July 19, 2010 -- Summer is peak moving season, so here are are some strategies to help you save money and avoid scams if you're moving. Three of the most important tips are things you should definitely NOT do when you move.
Never, Ever Hire a Mover Over the Internet
Every year, 43 million Americans move, and many of them now search for movers on the Internet. Watch out! There's a little-known industry you need to be aware of before you relocate. They're called "moving brokers." Many of the moving sites on the Internet are actually run by moving brokers. (Often they let you think they are movers when, in fact, they are just brokers.) These are middlemen who don't actually move you themselves. Instead, they give you an estimate and then find a mover to haul your stuff. Experts say the very structure of how they work can cause a lot of headaches for consumers. The problem can be that, when things go wrong, the broker blames the mover and the mover blames the broker and you blame them both.
Phone Estimates Are a Red Flag
Every moving broker I know of gives estimates by phone, after you request an estimate online. They ask you to walk through your house and describe what is in each room. There are a couple of problems with that.
First of all, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which regulates interstate movers and brokers, says phone estimates -- particularly estimates that seem too good to be true -- are a red flag that you may be dealing with a rogue mover who will pick your goods up and then hold them hostage until you've agreed to pay a substantially higher fee.
Second, you are not a professional moving estimator. When your move is more expensive than quoted, the broker can then blame you and say you weren't honest about how much furniture you had. Even if you're thorough, it's hard for a non-expert to know how many boxes it takes to hold all the books in your living room. And it's easy to forget about things like the grill out on your patio.
Third, the broker is not the one who actually has to transport your goods for the price quoted. So he does not have that personal motivation to make sure his price will cover it. If the quote is too low, loopholes in the law make it fairly easy for the mover to throw out the broker's quote and raise the price. Countless consumers have complained that they received lowball quotes from moving brokers and then the actual mover jacked up the price.
Mover Beware: What Not to Do When You Move
Watch Out for Up-Front Fees
Most online moving brokers charge a deposit in advance. But it's not really a deposit on the balance of the move because it doesn't go to the mover. It's the broker's fee and it can be several thousand dollars. It can also be a problem. Once again, the FMCSA lists up-front fees as a red flag, because too many businesses have been known to charge a fee in advance then not provide the promised service. Reputable moving companies don't charge large deposits in advance and usually accept full payment upon delivery of your goods.
Some customers complain about moving brokers who call them back shortly before their move and say they need additional deposit money because the move is going to be more work than they first thought. This is questionable because the broker is not the one who does the work, but he is probably the one who pockets the deposit. It may just be one more way for a salesman to make extra money off your move. Is it worth it to you to spend thousands of dollars on somebody whose primary service to you is writing a furniture list over the phone and then picking a mover for you?
Beware of Unknown Movers
When you arrange your move through an online broker, you may not know who the actual mover is going to be until the last minute. Or you may be told one mover will be handling your move, then another shows up on moving day. If you're going to entrust somebody with all your worldly possessions, don't you want to check his or her reputation first? The FMCSA says it's crucial. After all, the mover could be unlicensed or uninsured. It could be one of these fly-by-night outfits that steals your stuff or loads it up and then demands more money before they'll unload it. So deal directly with a real mover based in your local area or a national mover with a local affiliate --preferably a company that been in business at least 10 years.
To check the reputations of interstate movers, CLICK HERE for a helpful government website.
To read what other consumers are saying about movers, CLICK HERE.
To check movers' reputations with the Better Business Bureau, search their names at www.BBB.org.
On "GMA" I shared three other tips to help you save on your summer move:
1: Google 'em. Search the name of any movers you're considering and the word "scam" and if complaints pop up, run!
Here are the sorts of complaints you are bound to read about bad movers if you take the time to "Google 'em." Misleading lowball estimates that get jacked up at the end. Intentional delays so that you owe for additional hours. Belongings held hostage until you agree to cough up more money. Missing property, damaged property, stolen property. But hey, no big deal. We're only talking about all your worldly possessions here. Moving companies are one of the top targets of consumer complaints.
So, as you can see, the stakes are high. In addition to searching the name of the moving company, search the owner's name, because often bad moving companies change names when they get too many consumer complaints. If you're hiring a big national mover, search the national name and also the name of the local affiliate. Ask the moving company whether any partner companies will be involved in your move. If so, check those out too.
2: Only hire a mover who will come to your home, look at your belongings and then give you an estimate.
Don't let a moving company tell you it can give you a good estimate over the phone or Internet. You're just setting yourself up to be low-balled. Instead, invite three or four movers to come to your home, view your belongings and give you detailed written estimates. In local moves, these estimates are usually based on man hours. In interstate moves, they are based on weight. Be honest. If you have six boxes of files at the office that also need to be moved, tell the estimator that. If you keep it a secret, the mover has the right to throw out your original estimate on moving day. You don't want to give them any excuse!
3: Make sure that the estimate is binding and "guaranteed-not-to exceed" so they can't lowball you.
To compete and get your business, movers have a bad habit of underestimating what it'll cost to do your move. Insist on a binding estimate. The price will be higher than those wishy-washy, non-binding estimates, but at least you'll know what you're getting into. The best kind of binding estimate is one that is "guaranteed not to exceed." That means the mover promises to move your household for a set rate. If your move involves more weight or takes more time than the mover thought, you still pay the estimated amount. If your move involves less weight or less time than the mover originally estimated, you pay less! Now that's a good deal. (You will probably have to follow up with the mover at your destination to see if the price went down. It's something the company may not volunteer.)
More Tips from "GMA"
Want to have a greener move? CLICK HERE for tips on eco-friendly moving ideas and packing materials.
Want to improve the value of your home? CLICK HERE for simple solutions.
Thinking about moving? CLICK HERE for important information that home buyers and sellers need to know.
CLICK HERE for all of Elisabeth Leamy's tips for consumers.
CLICK HERE for the "GMA" House & Home Guide.