Thursday, June 21, 2012

Everyone has heard the horror stories: movers who don’t show up or show up four hours late or hold their customers’ belongings hostage in the moving van until the customers pay an extra “unloading” fee. The best way to prevent a moving-day nightmare is to do your research and pick a professional, reputable moving company.

The company you should choose depends, in part, on the nature of your move. Rory Crawford, a moving consultant with JK Moving Services in Gaithersburg, said his company does local, intrastate, interstate and international and storage moves for residential and commercial customers, but many companies handle only local moves.

“If you are doing an interstate move, we recommend that you choose a company that has locations at both ends of your move in case there are any problems,” said Melissa Sullivan, manager of marketing and communications for Mayflower moving company in St. Louis.

She suggested looking for moving companies that have been in business at least 10 years because it can be easier to check on the reputation of an older business.

“The first place to look for a mover is through your sphere of influence, your friends, family, co-workers and, if you’re buying a home, your Realtor or lender,” said Lynda Rothschild, director of business development for Town & Country Movers in Gaithersburg.

You can join Angie’s List, a consumer group that collects reviews and provides members with information about local contractors and companies, to search for movers and read customer reviews and ratings. In addition, Cheryl Reed, director of communications for Angie’s List in Indianapolis, recommends checking with the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA), which offers a consumer-friendly search engine (visit www.moving.org and click on “Find a Pro Mover”). You also can check out the Department of Transportation (DOT) website (www.protectyourmove.gov/).

Ms. Rothschild said every moving company must have both a DOT registration number and an MC registration number from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. She said those numbers need to be posted on each moving van and typically are posted on each company’s website and marketing materials. She also suggests checking for membership in AMSA.

“If a moving company isn’t licensed and isn’t following the rules for their industry, what makes you think they would do a good job with your move?” Ms. Reed asked rhetorically.

Mr. Crawford said that after getting a personal recommendation and checking on the certifications of a moving company, consumers should vet the company online before calling.

“Sometimes you can eliminate a company just by reading online reviews,” Mr. Crawford said. “There are all sorts of social media sites that you can use to read reviews and to see ratings of different moving companies. The AMSA site also does impartial ratings of moving companies.”

Mr. Crawford also suggested going directly to the websites of the companies you are considering to learn as much as you can about them, including checking for a physical address and a company email address. If you plan on using a moving company’s storage facility, he recommends visiting the warehouse to check on its condition.

After identifying two or three potential moving companies, Ms. Reed recommended interviewing a representative from each company and asking about whether they do background checks on their employees.

“You should also ask how a company trains their employees and how long their employees typically stay with them,” Mr. Crawford said. “Most moves take place in the summertime, and some companies will hire untrained or poorly trained employees because they are so busy. We built a ‘practice house’ in our warehouse, and every employee, even if they will only be there for three months, is trained there. They practice moving furniture in our house, not your house.”

The next step to hiring the best mover is to get an estimate of the cost of your move. If someone is not willing to come to your home to do an in-house estimate, that’s a big red flag, Ms. Sullivan said.

“Local moves are priced at an hourly rate and by the size of the crew, which is based on the size of the home you are moving from,” Mr. Crawford said. “A one-bedroom home may just need one truck and two or three movers, while a large single-family home may need two or three trucks and six or seven movers.”

Most moving companies have a three-hour or 3,000-pound minimum, Ms. Rothschild said.

Interstate moves are always priced according to the weight of your belongings and the mileage. Mr. Crawford said that even though a move from the District to Northern Virginia or Maryland crosses state lines, if you are moving within the D.C. region it is considered a local move.

“We provide a thorough estimate that spells out every part of the job, such as how many boxes we think are needed, the number of hours the move will take and the number of men required,” Mr. Crawford said. “Some other movers just provide a total, so it can be hard to compare estimates.”

While not every moving company can provide an immediate in-house estimate during the busy summer season, if you must wait a week or longer to receive an estimate, this may mean the moving company cannot properly handle your move.

“If one company is offering a much lower price, that may be tempting, but it could mean they won’t provide good customer service,” Ms. Sullivan said.

Unlike many other service providers, moving companies generally do not require a deposit. Ms. Reed said it could be a red flag if a company does ask for a large deposit.

“Sometimes in the busy summer season we ask for a small deposit so we know we have a firm commitment,” Ms. Rothschild said. “But no one has to give us a deposit. Some people want to do it in order to reserve a date.”

An important consideration even after you have chosen a moving company is how your valuables and your furniture will be protected. All moving companies by law must offer valuation protection of 60 cents per pound of goods, but if you have a valuable small item that weighs little and gets broken, you could end up being reimbursed just $1.20.

“We recommend getting an optional full-value replacement coverage, which follows a formula of $6 per pound,” Mr. Crawford said. “So if someone has 10,000 pounds of belongings, they are covered for $60,000. You can reduce the cost of the coverage by choosing a higher deductible.”

You also should check your homeowners or renters insurance policy because some policies offer coverage during a move. If you have high- value items such as antiques or artwork, Ms. Sullivan recommended specifying those items and discussing insurance protection for those items with your mover.