How to pick a moving company

As posted on March 20, 2014 on

By Mark Huffman

Moving is stressful as well as expensive. Dealing with a less-than-professional moving company just makes it worse.

When consumers choose a moving company often they look for the lowest price. That may not always be the wisest move. Remember that the price you are given up front is an estimate. The actual cost can be – and usually is – higher.

Federal law limits the spread between the mover's estimate and the actual price to no more than 110% of the estimate. But that is for moves between states; if you are moving across town, or to another town in your state, then state laws apply and these laws vary, state to state.

For moves between states a federal agency, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), part of the Department of Transportation (DOT), is the regulating agency. For in-state moves, your state attorney general enforces laws and regulations pertaining to moving companies.

Florida lawsuit

In Florida, Attorney General Pam Bondi has filed a lawsuit against Storage & Moving Services, Inc. d/b/a Ryder Moving and Storage and its owners in response to what Bondi says are more than 100 consumer complaints.

According to the lawsuit, Ryder Moving and Storage picked up customer’s belongings but never delivered them, collected money for services never provided, and refused to pay for damage to customers property.

The suit also claims that Ryder Moving and Storage marketed its moving services by leading consumers to believe the Hollywood, Florida company was affiliated with the national moving company, Ryder System, Inc. According to Bondi, there is no connection between the two companies. As a result of the deception, she says, many consumers expected one thing and got another.

“These customers entrusted their clothing, furniture and family heirlooms to this company, only to have them broken and, in many cases, lost,” Bondi said. “We will continue to shut down intrastate moving companies within the state of Florida that prey on our consumers.”

'Rogue' movers

Some legitimate moving companies are simply poorly run and under capitalized, resulting in a bad experience. Others can be out and out scams. No matter where you live and where you happen to be going, it is very easy to fall prey to a “rogue” mover. According to FMCSA there are a number of red flags, tell-tale signs that the company you are dealing with isn't quite on the up and up.

The first red flag has to do with the estimate. If the company representative provides an estimate of the cost over the phone without inspecting your household goods, it's a bad sign. Chances are the estimate will be so low it will sound too good to be true. In fact, that's exactly what it will turn out to be.

If the company requires payment up front or a large deposit before it will pick up your stuff, that's another red flag. Standard practice is to make payment once the furnishings arrive at their destination.

In this day and age every company has a website. If your moving company doesn't have one, or has one with no local address or contact information or any other useful information, that could be another red flag.

Is it a real moving company or just a couple of guys with a truck? According to FMCSA, if the movers show up in a rental truck, you should take that as another red flag.

To make a move go smoothly you need to have a level of trust with the company you are dealing with. In most cases you must vacate a property by a certain date. You may need to arrive at your new home in time to begin a new job or get the kids in school. Often there is a very narrow window of time. Once you select a company you are depending on it to come through as promised.

Tips for a smooth move

To help your move go smoothly, get referrals from trusted sources and take the time to get a written estimate from more than one mover. The estimate should be based on an on-site inspection of the things to be moved.

Make sure the mover has proper insurance and is licensed. For moves from one state to another, a U.S. DOT number is issued by FMCSA.

Don't always go for the lowest estimate. Some movers will estimate very low just to get the business. The actual cost will be higher. If one company has strong referrals and appears very professional, it may be worth paying a little more.

Finally, read “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move," a booklet from the U.S. government that your mover is required to give you if you are moving from one state to another. This booklet also has information you'll need if your goods are lost or damaged during the move.

If you have had a bad experience moving within your state, you should let your state attorney general know about it. If it was a move between states, you can file a complaint here.