,830$3,702
Shamrock Moving & Storage$1,865$1,300$3,165
Waters Moving & Storage$2,413$1,850$4,263

Our Ratings Tables report hourly labor rates each company told us it charges for three-, four-, five-, and six-person crews. As you can see, the hourly rates vary substantially, ranging from $200 to $325 for a five-person crew. 

Since the charges for local moves are based on time and materials, a mover’s hourly labor rate may be indicative of a relatively low bid. But don’t assume that you’ll get a good price from a company just because it charges low hourly rates. It might be very slow, and cost more than another mover with higher hourly rates. The only reliable tactic is to have several companies come to your home to bid. You’ll also learn a lot in the process. 

Rates often vary depending by time of year, with higher charges during peak season (May through September) than during other months. The rates on our Ratings Tables apply to peak season. 

Interstate Moves 

For interstate moves, moving companies must operate under a tariff system that calculates the cost of moves using weight and mileage, not hours. Company tariffs also stipulate special charges for packing and exceptional matters, such as storage, extra stops, and waiting time. 

However, a company’s specific tariff rate for a given move is somewhat irrelevant, because it can still impose exceptions to the general tariff. Usually, a company simply agrees to discount its tariff rate, or portions of its tariff rate, by a specified percentage. It might, for example, agree to give you a 35 percent discount for the long-haul part of its charges and a 20 percent discount for packing. 

If you wish to have your move governed by the tariff less specified discounts, have the company give you a nonbinding estimate that shows its rates and the promised discount. Actual charges will be determined during the move itself. For example, the company’s estimate will include an estimated weight; the truck will be weighed before and after your load is added; and you will be charged for the actual, not estimated, weight of your load. 

Alternatively, a mover can offer a binding estimate. You will pay no more and no less, as long as you make no changes in the job. If you add work after the estimate is prepared—additional furniture you hadn’t planned to take, for instance—your estimate will be refigured. 

In preparing binding estimates, a company considers the same factors as when it prepares nonbinding estimates—weight, miles, special circumstances, etc. Having estimators follow similar guidelines ensures carriers that different agents will prepare similar bids. That’s important because the revenue of carriers, independent driver-operators, and destination-city agents are all affected by the price charged by the booking agent. But guidelines for binding bids are important only for the company’s internal purposes: You pay the bottom-line quoted price even if the load weighs far more or less, or packing takes far longer or shorter, than expected. 

Many companies offer a third option: estimates with a binding maximum, usually referred to as a “not-to-exceed price.” You won’t have to pay more than the maximum, but you’ll pay less if your load is lighter than expected. 

The easiest way to compare movers is to get binding estimates or estimates with a binding maximum. If you don’t yet know which items you will move, you can use a nonbinding estimate for the long-haul charges. Just be sure to get estimates in writing, and understand what each estimate does and does not include. Not getting a binding total price for the packing and packaging materials portion of the job is risky, however, because you’ll have no way to make sure the company packs efficiently. 

Table 2 includes illustrative prices for three long-distance moves quoted to our shoppers (who did not disclose their affiliation with CHECKBOOK) by phone. These prices are estimates based on a specified shipment weight, mileage, and level of valuation insurance coverage. No packing is included (because estimates for packing can’t be given by phone). The prices simply reflect each company’s tariff and the discount it was offering at the time. Prices might have been significantly different if the companies had gone to the home and offered binding estimates. We found big price differences. 

Table 2—Prices Quoted for Sample Long-Distance Moves

Prices Quoted for Sample Long-Distance Moves1AffiliationMove 9,000 pounds of goods 635 miles from Oakland to Portland, ORMove 10,000 pounds of goods 2,170 miles from San Jose to ChicagoMove 8,000 pounds of goods 2,810 miles from San Francisco to Washington, DC
Price for movePrice for insurance2Price for movePrice for insurance3Price for movePrice for insurance4
Ahmed’s Moving ExpressWheaton$4,118$799$7,874$562$7,097$487
Chipman United RelocationsUnited$3,940$798$7,700$560$6,742$486
Cummings Moving & StorageWheaton$3,694$787$6,634Included$8,217$485
Delancey Street MoversIndependent    $6,000$464
Golden Gate Moving & StorageAllied$5,500-$5,800$823$7,200$577$8,300$501
Locatelli Moving & StorageUnited  $8,100Included$6,200$486
Macy MoversAtlas$4,549$798$9,000$560$7,852$486
Norcal MovingAllied$3,670$799$8,993$560$8,000$486
Shamrock Moving & StorageIndependent$5,500$950    
Waters Moving & StorageIndependent$5,800-$6,100$7,500    
FOOTNOTES:
1 Prices were quoted in response to CHECKBOOK’s telephone inquiries and are for moving only (customer will pack).
2 $100,000 of full replacement value coverage with no deductible.
3 $40,000 of full replacement value coverage with no deductible.
4 $50,000 of full replacement value coverage with no deductible.

How to Make Sure Things Go Smoothly 

Our comparative data on moving companies will help you find a good one. But getting the best possible service from the one you choose still takes a good deal of care. 

Getting Ready 

  • Pack properly. If you have decided to do your own packing, ask the mover for advice. If you don’t pack properly, the mover may not be liable for damage to packed items. You can buy packing materials from your mover or from local suppliers. Some movers will loan or give you used packing materials, if they have materials available. 

Note the contents on the outside of each carton. Tape cartons shut, so on delivery day you can see that they have not been opened and that contents have not been removed. 

  • Prepare appliances. If you’re taking large appliances, check owners’ manuals for instructions on disconnecting them and preparing them for shipping. 
  • Prepare an inventory. List all important items you’re moving, noting any defects or damage. For books, clothes, and other items of no special value, list “box of books” or “box of children’s clothes.” But list all items of significant value individually. To document the existence and condition of items, take photos. Don’t take any chances with small items that have high monetary value, such as jewelry, or items of great sentimental value, such as photo albums. Just move them yourself. 

During the Move 

  • On moving day, be there. Be attentive. 
  • Make sure your mover prepares an inventory of your belongings, including cartons, by number. The inventory you’ve prepared in advance should be the basis for the mover’s inventory. Make sure the company’s inventory specifies the condition of each item. If you think the condition is better than the mover thinks it is, note your disagreement on the document. The mover will ask you to sign the inventory. He or she should also sign it and give you a copy. This will be your evidence if goods don’t arrive or arrive damaged. 
  • For a long-distance move, get the name, address, and phone number of the agent you will deal with at the destination. Be sure the driver knows how to reach you if the shipment is delayed. 
  • Read the bill of lading—the contract between you and the mover—before you sign it. The bill of lading is a very important document. Keep it with you until your shipment is delivered, all charges are paid, and all claims, if any, are settled. 
  • While your goods are in transit on a long-distance move, keep in contact with the mover’s agent at your destination. 

At the Other End 

  • Again, on delivery day, be present at the destination. On a long-distance, interstate move, if you are not there within a few hours of when the truck arrives (two hours for most movers), the mover has the right to put your goods into storage and charge you for it. 
  • Unless you have made other arrangements, have cash, a certified check, or traveler’s checks on hand to pay the mover. Because many movers expect to be paid before unloading, make sure that you have enough to cover costs. If your mover accepts credit cards, take advantage of it. Using a credit card relieves you of the risks of holding or traveling with a large amount of cash, and gives you rights under the Fair Credit Billing Act and card-issuer policies to dispute a charge if you later find goods are missing or broken. 
  • Plan in advance where you want to place your things, so you can tell the mover where to put them. 
  • Check the condition of each item as it is unloaded, and check your inventory to be sure each item has arrived. You probably will not have time to open every carton, but inspect cartons containing especially fragile or valuable items (don’t ship jewelry or other small valuables). The mover will probably ask you to sign a copy of the inventory acknowledging receipt of the goods in the condition described. Don’t sign the inventory or any other paper without first noting any damage that has occurred. Signing a document that does not note damage will make it hard to collect for damage later. 
  • If a carton is damaged on the outside, open it and check for damage to goods inside. But because items can be damaged even if a carton looks fine, note on the inventory that your approval is “subject to later discovery of concealed damage.” 
  • Open cartons as promptly as possible after moving day to check for damage. If you find damage, notify the mover promptly, and keep the broken items and packing materials as you found them in the box, so the mover’s claims representative can check them. 

Resolving Disputes 

If your property is lost or damaged or if you incur expenses because of a mover’s delay, you can claim damages. 

Local Moves 

If you have a dispute with a local mover, first try to resolve it by talking to the mover. If you can’t reach an agreement, you can file a complaint with the California Public Utilities Commission or the Better Business Bureau (click here for contact information), or sue in small claims court. 

Long-Distance Interstate Moves 

If you have a dispute with an interstate mover, send a claim letter to the mover’s headquarters (not its local agent). You have nine months to file a claim with the mover. The mover must acknowledge your claim within 30 days, and make an offer of settlement, pay, or deny your claim within 120 days (or, if there is a delay, provide a written status report every 60 days after the 120-day period). 

No federal government agency is authorized to settle disputes between interstate movers and their customers. If you have trouble settling, you have two options: 

  • Binding arbitration. Interstate movers are required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to participate in a dispute settlement program. There are some limitations, however. Arbitration is mandatory only for loss and damage claims of up to $10,000 on interstate moves of household goods for individual shippers. Claims other than loss or damage, or greater than $10,000, may be resolved through arbitration only if both the customer and the mover agree to the arbitration. 

The American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA) offers an arbitration program for interstate movers and their customers. To participate, customers must send a letter to AMSA within 90 days of the mover’s final offer or denial of the claim. If the claim cannot be settled and the case proceeds to arbitration, the customer pays half of the $650 administrative fee for claims of $10,000 or less (for larger claims, the fee progressively rises). After reaching a final decision, the arbitrator may decide to refund all or part of the customer’s portion of the fee, depending on the circumstances. 

To receive more information about arbitration, visit www.moving.org or request a copy of the program rules and sample forms from the American Moving and Storage Association, Attention: Dispute Settlement Program, 1611 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA 22314. 

  • Lawsuit. Customers must bring a lawsuit against an interstate mover within two years of the date that the mover first gave written notice denying any part of the claim. The FMCSA (888-368-7238 or www.protectyourmove.gov ) will provide the name and address of the mover’s agent for service of legal process. 

Interstate movers must provide customers with certain information. If you are not given the pamphlet Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move (prepared by the FMCSA), ask your interstate mover for a copy. Interstate movers must also provide written descriptions of its process for handling questions and complaints. Make sure you receive this information before you move. 

How to Move It Yourself 

Moving yourself is hard work, but it does have certain advantages over hiring a mover: It’s much cheaper, you can take special care with prized belongings, and you can move when you want. 

Renting a Truck 

If you decide to do it yourself, a truck rental will probably be your biggest expense. Several factors affect rental costs: size of truck, day of the week and time of the month of rental, whether you want to drop off vehicle at destination or return it to rental location, and total mileage. In the past, we found substantial company-to-company variation on truck rental rates. It pays to shop. 

Rules of thumb for estimating the size of the truck you’ll need: A 12-foot truck holds about three rooms of furniture; an 18-foot truck about five or six rooms; a 24-foot truck about eight or nine rooms. Of course, this is a rough guide, and the size you need depends on the type of furniture you have and how you pack. If you’re moving old, bulky pieces or large appliances, you’ll need extra truck space. 

Make the most of your truck’s space by disassembling furniture where practical. Make sure to package and label parts and hardware, and bring along instructions for reassembly. 

Always load the heaviest items forward, near the cab. Load belongings so as to prevent shifting, and tie down your load. 

Most truck rental companies rent dollies and hand trucks for $5 to $20 each per day. Some provide furniture pads for free; others rent pads for about $10 to $15 per day. Drape pads over your furniture to prevent scratching when a piece shifts or slides. 

“Self-Service” Movers 

If you don’t want to shell out thousands of dollars to a professional mover but dread the prospect of driving a large moving truck—filled with all of your possessions—through city streets or cross-country, you can hire a self-service moving company. Self-service moving companies will drop off a cargo container, truck trailer, or truck at your house so you can load it on your own. Then, at a prearranged time, the company returns and drives the load to the destination, where you unload it. 

Using a self-service mover is likely to cost more than renting a truck to drive on your own—but much less than hiring a professional moving outfit. For a local move using a 16-foot container, self-service movers quoted prices ranging from $250 to $400. 

If you’re considering the self-service-moving option, find out whether your homeowners insurance policy will cover your belongings. If not, ask self-service moving companies the price of extra insurance coverage. Since self-service movers are simply transporting—not handling—your belongings, they are not movers at all, but rather freight carriers. This distinction is important because basic insurance coverage for freight is set at only $.10 per pound—coverage almost certainly too low for your belongings. 

Self-service movers will also rent out cargo containers for use as self-storage devices, a very convenient option for homeowners who wish to clear out a house in advance of a major remodeling project but don’t want to truck belongings back and forth between the house and a self-storage facility. 

Extra Advice:

The American Moving and Storage Association recommends the following steps as preparation for moving day. 

At Eight Weeks 

  • Obtain estimates from different companies, and select the one that best meets your needs. 

At Six Weeks 

  • Meet with your mover and discuss all details, costs, insurance, packing, loading, delivery, and claims procedures. 

At Four Weeks 

  • If the mover will be packing, arrange for it to be done one to two days before loading. 
  • If packing yourself, begin packing. 
  • Sort through and throw out, give away, or sell belongings you don’t want or need. 
  • If necessary, arrange for storage of your goods. 
  • Send furniture, drapes, carpets for repair or cleaning. 

At Three Weeks 

  • Arrange to have utilities, cable, Internet connection, and phones disconnected in your old house and hooked up in your new house. 
  • Make travel arrangements and hotel reservations for your trip. 
  • Apartment dwellers—reserve elevator for pickup and/or delivery day. 
  • Obtain medical, dental, and veterinarian records. 

At Two Weeks 

  • File a change-of-address notice with the Postal Service. 
  • Make special arrangements for transporting pets and plants. 
  • Notify sources of bills, and brokerage and bank accounts. 

At One Week 

  • Arrange for a babysitter on moving day. 
  • Transfer prescriptions. 
  • Arrange for delivery services (newspapers, etc.) to be discontinued. 

One to Two Days Before 

  • Have mover pack your goods. 
  • Defrost and dry refrigerators and freezers to be moved. 
  • Arrange for cash/traveler’s checks for trip and expenses and payment to mover. 
  • If traveling a long distance by car, check your tires, oil, wipers, etc. 

Extra Advice:
Coverage for Loss and Damage 

Your homeowners insurance policy may cover losses from specified risks such as fire and theft while your goods are moved. But the policy probably won’t cover the types of damage likely to be caused by a mover—for example, scratches or breakage from careless handling. Your mover is theoretically liable for such damage while the items are in its control, but most movers’ contracts routinely limit their liability. For long-distance interstate moves, your options are fairly straightforward; for local moves, the options are more muddled. Make sure you fully understand the various options before making a choice. 

Long-Distance Moves 

There are several forms of protection against loss caused by long-distance interstate movers. 

  • Full Value Protection 

Interstate movers must offer plans that cover the full cost of repair or replacement of lost or damaged goods. Each carrier sets its own price for this protection, typically about $9 per $1,000 of coverage. By agreeing to a deductible, you can dramatically reduce the cost; for example, if you agree to a $250 deductible, your rate may drop in half, to about $4.50 per $1,000 of coverage. 

You can decide at what level to value your goods, as long as the minimum level of protection is at least $5,000 and at least equal to the number of pounds of the shipment multiplied by $4. For example, if you decide to get $50,000 worth of coverage, expect to pay about $450 for the no-deductible level of liability, or about $225 with a $250 deductible. 

  • Released Value 

To avoid paying the added valuation charges, you can buy very limited coverage based on the weight of each item. Under this option, if an item is damaged or lost, you are reimbursed for repairs or replacement up to the actual value of the item, subject to a limit of $0.60 times the item’s weight in pounds. Under this option, you receive only $6 as compensation for a 10-pound item, although its value might be much greater. This level of coverage costs nothing, but to get it you must specifically request it on your bill of lading. 

  • Separate Liability Insurance 

Some movers sell separate liability coverage through a third-party insurance company. While the other forms of protection are referred to as “valuation protection,” this kind of coverage is properly referred to as insurance and regulated under state law. If you buy such insurance, the mover is liable only for up to $0.60 per pound per article (as in released value coverage). If your claim exceeds this amount, the remainder is paid by the insurance company. 

When you purchase separate liability insurance, the mover must provide a copy of the policy or a record of the purchase. Otherwise, the mover becomes fully liable for any claim for loss or damage due to its negligence. 

Local Moves 

You can determine a local moving company’s liability for damage to your goods by examining its bill of lading and other documents it provides. 

Many companies will drastically limit their liability—for example, to a $0.60-per-pound level comparable to the “released value” option on interstate moves—and try to sell you additional coverage. Some companies include the cost of damage coverage in their regular rates. Be sure a company’s coverage for damage is set out in writing on your bill of lading or in some other document. 

Extra Advice:
Beware of Brokers 

In recent years, more and more moving brokers have sprung up on the Internet offering to find consumers the lowest rate from local movers, typically for long-distance moves. These companies usually do not own or operate any trucks or equipment themselves; they simply collect a deposit and arrange for a moving company to handle your move. 

The problem with such arrangements is that you have no control over who actually performs the work. Since the broker chooses the mover, you may get stuck with an inferior outfit. And because the broker typically collects its fee up front, it may be uninterested in mediating disputes with the mover. 

Even worse, the American Moving and Storage Association has found that some brokers mainly work with unlicensed or otherwise disreputable moving companies. And over the course of the last several years, consumer agencies have received a sharp increase in complaints about moving brokers, many filed by consumers whose brokers contracted with rogue movers that refused to honor price estimates once the truck reached its destination. 

Our advice: Just stay away from the Internet when shopping for a mover. If a moving company can’t be reached via phone, or won’t come to your home to provide an on-site written estimate, don’t trust it with your belongings. 

Extra Advice:
Moving Violations 

Here are the most common types of complaints we receive for movers from their surveyed customers: 

  • Damage to home or belongings, lost items, alleged theft. Mentioned in 54 percent of complaints. 
  • Customer service—Lack of responsiveness by company staff, poor communication, rude treatment by staff or workers. Mentioned in 37 percent of complaints. 
  • Attempt to charge more than originally estimated or quoted. Mentioned in 31 percent of complaints. 
  • Promptness—Work took too long to complete, company was late for or missed appointments. Mentioned in 24 percent of complaints. 
  • Incompetence—Workers were untrained, packing work improperly completed, placement of items was wrong. Mentioned in 17 percent of complaints. 
  • Reliability—Company was unwilling to address or resolve disputes, did not fulfill contract. Mentioned in 14 percent of complaints. 
  • Price—Fees too expensive. Mentioned in nine percent of complaints. 
  • Poor cleanup. Mentioned in three percent of complaints.
     

Where to Complain

California Public Utilities Commission

Complaint Intake Unit
Transportation Enforcement
Consumer Protection and Safety
505 Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102-3298
800-366-4782
http://www.cpuc.ca.gov

Better Business Bureaus

Santa Clara and
Santa Cruz Counties

1112 S. Bascom Avenue
San Jose, CA 95128
408-278-7400
http://sanjose.bbb.org

All Other Bay Area Counties
1000 Broadway, ##625
Oakland, CA 94607
510-844-2000
www.goldengate.bbb.org



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