young family moving into their house

So, you’ve decided to hire a mover. While paying professional movers to get your possessions from point A to point B is a lot more adult than bribing a couple of your strongest friends with pizza to throw your stuff in the back of a rental truck, it comes with its own new set of costs, difficulties and risks.

Moving into a new home in itself is stressful enough, but placing all your earthly belongings into the hands of someone else and trusting that person to haul them adds a whole new layer to that stress. You want to work with someone who employs a trustworthy team of movers, has good answers to all of your questions, works with you in a timely manner and is open and willing to address all of your concerns. Anything less is not worth the hassle or the risk.

What should you be looking for when you’re trying to find the best mover for you? Here are some basics to get you started on a successful search.

Familiarize Yourself with the Process

You want to know what to expect, not just so you’re able to find the best mover to fit your needs, but so you don’t get scammed. Since moving isn’t a frequent occurrence for most people, scam moving companies will take advantage of the fact that many people aren’t familiar enough with the moving process to know when something’s not right.

The U.S. Department of Transportation provides many resources for those preparing for a move, including a moving checklist that’ll guide you through the process from the planning stages to delivery day.

If you’re moving to a different state, expect to receive a copy of the “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move” booklet and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s “Ready to Move” brochure. Interstate movers are required by Federal regulations to supply these to customers. If you don’t receive these documents, that’s a red flag that you could be dealing with an illegitimate mover.

Trustworthy moving companies don’t charge large deposits. If you’re asked to put down a deposit, ask why. Occasionally, companies will ask for a small deposit during the busy months of summer to avoid losing out if a customer cancels at the last minute. However, reputable companies generally don’t ask for a deposit, so finding out if they have a legitimate reason for one will tell you whether you need to be suspicious.

Always pay for a deposit using a credit card, where you’ll be more easily able to dispute charges. If a company refuses to accept a credit card or only deals in cash, that’s a red flag.

Make sure you get everything in writing: the insurance, the items being moved, all of the costs (including any extra things they charge for, like having to move items up flights of stairs), whether the estimate is binding or not (i.e. whether the price goes up if the estimate is off) and the dates and times the move is scheduled for. If you’re working with a good, reputable mover, this should all be in the contract without you having to ask. Go with someone else if you feel like they’re trying to dupe you with a shoddy contract.

When the movers show up for the job, it should be with a company van that has its name and logo on the side. Rental vehicles are common among scam artists.

A mover cannot hold your belongings hostage to get more money out of you than what was originally agreed. Unfortunately, this does happen, which is why it helps to go into this process with knowledge and be able to spot a scam mover long before they have access to your possessions.

Do Some Digging

When you’re first doing research into your moving company options, it might be helpful to ask friends for recommendations. You’ll also want to look at online reviews and check out the companies with the Better Business Bureau (BBB).

Once you’ve found a few potential picks, there are some things you want to be sure of before moving ahead:

  • Make sure the company has a local address. Visit the location and make sure it’s an actual office. If you call them, they should answer the phone with the company name, not something vague like “movers.” Sometimes, scam companies will work under multiple names to avoid the BBB.
  • You should also check their registrations and certifications. Interstate movers should be registered with the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). Ask for the company’s registration number. You can search online using the DOT’s Mover Registration Search tool to confirm they’re registered. It will also give you basic information about the company and its complaint history.
  • If you’re dealing with an intrastate mover, you’ll have to do some research into how your state regulates movers. Your state’s movers association, as well as your local consumer protection office, should be able to provide resources on finding legitimate moving companies. The American Moving & Storage Association also has a ProMover program that certifies moving companies that go through a background check and adhere to the association’s standards.

Ask Questions

When you’re meeting with a potential mover, you want to get a full picture of how they operate, so ask a lot of questions.

First, get an idea of the company as a whole. How long have they been in business? You should only deal with established companies that have been in the business for a while. Particularly during the busy season, non-licensed movers will pop up to take advantage of the increased demand. Even if they aren’t outright scammers, they could be unprofessional and end up costing you more in the long run if they damage or take too long with your stuff.

Ask about the services they provide, and what they charge extra for. Ask about insurance terms. With an interstate move, movers assume liability for damages at 60 cents per pound. If you have a lot of expensive items, you may want to consider purchasing more comprehensive protection for your items.

Learn about the terms of their contracts. If you get an estimate, is it binding or non-binding? A binding estimate guarantees that you pay the price written in the estimate. Non-binding estimates reflect what the mover believes the cost will be. The final cost will be based upon the actual weight of your shipment. However, be aware that movers can’t ask you to pay more than 110% of the non-binding estimate at time of delivery.

Make sure they’re able to fit your specific needs as well. For example, if you’re moving from the suburbs to a busy metropolitan area, is the crew equipped to handle that sort of move and the challenges that come with it?

Get Reliable Estimates and Compare the Full Cost

Beware of being lowballed. According to Angie’s List, the average cost of an intrastate move with professional movers is $2,300, while an interstate move averages $4,300 (based on a distance of 1,225 miles). Both of these numbers are based on a weight of 7,400 pounds, so what you pay will vary depending on distance travelled and the total weight of your belongings. However, it’s good to have an idea of what your costs might be, so you can easily sniff out scammers.

Get estimates from at least three movers, but don’t automatically go for the lowest estimate. In fact, if one is significantly lower than the others, that could be a red flag. Don’t just go by what they quote you for the moving cost, either. Sometimes movers will have additional charges, such as long carry fees if they can’t park within a certain distance of your front door. Do your research and figure out the terms of each contract to make sure you understand what your final price will be and that you’re getting adequate service for the price you’re paying.

Never accept an estimate done over the phone. A moving company should send someone to your home to take a look at all the belongings you plan on having them move. Make sure the estimator is thorough. They should ask questions and take note of everything you want moved. You also have a responsibility to make sure you show them everything. If on moving day it turns out you have extra items that weren’t included in the estimate, the mover can refuse service.

Trust Your Intuition

Even a legit mover who’s not trying to scam you can still give you a lousy experience. If the person you’re working with seems unprofessional or unorganized, or otherwise gives you the idea that they’re unreliable to work with, go with a different mover.

You can get a sense for this by paying attention to whether they return phone calls in a timely manner, show up to appointments on time, and always come prepared with the proper paperwork.

Make sure they’re fully addressing all your concerns and not being evasive when you ask difficult questions. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. If at any point you get a bad feeling about something or feel like you’re being rushed or pressured into signing an incomplete or unsatisfactory contract, take a step back. Your gut may be trying to tell you something.

Book Well Ahead of Time

Once you’ve found a mover you’re satisfied with, don’t hesitate. Summer is considered the busy season for movers, so if that’s when you plan on moving, you’ll want to get your booking locked in as much as four months ahead of time, especially if you’re moving out of state.

In general, you’ll probably want to book at least two months ahead of your move. Some movers can swing an off-season local move (within the same city) in one month, but note that good movers are often booked two to three months out.

Show Your Thanks

Ideally, your extensive research efforts to find a good mover will have paid off and you’ll be satisfied with your moving crew. If that ends up being the case, it’s considered good etiquette to tip your moving crew members. While it’s not usually expected, it’s a great way to show your gratitude for the care they gave your possessions.

According to Moving.com, an appropriate tip is $10 per person for a half-day move, and $20 per person for a full-day move. If you do opt for a cash tip, be sure to give it to each worker individually.

If you don’t do a cash tip, another nice way to show your appreciation is to buy lunch for the crew. Ask them what they’d like and have it ready for them around lunchtime.

At the very least, you should provide your movers with cold bottled water or sports drinks. While not required, it’s a nice gesture to make.

Once you’re all moved into your new place and congratulating yourself on a job gone smoothly, pay it forward by reviewing your moving company online, so your good experience can help others looking to find a reliable mover.

What do you look for in a moving company? Share your tips on finding a good mover in the comments!

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