Choosing a Moving Company
This Expert Adulting Module Will:
Help you protect yourself from scams / manipulative tactics / misleading pricing
Most Important Things To Understand
Knowing this info will help prevent you from becoming one of the many people who have bad moving experiences &/or end up paying more than they should have.
Reading lots of customer reviews will help you find good, ethical moving companies to choose from.
Getting at least 3 written in-home estimates from 3 different companies will help prevent you from getting scammed and keep the more unscrupulous movers away.
Questions For You to Answer
(see info below for how)
Did I read enough reviews / ask enough questions so that I feel comfortable that mover I chose will do a good job?
Did I compare the TOTAL COST of each of the companies I got pricing from? Did I look for ‘hidden costs’ in their contract and get them added in? Are all the belongings I’m moving & the services I want written out in each estimate?
Choosing the Best Moving Company for Your Move
Choosing the best moving company for your move can, & most likely will, be hard. And, unfortunately, the path is full of potholes. Knowing the information below will make the process easier and help you avoid most, if not all, of those potholes!
The Moving industry seems to include a lot of scams / mis-marketing. These issues seem to fall into 2 buckets for moving companies:
Extra fees that ‘show up’ after the movers have your stuff on their truck and that you are essentially forced to pay to get your property delivered. (In other words, they hold your property hostage!)
Moving ‘brokers’ who sell you a moving contract, put your down payment in their own pocket, and then either disappear (and no one shows up on moving day) or 'gives' your move to another company who may or may not do a good job.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding a Good Moving Company
Following these steps can help you find a good mover, keep your costs down, and prevent you from falling for a scam.
STEP 1: Decide What You Want the Moving Company to Do / Provide For You
Moving companies often offer many services in addition to moving your stuff from place to place. Products & services you may want or need:
Packing supplies – do you want to buy your packing supplies from the moving company? (see Preparing to Move for less-expensive options)
Packing services – do you want them to pack all, some, or none of your stuff? Having them pack is more convenient but also more expensive.
Insurance for your belongings – in case anything is damaged or stolen during your move
Furniture disassembly & reassembly
Appliance disconnection and hookup (washer & dryer, stove, refrigerator)
Moving of specialty items like pianos, gym equipment or pool tables
STEP 2: Find Some Moving Companies that Serve Your Area & Provide the Services You Want
Ask friends & family for recommendations
Ask your landlord / property manager for recommendations (they work with people moving in and out all the time so they may have heard stories)
Ask someone who has recently moved into your area about who they used and what they thought of them
Google “moving companies near city, state”
STEP 3: Check the Reviews for Any Company You Are Considering (This is an Extremely Important Step for your ultimate happiness!)
Search for “reviews XYZ moving company, city, state” &/or “complaints XYZ moving company, city, state.”
Read LOTS of reviews. Look for both good and not-so-good reviews (every customer won’t be thrilled no matter how good the company is – if every customer is, it may be a scam). Look for items that are repeated (‘were very careful’, ‘were late’, ‘didn’t know what they were doing’, ‘very helpful’) since those will give you an idea of what you can expect if you hire them.
You can also check to see if the mover has a record at the Better Business Bureau (BBB.org). The BBB will give companies a grade (A+ to F) and post reviews and comments from previous customers. More complaint and safety information on long distance movers can be found at www.fmcsa.dot.gov/protect-your-move.
CAUTIONS: (yes, there are many)
Any references the moving company gives you will be happy customers but you want to see what both happy and unhappy customers have to say.
One semi-scam is that unscrupulous moving companies / moving brokers name their companies something VERY SIMILAR TO a good, ethical mover. Be sure to check the name EXACTLY in anything you do to make sure you are looking at the company you want.
Many moving companies have franchises / branches. Different branches could provide very different qualities of service. When you are researching and reading reviews, be sure to include the city & state of the company you are looking at to make sure you are learning about that specific branch.
Make sure the mover has an actual physical address AND when you look at the satellite picture of that address on Google Maps (or another map program) it looks like a moving company (moving companies have moving trucks they have to park somewhere). If they don’t have a physical location you can see or you just see an office building, you may be working with a moving broker. A moving broker will book your move then sell your move to another moving company to perform. See Warning at top of page.
Save Money - DON'T FALL FOR THE MARKETING
The companies that advertise a lot, e.g., have big trucks with their name on them that you see everywhere, may cost more than a less recognized name. JUST BE SURE WHOEVER YOU CHOOSE HAS A GOOD REPUTATION & LOTS OF POSITIVE REVIEWS.
STEP 4: Get At Least 3 WRITTEN, IN-HOME Binding Quotes or Estimates**
In order to get accurate estimates / pricing:
Make sure you tell the movers about all the items you have and the services you need
Make sure you tell them what you are willing to do to keep costs down &/or ask what you can do to help keep costs down. Anything they don’t have to do will reduce how much time they estimate & your cost e.g., if you do all or part of your own packing, disassembling & reassembling furniture, etc. (see Preparing to Move)
3. Ask them about any discounts you may qualify for or coupons you should go find. Some companies offer discounts
for early booking &/or for mid-week, mid-month, or off-season moves. Discounts are also sometimes offered for seniors, students, teachers, first responders, and members of certain organizations (e.g., AAA). (You can even ask for a “nice person” discount (if you qualify) or a “money-strapped young adult” discount – laugh but I’ve seen both those requests actually work before!) 😄 😄 😄
**THREE so you can compare prices; WRITTEN so you can read the fine-print and have something to prove what they offered you in case there is a disagreement. (You cannot rely on what someone tells you - make sure everything is written and signed!) IN-HOME so the person giving you the pricing has actually seen where you live and what stuff you will be moving because, if they don’t know what they are moving and what the situation of the move is (e.g., flights of stairs, narrow doors or corners, parking distance), how can they estimate it accurately? If someone gives you an estimate without seeing your situation, expect that your final cost will be more than the estimate.
A Real-Life Story
A man I know (let’s call him Jeff) had to make a local move. He only had a month. (If you need a moving company, you may want to start looking for one at about the same time as you start looking for a place to move to.) The moving company his mom recommended was already fully booked for his move date so he got online and looked up moving companies.
Jeff said that he read some reviews but not as many as he normally would have because, well, there are a LOT of things that have to happen if you’re moving in a month. He then got 3 phone quotes (not in-person quotes), chose a company, and booked the move.
The movers arrived as scheduled (yeah!). Jeff said that one mover looked like he knew what he was doing; the other looked like he had been plucked off the street and his only qualification was strength. (Jeff said that this one needed a belt – he could only move with 1 hand because he had to hold his pants up with the other!) 😂 😲 😂
There were several incidents during the move (including the washing machine landing on one of them when it got out of their control). Jeff just bit his tongue and did what he could to make sure his stuff got moved to his new place. (Unfortunately, once your move has started, you are stuck with the movers you’ve got which is why it’s so important to do lots of research well ahead of time to find good movers.)
When the move was complete it had taken 50% longer than estimated. After a hard day of moving and stress, Jeff just wrote them a check and the movers left.
The next day Jeff called the moving company with a list of 10 issues. The person who answered said she would have her supervisor call him back. But. . . instead. . . they cashed his check that very afternoon and never would return his call. (If he had paid by credit card, he may have been able to put a hold on the payment until he got his issues resolved.)
Sad stories like these are why Expert Adulting exists!
STEP 5: Compare Pricing
With a moving ESTIMATE, you won’t know your actual cost until your move is done. But, if you find a reputable company, and give them all the important information, and they give you an in-home estimate, the estimates should be pretty close to final cost.
With a binding QUOTE, that should be your total cost.
To compare ‘apples to apples’, you’ll need to get to the Total Cost figure for each moving company and it’s not necessarily the price that’s listed on their estimate. Some companies try to get your business by providing what looks like a low price and then adding on fees during the move. To get to the most accurate Total Cost estimate:
1. Make sure each estimate includes:
a. a list of stuff to be moved
b. any special services (e.g., packing of boxes, moving specialty items) from STEP 1 above
c. notes about any stairs or special parking arrangements both at your current place AND your new place
d. any administrative fees they charge – e.g., cost of providing a Certificate of Insurance (COI) to your building (if required by your current landlord or your new one)
e. any additional parking / gas / mileage fees
f. fees for any special circumstances or requests (heavy items, waiting, etc.)
2. Ask for a copy of the bill of lading (moving contract) and READ IT before making your choice. Any possible “additional fees” should be explained in it. If there are any fees that apply to your move that are not listed in your estimate, you can get the moving company to add them in so you can truly compare Total Cost to Total Cost.
3. Pay attention to what forms of payment they accept. If they only accept cash, consider it a strong warning of a scam. If they accept credit cards, paying for the move on a credit card gives you another way to dispute any charges if anything goes wrong. (See story above)
4. Look to see if tip money for the movers is included in the estimate or if it is your choice depending on how well they did.
The more detailed the quote, the more likely the movers will be able to do the job for the quoted price.
Pricing may be by the hour (estimated bids) or a flat rate (binding contract pricing). With hourly pricing, if the move takes longer than expected, the person moving will end up paying more. If the move is quicker, the overall price will be lower. Flat-rate pricing (binding quote) tends look higher (at least initially) because the moving company is taking the risk that the move will take longer than expected. With a binding quote, regardless of how long the move takes, you will pay the agreed upon flat-rate price.
MONEY SAVING TIP: If you have a moving company that you prefer but they are more expensive, you may be able to get them to lower their pricing. Call them and let them know that you’d really like to use them but another company is $XXX less expensive and ask them if there is anything they can do to meet that price or at least get closer. Moving company rates are not set in stone, so a bit of negotiation can go a long way. But remember, sometimes it’s worth paying a little more to have a better experience.
STEP 6: Book Your Chosen Moving Company As Soon As You Can to Save Your Moving Date
Good movers stay pretty busy – especially between May and September when >50% of U.S. moves take place. You don’t want to have to settle for a different company because the one you want is unavailable.
CAUTION: Movers should not require much of a deposit before the move, if any at all. If a moving company is asking you for a lot of money upfront, you have probably stumbled upon a broker or a scam. There is a good chance that they will take your money and never show up. If they want a bunch of money upfront, you may want to look for a different moving company. If you do choose to continue with them, putting any deposits or other payments on a credit card will give you the ability to contest the charge if there's wrongdoing.
STEP 7: Plan Ahead for Tips
Tipping your movers is not required but, if they’ve done a good job and a tip wasn’t included in the moving price, you may want to consider it. Having cash on hand can make it easier.
Just a little more information specific to local (in-state) moves:
Since pricing for local moves is based on how much time it takes the movers to complete the job, the more organized and prepared you are, the less it will cost.
In most states (but not all), moving companies are required to register with the state’s Public Utilities Commission (PUCO). You can protect yourself by confirming your chosen mover’s registration and insurance with them. (Google “PUCO, Your State”)
In a state that doesn’t regulate its movers, the state’s moving association may be able to help verify information. (Google “moving association, Your State)
Long Distance Moves
There are some differences with long distance moves:
Pricing for long distance moves (across state lines) is based on shipment weight. Getting rid of stuff you no longer need / want can help lower your cost.
Long distance movers must be licensed with the federal government, which means they’ll have a Department of Transportation (DOT) number. The mover must provide the DOT number on its website and in its advertising. You can check out your movers at www.fmcsa.dot.gov/protect-your-move.
The mover also must have a carrier number from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. You can check their safety record here: https://safer.fmcsa.dot.gov/CompanySnapshot.aspx.
What To Do Now
Find your own answers to the Questions for You to Answer.
Review the Most Important Things to Understand.
Start your moving company research as early as possible to save yourself hassles later.
Schedule with your chosen moving company as soon as you can.
Can you think of anyone who might want to know this? If so, please share!
Learn More (My Sources)
Moving (General) – Government Sources
Choosing a Moving Company
Reducing Moving Costs