Here is a true story of a move from hell. My husband was offered a job in Indiana, which would require us to make a cross-country move from Massachusetts to the Midwest so we were then faced with the daunting task of moving our belongings. Being in the insurance field, I realized that there were a few important things I needed to do in order to make sure my belongings would make it to our new home without any mishaps.
I researched moving companies and priced them out to make sure that I was receiving the best deal, I asked for my estimate to be made to me in writing, I checked the company with the Better Business Bureau, requested a binder of insurance, and added extra coverage to our homeowner’s policy to cover our contents while we were transitioning into our new home. Doesn’t that sound like an educated consumer?
Well, we were in for the shock of our life when the move actually took place. The cost of the move was about four thousand higher than the original estimate, all of our furniture was ruined (many of which was irreplaceable), and the movers kept on telling us that they were going to move our belongings, but then would not show up on the days that were promised. To say it was a nightmare would be putting it mildly. So how does an educated consumer avoid living a horror story like mine? The honest truth is that sometimes these scenarios are unavoidable, but it never hurts to be educated and to know what precautions to take to avoid becoming victim of your own move from hell.
Let it first be said that most of us are going to have to move at least once. In fact, the average American moves between seven and eleven times in their lifetime (depending on your source for statistics) so it will probably hold true that you are going to have to do this a few more times then you realize. Moving stress is inevitable and even the most organized person is going to be stressed out by the time moving day comes around. Psychiatrists list moving as one of the top trauma-creating circumstances right after death and divorce. With as many times as we move in our lifetime it should come as no surprise that the moving industry generates seven billion dollars a year in revenues. Moving is taxing physically, emotionally, and financially…. so take a deep breath and let’s begin the steps towards an organized move.
Choosing Your Mover
Before you can begin thinking about moving you need to be thinking of whom you are going to hire to accomplish this task or if you are going to try and move yourself. Obviously, ideally you would like to hire someone else to take care of this for you, but many of us cannot afford the luxury or there are those of us who just don’t trust anyone else with our belongings. Although, financially speaking, you may think that moving yourself is in your best interest, you really must weigh your time, the gas for the vehicle, the rental of the vehicle, the mileage on the car, and the loading and unloading, versus the amount paid for someone else to do it.
Dave Ramsey, who wrote, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Smart Moving” came up with his own Unreal Formula for Pricing the Do-It-Yourself Move.”
His formula for this was:
Miles x cubic feet x days on the road x current price of a Big Mac Meal + distance between your location and Puckerbrush, Nevada + distance required to avoid driving by Aunt Martha’s / rental fee for videos in your new hometown. Reverse the formula if you cross a longitudinal line during your move. Margin for error: 100%.
Of course this formula was just a joke, but as with all moving expenses, it is very hard to gauge the true cost of the move.
Should you decide to hire a mover, you have to begin researching companies to find out which mover is going to provide the best service for you as well as the best price. A good resource for you when choosing a mover is your friends who have experienced first-hand what a move with a particular company is like. Upon getting a few referrals, then you will want to check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure that the company does not have any claims against them. You really want to research the company well and request references from each of the companies to receive other first-hand accounts on the mover.
The best advice I can offer is to check the company and then check the company again. I think George E. Bennett put it best at the American Movers Conference when he said, “You have people wanting to move all their earthly possessions, and they just look in the Yellow Pages and call somebody. It’s amazing. The truck pulls over; they take everything and drive away. That’s fantastic faith in your fellow human beings. A lot of people just don’t do enough checking.
Getting Your Estimate
I find this to be one of the trickiest parts of moving because it is so hard to estimate what you have especially when nothing is in boxes and you are supposed to estimate how many boxes you anticipate having along with the estimates for furniture and all that you have in storage.
The most important thing you need to know is that you must get your estimate in writing- this is a must. If a company will not put the estimate in writing, then this is not a company that you want to work with. The most reliable estimate you can get is if they send a representative to your home to come out to do the estimate. The reasoning for this, of course, is that they will be able to provide a very accurate estimate and usually are held within a certain percentage limitation for how high they can raise the price. Many movers, in fact will guarantee their estimate if they compete a home survey.
If you are unable to get a home estimate, you will have to tally up everything as best as you can. Go from room to room making a list of all appliances and belongings. Make rough estimates on the amount of boxes that you think you will have and I think it is always better to overestimate rather than underestimate because you probably have more than you think you have. Use this list as a guideline for the moving company to come up with their estimate. Don’t forget to include things like bicycles, exercise equipment, large screen televisions, and stereo equipment.
There are two types of estimates that you can request- a binding or a nonbinding estimate. A binding estimate is a guaranteed final price estimate. Most companies charge you extra to have this type of estimate, but Consumer Reports magazine recommends going with this type of estimate “even though they can run slightly higher than nonbinding ones.” A nonbinding estimate is just an estimate with no guarantees. The final cost is then determined primarily by the actual weight of the shipment multiplied by the distance traveled.
Once you have received your estimates and you have chosen your mover after thoroughly checking them, it is time to begin gathering up some paperwork you will need to protect your belongings.
Insurance Not Just For You
Many people do not think to contact their own insurance agency, let alone their mover’s insurance agency to make sure that they are carrying the proper coverage. This is one of the most important steps in your move because if you do not have the proper insurance coverage and something happens to your belongings, you will be kicking yourself later.
First, contact the mover’s insurance agency and request that they send you an Insurance Binder, which will show what type of coverage they have. Usually this type of coverage is minimal at best. Usually it will say that it will insure something like fifty cents per pound. What does this mean? Well, let’s say that your stereo system weighs ten pounds, then their insurance will pay you five dollars if it becomes damaged. This insurance is not going to truly protect you if your belongings are ruined so that is when you call your own insurance agent and find out if there is any special coverage endorsement that can be added to your own policy to make sure that your belongings are safe. This endorsement is usually very expensive, but worth it when you have thousands of dollars of belongings on a truck that could not make it through the move.
You can save yourself a lot of money if you pack your belongings yourself. Be creative in your packing to save money. Here are a few ideas for frugal ways that you can pack your belongings.
- Use all of your dishtowels, bathroom towels, and linens to help pack up precious stereo equipment and other electronic equipment.
- Another frugal wrapping material is newspaper. If you do not have a lot of newspapers on hand, ask your friends and family to save their papers for you. You can also check your neighbor’s recycling boxes on recycle day and ask if you can take their newspapers from them to meet your packing needs. Finally, another place to check for newspaper is with your local newspaper’s office. Many times they offer newspaper that has not been printed on to the general public if you ask.
- Call around to your local hardware and grocery stores to see what day they receive their shipment and ask if you can take some boxes off of their hands. Be careful to not overload these boxes and make sure that they are made of very sturdy cardboard when loading with heavier items.
- Use all of your baskets, hampers, and suitcases to fill with clothing and linens.
When packing your belongings, it is always good to have a system that identifies the box clearly to both the movers and yourself when you are unloading the truck. On the outside of the box (both on the top and the side) write the room and place a sticker next to the label to color-code it to a room. When you arrive, hang a matching balloon outside of the room or other easily identifiable color-coded object that will direct the mover to the room that you want the box placed. Nothing is more frustrating than to have tons of “mystery” boxes that you have no idea where they go or what to do with them. This is especially true when the “mystery” box weighs about five hundred pounds. It really does pay to clearly label your boxes.
Payment and Delivery
The mover is contractually bound to pick up and deliver your shipment on the terms set in the bill of lading. Usually your mover will provide a range of dates of when they expect to deliver your belongings. The mover is required to notify you by telephone, telegram, or in person if pickup or delivery will not be on schedule. You want to make sure that you are always available to the mover by providing numbers of cell phones or where you are planning to stay so that your belongings do not end up in storage and they force you to foot the bill for them being put there.
Make sure that you hang on to all your bills during this time that way if you are claiming the move for taxes you will have all of the paperwork you need to complete them. They will also come in handy if you have to incur any costs because of your belongings not being delivered on time that may have to be recovered from the moving company’s insurance policy.
Payment, like the estimate, is another tricky part of moving when dealing with a moving company. Most movers will require your payment before they unload the truck and it is important to know that they will not accept any personal checks. Most will accept payments that are made by cash, certified checks, money orders, travelers checks, and sometimes through a credit card.
If you chose to go with a nonbonding estimate and the mover asks for more than the estimate you are responsible for paying ONLY the estimate plus ten percent before unloading, and the remaining balance is to be paid within thirty days. You are also responsible for any services not included in the estimate. I wish that we would have known this when we had made our move, so I hope this helps a future new homeowner from making the mistake of feeling forced to come up with payment the day that you have received your belongings, especially when the estimate is four thousand dollars shy of what was originally quoted.
Another important thing that I wish we had been aware of is to NEVER sign a receipt or delivery paper until you have checked to make sure that all of your belongings are intact and have survived the trip to your new home. If you discover damage to any of your belongings, make sure that you make a note of it on both your paperwork and the mover’s paperwork. If you discover damage after your mover has left, leave everything in the box and contact the moving company immediately to find out how to proceed. I think a red-flag should have went up when the mover unloaded and left without helping to put any of our furniture together or checking to see if all of our belongings were okay…it seemed as though they didn’t want to see our horrified faces when we opened up our boxes of broken goods and caught glimpse of our ruined furniture.
Recovering From a Bad Move
Let’s say that you end up having a bad move- what is the next step to take in order to recover financially and whom do you report this information to? If your move does result in the loss of or damage to any of your property, you have every right to file a claim against the mover to recover money for the loss or damage.
The first step that you will want to do is make note of any damages to your furniture or belongings. A good thing to have on hand in order to back up any of your claims is a digital camera. Take several pictures of everything and write down very clearly what exactly has been damaged and where it was damaged. Keep all of this information together and then contact your moving company. You will want to call them as soon as you find the damage and send them copies of the documents and pictures that you took of the damage. All movers are supposed to respond promptly to complaints or inquiries from customers. They have thirty days to address your claim. Should they not address your complaint, then you need to work your way up the corporate ladder and ask to speak with the person in charge of the moving company. If they decided not to address your complaint, then you need to move up to a bigger organization.
First, contact your homeowner’s insurance agency and explain to them what happened. If you carried a special coverage endorsement as was recommended by MomAdvice, then you should be able to have your insurance company handle the claim. Send your insurance company the documentation, and allow them the dirty work of trying to get the money from the moving company.
If you did not carry this insurance as was recommended and your mover is not addressing your claim or has denied the claim, then you have sixty days from the date of your move to write to the American Movers Conference and request arbitration. Their website is http://www.amconf.org and you can fill out a form online. If your dispute meets their guidelines, they will notify the mover and send you the forms to fill out. This method of getting what is owed to you does not come without a price tag, however, and you will need to know that in order to do this that you will be responsible for half of the cost of the arbitration proceedings (total cost $150). The arbitrator will review your paperwork and evidence that you have and then reach a decision within sixty days.
Dan Ramsey explains it best in his book (“The Complete Idiots Guide to Smart Moving”) in how to figure out what is applicable and what is not for arbitration. “The arbitrator’s decision is legally binding on you and the mover. However, the arbitrator has jurisdiction only over claims for loss or damage to the household goods, and their transport. The arbitrator can’t rule on claims such as loss of wages, punitive damages, or violation of law. In addition, the amount of any award probably won’t exceed the carrier’s liability noted in the bill of lading.”
In the meantime, you can also contact the Better Business Bureau to process a complaint with them. It is important to do this not only for yourself, but to help protect other people from living the nightmare that you have just lived through. Many times, companies are more apt to work with you if their reputation is on the line and they realize that they have the potential to lose business by not processing your claim.
In the case of a bad move, it truly pays to be diligent.
Moving is never going to be easy, but I hope by arming you with some of this great information, that your move will go much smoother and that you will know what to do in the case of a bad move.