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Hiring a Moving Company

Keeping ‘Furniture Ransom’ Off Your Moving Bill


LEAH MOORE and her husband, Colby Nichols, assumed they would be in their new Chicago home in time for dinner. Why would they think otherwise? All their belongings were in boxes, they had little furniture and they were moving only a few miles away.

They were wrong. When the movers arrived, they spent the morning packing and unpacking the truck. Then, they took four hours to get to the new house. When they finally did arrive, they refused to unload the truck unless they were paid $1,300 in cash — $800 more than the original quote.

The couple refused to pay more than $500 and called the owner of the moving company for help. He told them to pay or risk losing their things.

Afraid the cost would go up even more if they waited, they agreed to pay. Early the next morning, with broken glass picture frames, smashed wedding china, scraped walls and broken molding, the move was over.

“We were totally taken for a ride,” said Ms. Moore, whose husband relied solely on the mover’s Web site and license information. “You really have to go the extra mile and do real research, like local licenses and insurance coverage, not reviews on Yahoo.”

Some Americans think the process of choosing a moving company is as easy as picking up a phone or trolling online for a price quote. While the moving industry has long been a favorite of con artists because of lax regulation, consumers’ growing reliance on the Internet has made it even easier for the shady operators. Movers regularly appear on the lists of most complaints received by state attorneys general and Better Business Bureaus.

Consumers should not expect much protection from most states or the federal government. While some states, like Florida and Maryland, have strong rules protecting consumers for intrastate moves, many do not. And oversight is minimal at the federal level. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, though it oversees the moving industry, sends complaints to one of its regional divisions and that division decides whether to investigate. Even then, investigations can take months to complete.

The American Moving and Storage Association, a trade group that represents interstate movers, said that research had become even more important and can spell the difference between a good and bad experience. While the Internet can be a good research tool, it should not be relied on exclusively. Web sites can be misleading and can make a mover appear reputable when it may not be. Many people who became victims of con artists, consumer advocates say, made their decision based solely on a moving company’s Web site.

“These guys are smooth talkers and they’ll tell you what you want to hear,” said Tim Walker, who founded after his belongings were held hostage during a cross-country move. “Make sure you’re not just going on their word.”

Mr. Walker suggested checking the phone book and asking friends and relatives for recommendations if they have moved recently. Real estate agents can also be a good resource. Find at least three local moving companies and set up appointments for in-home estimates, he said. Telephone and Internet quotes, as Ms. Moore discovered, are notoriously inaccurate because room sizes and furnishings vary widely.

“Rogue movers can be hard to spot,” Tom Joyce, a spokesman for the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois, said in an e-mail message. “They often give low-ball estimates over the phone or Internet without ever visiting your home or seeing the items you want to move.”

A representative from a legitimate moving company should visit your house, take a complete inventory, approximate the weight of your belongings and provide a written estimate, said Linda Bauer Darr, president of the moving and storage association. These can take one of three forms: binding not to exceed, binding and nonbinding. With a binding-not-to-exceed estimate, a consumer pays only the amount quoted, never more. If the weight of their household goods is less than the estimate, you pay less.

In a binding estimate, you pay only the amount of the written estimate. A consumer pays the full amount of the estimate, plus up to 10 percent extra if their household goods are heavier than expected. This amount is due on the day of delivery, with the balance due within 30 days.

Do not pick a mover based solely on price, Ms. Bauer Darr said. Read an estimate closely and make sure which services and fees are included. When prices vary drastically, many things, like moving pads and boxes, are not included. A mover, she said, should also include a copy of the federal government’s booklet, “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move,” which gives tips on selecting a mover.

“We’re finding the temptation for people is to get this done quickly at the lowest price,” Ms. Bauer Darr said. “If you go with a low baller, God bless you and good luck.”

Estimates should include the moving company’s name, address, phone numbers and its Department of Transportation and Motor Carrier license numbers. This information, plus the company’s insurance coverage and authority to handle interstate moves, can be found on the motor carrier safety administration’s Web site at A secretary of state’s office in your state can also provide information on the business and how long it has been in operation.

Mr. Walker, of, said the best way to make sure the mover does not have a long string of consumer complaints is to check with a state attorney general’s office, the Better Business Bureau and the motor carrier administration. The American Moving and Storage Association, which started a new certification program for its members that strengthens admission requirements, can also be a good resource. Under the new program, ProMover, companies must sign an ethics agreement and submit to an annual check for state and federal felony convictions and verification of company ownership.

On the day of the move, said John Bisney, director of public affairs for the moving and storage association, the movers who arrive should be the same ones you hired and the name of their company should be displayed on the truck. The driver should give a bill of lading to the homeowner that includes the same information as the written estimate, like the company’s address, price, delivery and pickup dates. If it does not match the estimate or is blank, do not sign it, Mr. Walker said.

Insurance is often not enough to pay for the full value of household goods, so a rider on homeowner’s insurance can be a good idea, said Steve Sakamoto-Wengel, an assistant attorney general in the consumer protection division of the Maryland Attorney General’s office. Standard coverage is only 60 cents a pound, not enough to pay for a heavy item, like a damaged computer or flat-screen television.

“When you do have damaged goods, the coverage the mover provides is usually only pennies on the dollar,” Mr. Sakamoto-Wengel said. “They won’t reimburse you the full amount of your things, and most consumers don’t realize that.”

When your things are delivered, check everything for damage before signing a receipt. If a mover refuses to deliver items or to reimburse for damages, complaints can be filed with the motor carrier administration at or by calling (888)_ 368-7238. The Better Business Bureau and the moving and storage association, which has an arbitration process for its members, are also good resources.

Still, contacting these groups does not always solve complaints or result in payment for damages. Ms. Moore, for instance, lodged complaints with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois about her mover but she has not received any compensation from her mover.

“They refused to reimburse me for damages, so the only option was to sue them,” she said. “At the end of the day, I’m not a litigious person. Now I can just hope that people will know about them and will be informed.”

Keeping ‘Furniture Ransom’ Off Your Moving Bill - New York Times

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