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6 steps to choosing the right movers

You want your stuff in the right hands
You want your stuff in the right hands

Many consider moving to be one of life's most stressful and least fun events, especially the actual process of getting all your stuff from point A to point B. Once you've made the big decision to pull up stakes and then figure out all those important details such as where you'll work, where you'll live and where the kids will go to school, choosing a mover may just be an afterthought.

But don't skimp on this last detail. Why? While the right moving company can make for a smooth move, choosing the wrong mover can make your relocation a nightmare.

Cliff O'Neill found this out the hard way when he moved from the Washington, D.C., area to Columbus, Ohio. The Washington-area moving crew he hired needed help unloading the truck in Ohio, so without O'Neill's knowledge they hired a panhandler off the street to do the job.

"I was aghast -- this guy now knew where I lived and all the contents of my home," says O'Neill, who added that the panhandler later rang his doorbell asking for money. "I quickly got an alarm system."

How can you make sure that this -- or worse -- won't happen to you during your move? Here are some tips.

Can I see your license?
Can I see your license?

"(Licenses) are the 'it' factor when you are looking for a mover," says Stephen Bienko, owner of College Hunks Moving of East Hanover, N.J.

A moving company's licenses and other requirements will differ depending on whether you are moving within your state or to another, notes David Hauenstein, a vice president with the trade group the American Moving and Storage Association, or AMSA.

To do business across state lines, the mover must be licensed with the federal government and have a U.S. Department of Transportation, or DOT, number. You can find out if an interstate mover meets the requirements by calling the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration or by looking up the moving company on the agency's website, ProtectYourMove.gov.

For local moves within the same state, AMSA recommends you contact your state moving association to check on a mover's licenses and other requirements, which may differ from state to state.

Go local or go national?
Go local or go national?

While a national moving company is best for an interstate move, stick with a local business for a move that's across town or anywhere within your state, says Laurie Lamoureux, founder of Seamless Moves, a moving services company based in Bellevue, Wash.

"We often have very good luck getting problems resolved by local owners that may go unanswered by a large corporation," she says.

However, just because you liked the mom and pop mover for your local move doesn't mean the company has the appropriate licenses or experience to cross state lines.

Smaller companies may hire day labor or temps who are untrained or unknown to the company, which can result in problems if there is any loss or damage, says Jim Lockard, owner of Denver-based moving company JL Transport. But he adds that large companies may not offer the crews, insurance and services you need and can sometimes transfer your property to another company or crew during transit.

"In the middle is a company that assigns permanent employees to travel with your property," Lockard says. "Good research of the history (of the company) can avert problems and losses."

Do some detective work
Do some detective work

Make sure you check government and independent sources -- not just the mover's website -- to verify licenses and references, says Hauenstein. While the mover may boldly claim on its website to have the right credentials, that may not be the case. "We find instances of movers using the BBB (Better Business Bureau) and AMSA logo, but they aren't members," he says.

Do some digging of your own on a mover's social media pages, such as Facebook, to read comments from customers. Also check testimonials on Angie's List, Yelp, Google Places and MovingScam.com. You might try an online search pairing the company's name with the word "complaints" to find any blog posts about bad customer experiences with a specific moving company.

"Every company has a few tough clients that may have felt they did not have the experience they were looking for," says Bienko. "However, take the average and base your decision on that."

Get an estimate, and get it in writing
Get an estimate, and get it in writing

You should get estimates from more than one moving company, says Lamoureux. And make sure those estimates include everything in your home you want moved.

"That includes things in the attic, garage, backyard, shed, crawl space, basement, underneath and behind furniture, and inside every closet and piece of storage furniture," she says. If you point to several things during the estimating process and say, "That will be gone before the move," and they are not, your cost will be higher, she says.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, recommends that the estimate be in writing and clearly describe all the charges. Do not accept verbal estimates.

Along with a binding estimate, the FMCSA recommends that you get these additional documents from the mover on moving day:

  • Bill of lading -- a receipt for your belongings and a contract between you and the mover. Do not sign it if there's anything in there you don't understand.
  • Order for service -- a document that authorizes the carrier to transport your household items from one location to another.
  • Inventory list -- a receipt showing each item and its condition prior to the move.
Be assured you're insured
Be assured you're insured

While your mover is liable for your belongings as they're being handled and transported by the company's employees, there are different levels of liability, or "valuation," says Hauenstein. "You need to understand the level that will apply for your move."

Under federal law, interstate movers must offer their customers two different insurance options: "full value protection" and "released value."

Under full value, a more comprehensive insurance that will cost you extra, the mover is liable for the replacement value of any item that is lost or damaged during the move.

Released value protection comes at no additional charge and offers limited liability that will pay you just 60 cents per pound for any items that disappear or are harmed.

You may opt to purchase your own separate insurance for the move. Or, your furniture and other stuff may already be covered through your existing homeowners policy.

In-state movers are subject to state insurance requirements, so make sure you ask about coverage when using a local carrier.

Don't ever sign anything that contains language about "releasing" or "discharging" your mover from liability.

Ask a lot of questions
Ask a lot of questions

Once you get all the licenses and paperwork checked and in order, moving experts say your job still isn't done. Make sure the mover provides answers to the following questions.

  • How long has the company been in the moving business?
  • Does the company do background checks on the employees who do the moving?
  • Does the company hire day labor or temp help?
  • Will the company transfer the property to another company or crew during the move?
  • Does the company guarantee delivery on the date you want (or need)?
  • Does the mover have a dispute settlement program?

The bottom line is that you need to be comfortable with all the answers you get from the mover and trust the company, says Diane Saatchi, senior vice president of Saunders & Associates, a real estate brokerage firm based in Bridgehampton, N.Y.

"After all, they will be going through your personal things and be part of your life for a couple of days," says Saatchi. "Moving is a stressful time, and the mover should be calm and make it easier for you."

 

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