When it came time to move from her first adult apartment with roommates to a place of her own place in Arlington, Va., Kate Carpenter, decided to hire a moving company that offered rock-bottom prices.
The team ended up dropping a bookcase down the stairs and somehow lost a wall mirror. They put many boxes into incorrect rooms, even though Carpenter, now 39, had put large labels on each indicating its proper place. “I had been so excited about renting my own place and living on my own,” she says. “Then I was really disappointed. That was not how I’d envisioned that day.”
Fifteen years and nine moves later, Carpenter has wised up. For her most recent move, from a New York City apartment to a house in the suburbs, she and her husband got estimates from several recommended moving companies before hiring one.
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Carpenter isn’t the only consumer who’s had a less-than-stellar experience with a moving company. The Better Business Bureau received nearly 6,600 complaints from consumers last year regarding issues with moving companies. Common complaints include pricing or delivery issues, lost and damaged property, and uncooperative employees. “You’re giving everything you own to a moving company and paying them to drive off with it, so it’s critical that you know who you’re dealing with,” says Scott Michael, the president and CEO of the American Moving and Storage Association.
If you’re planning a move, follow these steps to make sure that you don’t get taken for a ride:
1. Do your homework. Ask your network of friends and family to recommend moving companies with whom they’ve had a good experience. You’ll want to hire a licensed moving company (state regulations vary, but interstate movers must be licensed with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration), and one with a solid rating with the Better Business Bureau and ProMover accreditation from the American Moving and Storage Association.
Then check online forums for moving company reviews. One or two bad reviews are probably outliers, but if there’s a pattern of complaints, move on. If you’re moving long distance, look for a company that specializes in that. Some local moving companies subcontract out long-distance moves, and quality may suffer.
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2. Interview at least three companies. Once you’ve narrowed the field, have the top contenders come to your house to look at your things and provide an estimate. While they’re there ask whether they’ll charge additional fees for things like stairs, specialty packing, or disassembling and assembling furniture. “A good mover will go through all the questions ahead of time and make sure they have a complete breakdown of all the needs of the move,” says Ryan Carrigan, co-founder of the website moveBuddha.com, which helps consumers compare moving costs. “Bad movers typically rush the sale and plan on charging you for the small things on moving day.”
If a moving company wants to give you a quote over the phone without visually inspecting your home and things, take it off your list.
3. Understand your rights. Interstate movers must abide by (and provide you a copy of) the regulations in the federal government’s handbook, “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move.” Those rules include your right to a reasonably accurate estimate and a written inventory of your things. For a local move, see whether your state moving association or consumer affairs office has similar materials. Make sure you get any agreements in writing from your moving company, and that all fields have been filled out when you sign the contract.
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4. Consider insurance. Interstate movers must include minimum basic insurance protection for 60 cents per pound per item. “That’s not great coverage if you’ve got a big screen TV that’s very heavy and also very breakable,” says Katherine Hutt, a spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau.
Protect your pricey items by buying an additional policy that will provide the replacement value for your belongings, should they be damaged in transit, but you’ll need to specifically declare high-value items. For local moves, check with your homeowners or renters insurance policy to see whether it provides coverage for your things during a move. Move small valuables like jewelry, coins, and important paperwork on your own.
Some movers won’t insure items that they haven’t packed themselves, so leave the wrapping of delicate items to the pros, even if it costs extra. “Good movers do that day in and day out and will be better at it than you are anyway,” says Regina Leeds, author of “Right Size . . . Right Now: The 8-Week Plan to Organize, Declutter, and Make Any Move Stress-Free.”
Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this website. This article originally appeared on Consumer Reports.