Our ratings of moving companies will help you find a good one. But getting the best possible service from the one you choose still requires a good deal of effort.

Getting Ready

  • Pack properly. If you do your own packing, ask the mover for advice. If you don’t pack properly, the mover may not compensate you for damage to packed items. 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. Don’t take any chances with small valuable items, such as jewelry, or items of great sentimental value. Just move them yourself.

During the Move

  • On moving day, be there and be attentive.
  • Make sure your mover prepares an inventory based on the inventory you prepared in advance. Make sure the mover’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 never 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. Make 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

  • Be present at the destination. On a long-distance interstate move, if you do not arrive within a few hours of the truck’s arrival (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 you have enough. If your mover accepts credit cards, use one. Using a credit card eliminates 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 instruct the mover.
  • Check the condition of each item as it is unloaded, and check your inventory to make sure each item has arrived. Although you probably won’t have time to open every carton, inspect cartons containing especially fragile or valuable items. 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 your local office of consumer protection or the Better Business Bureau, or sue in small claims court.

Long-Distance Moves

If you have a dispute with a long-distance mover, send a claim letter to the mover’s headquarters (not its local agent). You have nine months to file a claim. The company must acknowledge your claim within 30 days, and make an offer of settlement, pay, or deny your claim within 120 days.

No federal agency is authorized to settle disputes between long-distance interstate movers and their customers. If you have trouble settling, you have two options: arbitration or lawsuit.

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 long-distance 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 & Storage Association, Attention: Dispute Settlement Program, 1611 Duke Street, Alexandria, VA 22314.

If you decide to sue, you must bring your lawsuit against a long-distance 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.

Long-distance 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 mover for a copy. Movers must also provide written descriptions of its process for handling questions and complaints. Make sure you receive this information before you move.