Jan. 7, 2014 -- Dear ABC News Fixer: West Coast Movers of Las Vegas gave me a binding estimate to move our household goods from Arizona to Florida for $4,400.
They failed to move my safe, yard tools, freezer, ATV and some other items – and they increased the price more than $2,000 after our things were on the truck. We're at $6,457 so far, and the move is not finished.
They say they will not deliver unless I pay the full amount.
- James Jones, Big Pine Key, Fla.
Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.
Dear James: If the ABC News Fixer had a dollar for every moving complaint we've heard … well, we could buy a truck and get into the business ourselves.
Moving across the country is one of the most stressful things a consumer can do, even in the best of times. You're entrusting a complete stranger with all your worldly possessions.
By the time we got involved, your stuff was in transit somewhere between Arizona and Florida. The $4,400 binding estimate you'd gotten over the phone had jumped by 2,000 bucks and the mover was telling you you'd need to pay another extra charge because the roads near your new place couldn't accommodate a large truck. On top of that, your gun safe, freezer and some other items never made it onto the truck, you said.
Your wife, who had stayed behind in Arizona to supervise the move, told us that the big price increase occurred as the truck was getting loaded. After much of your stuff was already on the truck, the movers told her the items went past a certain line indicating 1,200 cubic feet of space, she said. When she balked at the huge price increase, she said they told her she could cancel the job – but she'd have to pay about $600 for them to unload the truck. By then, it was late in the day and the move was in full swing, so she felt she needed to continue.
This would be a no-no under federal regulations for interstate movers. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation, any change to a written binding estimate must be made BEFORE anything is loaded on the moving truck, not after – and both parties must agree in advance. This is to protect the consumer from feeling pressured to agree to a much higher price.
We asked West Coast Movers' owner, Aviv Mordechai, what happened. He said his crew told him they did revise the binding estimate beforehand – a claim your wife strongly disputes. He said that although they didn't move the safe and other items, they issued a credit and they did move other items that weren't on the original inventory.
With that said, Mordechai told the ABC News Fixer he doesn't want an unhappy customer. He agreed to refund you $2,262.50 of the $7,007 final bill, and he sent you a check for that amount.
Meanwhile, FMCSA told us they're finalizing an investigation into West Coast Movers. The company had eight complaints in 2013, up from one in each of the two previous years, an agency spokeswoman said. Mordechai told us his company does about 1,000 moves a year and that some of the issues were due to consumers not understanding limits on insurance coverage or the time period for deliveries. He said he trains his employees to revise an estimate only with the consumer's agreement, and he said the foreman on this particular job is no longer with the company.
Consumers can protect themselves from moving hassles with a few easy, proactive steps:
Before you do anything, read the consumer tips and red flags at www.protectyourmove.gov.
Don't accept an estimate over the phone, even if the mover says it's binding. Have the mover come over and actually look at your stuff and the layout of your home and property. It's the best way to get an accurate estimate.
Before hiring a mover, check their complaint record at www.protectyourmove.gov and with other consumer agencies and consumer websites.
Understand whether you're hiring a mover or a moving broker. A broker farms the job out to someone else.
Consider purchasing extra insurance. The default insurance usually pays only 60 cents per pound for lost or damaged goods.
Remember: Any changes to a written binding estimate must be agreed to by both parties BEFORE any items are loaded onto the moving truck.
When the mover arrives at your new house, they must release your goods after you pay the amount on the written binding estimate. If the mover has legitimate extra charges, they can bill you for those, but not until AFTER they release your goods. (The same rule applies to non-binding estimates, except the consumer can be made to pay 110 percent of the non-binding estimate price to get his goods released.)
- The ABC News Fixer