Residential Moving Services

Residential Moving Services

Buyer's Guide

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Moving services introduction

Moving services introduction

Preparing for a residential move

To save yourself time and effort, carefully evaluate your move before contacting a mover. This includes knowing what you will be moving, where everything will go in the new location, the time of day you want to move, and any tricky access problems in your new home — small staircases or long walks from the street, for example.

Understanding exactly what your move will entail makes it easier to get an accurate estimate. Furthermore, the better-planned your move, the more you'll wind up saving, since movers often charge by the hour.

Extra services

For a long-distance move, movers generally charge by the pound for the entire contents of your house. However some items carry additional charges due to the specialized handling they require: pianos, grandfather clocks, and large flat-screen televisions are among the most common examples.

How much can you do on your own?

Most professional movers offer varying levels of packing assistance. It's almost always best do the packing yourself: you can take the time to do the job right. Most important, be sure to label all your boxes in detail. The best approach is to write the room it's going to on the top and a couple of the sides, with a more detailed list of contents on top. If you need a particular dish but have nine boxes labeled simply "kitchen," it can take a while to find the one you're looking for.

It's tempting to think "Oh, I'll move that myself" when you're evaluating fragile or hard-to-pack items, and if you're going to be driving your personal vehicle during the move, this can be a good idea — but don't overdo it. A couple of precious decorations or a computer might be easy to throw in your back seat and give you some peace of mind — trying to do that with a basement full of collectables will just cause headaches. Instead of trying to do it all yourself, work on developing a better packing scheme or just buying more bubble wrap.

Types of estimates

Because it's impossible to say exactly how much work is required before a move takes place, an estimate is central to the whole process. Be prepared to show the estimator all your storage spaces — the basement and attic, garage, barn, etc. Better to give them too much information than not enough: the object is to avoid surprises on moving day.

Estimates can come in several varieties. The most common and straightforward is the non-binding estimate. The only guarantee you have is the rate — per mover and per truck, per pound, or per cubic foot — so your final bill can vary enormously from the original estimate. This type of estimate provides the least security but should result in accurate pricing.

Important: by law, on the day of your move, the moving company can only require you to pay 10% more than the original estimate before finishing the move, no matter how much extra they add to the total bill. That means you can complete the move and negotiate any additional charges later.

A binding estimate specifies exactly how much the move will cost, regardless of how much the actual weight or time differs from the estimate. This type of estimate is a double-edged sword: you may wind up paying more or less than the actual move would dictate. The trade off is not usually worth it: moving company estimators will deliberately raise their estimates to make sure they don't wind up on the losing end of the bargain.

The most beneficial type of estimate from your point of view is a binding not-to-exceed estimate. With a not-to-exceed estimate, the fees will be calculated based on the actual move — up to a ceiling specified in the estimate. Clearly, knowing the upper limit of what you'll have to pay will help you stick to your budget — but not all movers will provide not-to-exceed estimates.

With any type of estimate, changing circumstances can dramatically affect your costs. If you have a binding not-to-exceed agreement but add a garage full of books to the move, you'll be invalidating the estimate.

Pricing your move

There are several different ways moving companies charge for their services. Some charge per pound (they'll weigh the truck once your items are on board) or per cubic foot of your belongings.

Other companies will base the pricing more directly on the people and trucks your move requires: one truck and three movers is the small end, and you can add trucks and men incrementally up to a fleet of trucks and a squadron of men for a huge move. An hourly rate per truck and mover is multiplied by how long the move actually takes.

Neither of these methods is significantly better than the other, although some moving experts advise against cubic foot pricing. For interstate moves, you can expect to pay per pound, while local moves are more often based on the number of trucks and men.

Compare costs based on the estimates: you'll be able to compare the bottom line, no matter how they arrive at the figure. However you'll want to make sure you get similar numbers of movers and trucks from each company, so make sure those figures are included in the estimate even the pricing is based on weight.

Use common sense when comparing estimates. If you talk to five movers, and four of them are fairly similar but one is significantly cheaper than the rest, be wary. The lowball estimate probably doesn't include all the services you need or has significantly underestimated the scope of your move.

To prevent sticker shock, make sure you have the specifics of how you're going to be charged and all potential extra fees in writing. Also make sure you know what types of payment are accepted — not all movers take credit cards so you may need a certified check or money order.

Also be prepared to tip your movers. Suggested gratuities are 15% to 20%, but don't hesitate to give a little extra if the move goes smoothly. One inexpensive way to give movers a morale and energy boost is to supply a meal — something as simple as pizza or sandwiches can go a long way for guys who have been lifting heavy boxes all morning. For the bulk of the tip, cash is generally preferred, but most companies will accept the tip no matter how you give it — as part of the check or credit card payment is usually fine.

Evaluating moving companies

Once you have some likely candidates, you'll want to run a more thorough evaluation of the movers you're considering. There are, unfortunately, a number of shady or unethical moving companies out there.

There are some specific steps to take to verify that they're licensed, insured, and reputable.

  • Get all the basic information: name, physical address (not just a PO Box), and any other names they do business under.
  • How long have they been in business? Stick with companies that have been around for at least three years. Also ask how long they've been in business under the same ownership.
  • Get their license numbers. Licensed interstate moving companies will have both a Department of Transportation (DoT) number and a Motor Carrier (MC) number from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. You can verify these numbers yourself, for free, at Intrastate movers aren't subject to the same regulations, but most states have their own licensing requirements.
  • Ask about their insurance. They should carry insurance that covers your belongings while in transit, as well as any damage the movers cause to your old or new properties. While all movers are required to have basic insurance, check into the limits on their coverage, and consider paying extra for additional insurance. Also make sure they carry up-to-date workers' compensation — if they don't, you might be liable for any injuries their workers receive.
  • Check with the Better Business Bureau and to see if there are any complaints lodged against the company. A complaint or two is not unusual: even the most upstanding companies encounter the occasional unhappy client. Look for a pattern of complaints before you start to worry.

Check references

Have the mover provide you with contact information for five recent customers who can serve as references. Don't settle for quotes and testimonials — talk to the references yourself. Ask questions like:

  • When was your move? (Verify that you're speaking with a recent customer.)
  • Did they show up and complete the job on time?
  • Did the movers do a good job of protecting your belongings and the property?
  • How accurate was the cost estimate they provided? Were there any unforeseen fees added later?
  • Were there any surprises or problems during the move? How were they handled?

When in doubt — throw it out

Months before your move, start culling through your old junk. Have a yard sale, donate things to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, or take a few trips to the dump — just take the time to get rid the things you no longer need. If you're on the fence about tossing any particular item, think about whether you want to pay someone to move it to your new house. That may make the decision easier in many cases.

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