You might have heard the horror stories; damaged furniture, unreasonable fees, even entire trucks of personal belongings taken hostage by unscrupulous moving companies. Unfortunately, this is a disturbing real-life scenario that is not unique to any one area or country. Problems with moving companies are all too common.
Does this mean you should avoid using a moving company? Absolutely not. Like anything else in life, the negative incidents seem to stand out so much more than the positive experiences happening every day. Moving can be a physically and mentally exhausting venture; honest moving companies take much of the physical work and stress out of the event. Use this guide to protect yourself from the financial and emotional turmoil caused by a problem with the company in charge of moving your most precious belongings.
The First Step is Prevention
You can greatly reduce the risk of encountering a problem by doing some serious investigative work before hiring a moving company. Yes, it will be time consuming, but when you consider what is at stake it’s absolutely essential. Begin by asking friends and neighbors if they have ever used the services of a moving company. What was the experience like? If it was a positive one, write the name of the company on your shortlist. Going through the phonebook, choose at least five other companies in your area to add to your list.
These official websites may provide information on the moving company you are thinking of using; The national trade association for the moving industry American Moving and Storage Association, the trade association for the removals industry in the UK British Association of Removers and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Call each company and ask about:
Prices – For time as well as mileage. Also inquire about special or additional rates for certain objects such as appliances or pianos.
Insurance or protection policies – Are they offered by the company? Is there a deductible? Are there certain conditions that would affect your being compensated if your belongings are damaged?
Handling procedures – What type equipment is used for heavy lifting? How are fragile items loaded onto the truck and stored during transportation?
Moving staff qualifications – How many years experience do the movers have? Are they bondable and have they completed a recent criminal record check?
General policies and procedures – What guarantee do you have that the movers will show up on time and deliver the furniture on time to your new home? What will happen if you are not at the home when they arrive? Does the company have a complaint process and how are disputes handled?
This basic list of questions will get you started. Before you call, go over your move in your head and ask any additional questions relating to your own personal items. Don’t be afraid to take ten or even twenty minutes of their time asking these important questions. If they are unwilling to answer or seem too busy or disinterested, do not hire them. Imagine how they will act when you are really counting on them!
Always Check References
You’ve called several companies and decided that two of them offer competitive pricing and terms that are agreeable. Call the Better Business Bureau in your area and inquire about the company. If they are not registered with the BBB, do not hire them.
Ask each company to provide FIVE, yes five, professional references. Make it clear that these references should be past clients of theirs. Call each reference and ask about their experience with the company, including punctuality, cooperation, care with items and price adherence.
TROUBLE SAVING TIP: Ask for a reference that is at least three years old, meaning a client they moved more than three years ago. Why? Many moving companies simply change their name and re-open if they are sued, charged, or reported to the Better Business Bureau. Ensuring that they have successfully been in business for more than three years is an added bit of protection.
Know Your Rights
Don’t… sign… ANYTHING without reading it thoroughly. Take the contract home and read every single detail before signing. If there is a single clause in the contract that you feel is questionable, don’t sign it. You may ask the company about it, but if they won’t provide an amended contract, you are agreeing to every word on that page by signing.
In most countries, the moving industry is highly unregulated. It is up to the consumer to protect themselves. Although organizations such as the Better Business Bureau do try to keep track of serial offenders, it is all too easy for a scam artist to simply open up shop somewhere else.
You are hiring the company to provide a service to you and in this situation the law considers any problems to be a civil matter. If a problem arises, it will be in your hands to file a lawsuit and prove your own case. In the worst case scenario – when the company will not release your furniture – you could be without it for years until the case is resolved in court.
You may be shaking your head in wonder; how is that possible? While it seems unbelievable that so little protection is offered, it’s the sad truth. Lobby your government for stricter rules and better enforcement in the moving industry. Until then, learn to recognize and avoid these common problems:
Storage for undeliverable items – This is a relatively common scam in the moving industry. If the company states that they will move your belongings into storage should they be undeliverable, you need to ask some very important questions. What is their definition of undeliverable? If they show up early and you are not at the new home, a dishonest company would claim that the goods were undeliverable and put them in storage.
Here is the real scam; often, the moving company owns the storage unit as well! So they will demand payment for the moving services, may even charge a fine for your “undeliverable goods”, and then charge you for storage fees. They would refuse to release the items from storage until you paid the entire amount owing to both the movers and the storage company. The amount would continue to grow as you unsuccessfully called police and eventually had to either cut your losses or sue the company.
Late or Missing Delivery – Ensure that your contract is signed by the company and includes a level of protection and liability suitable for late or missing deliveries. How will you be compensated? The pick up and delivery dates and times should be clearly defined.
Damaged Items – Again, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure in this case. Before hiring the company, you must be familiar with their handling practices, check references and have a written guarantee stating that they will pay for any damage caused to your property. IMPORTANT: Have it in writing that you will be compensated the Replacement Value of damaged items, not the depreciated value. Take a picture with a date-time stamp of each piece of furniture the day of the move. Be at the new location to check each item and box carefully after it is brought into the new house. Call the moving company owner or head office immediately if any of your belongings are damaged.
Unreasonable or Unexpected Fees – Always have a quote in writing before hiring the company. The contract you sign should not leave expenses and charges open ended. The company knows how far you are moving; you can expect a flat rate for mileage. Hourly rates for movers should be reasonable.
Inflated Weight – Ask the company if they charge per box or by weight. If you are paying by weight, you will be asked to provide an estimated weight for the items you are having moved. Have it written into the contract that the company will reweigh the belongings and provide you with an itemized list of weights should the actual amount be more than 10% greater than the estimated amount. Also ensure that they are using a certified scale.
Payment Terms – Payment terms should be clearly outlined within the contract. Is the deposit refundable? When is the balance due; upon successful delivery, or on a certain date regardless of whether or not your belongings have been delivered? Can the mover increase the final bill to more than 10% greater than the written quote without your authorization?
With planning and research, you should have no trouble finding a reliable, reputable moving company in your area. While much of the responsibility of consumer protection rests on your own shoulders, there are actions that you can take if you encounter a problem.
Always contact the company first and give them a chance to fix the problem. Explain the trouble you are having clearly and state the action that you expect from them. For example, if a box of glassware was shattered during the move, call the company and tell them that you expect to be reimbursed for the replacement value of the glassware.
If this approach does not work, send the company a faxed or mailed letter. Again, state the problem and the action that you expect from them. Then outline the next action that you will take against the company, such as a complaint to the Better Business Bureau or other organization in your country. Set a clear and reasonable deadline for their response (seven days is reasonable). This letter should not be threatening or angry in nature; you are simply expressing the problem and your expectations for resolution.
Follow through with your next complaint action. This may include filing a formal complaint with a regulatory agency in your company, posting a blog warning other consumers about the company (it’s not libel if it’s true), or even contacting the media. Once contacted by the media, moving companies will sometimes snap to their senses with a reasonable solution to the problem.
Once you have exhausted other avenues, call your lawyer. They will inform you of the laws in your area and the procedure for filing suit against the company.