By Fairfax Transfer and Storage of Springfield, Virginia
There is no shortage of scary stories out there about simple moves that went wrong. Unscrupulous movers. Homeowners who never got their belongings or were charged several times what they were originally quoted. A recent story in the Washington Post highlighted several pitfalls, traps and other forms of unpleasantness commonly found in one of the most complained about industries in America today. Here are some things you should know about moving companies and ways you can protect yourself the next time you move.
The big thing to know about the moving industry is that it is unregulated. There is no single overarching oversight association or authority keeping an eye on movers throughout the country. Which is rather surprising when you think about the fact that Americans, unlike people in many other countries, move an average of 11 times in the course of their lives. In the Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia area, people probably move more often than the national average given the region’s highly transient communities of students, diplomats, military families, and international professionals. That’s millions of people, families and businesses packing up and moving their life belongings and valuables, with nothing like the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) or the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or anything of the sort keeping an eye on the people they hired to do it. So where does that leave, you, the customer? It leaves you holding the bag, responsible for doing due diligence before you sign anything, hand over anything, or allow any movers to step foot into your home. How can you do that?
Step 1 – The Better Business Bureau
Start with the Better Business Bureau. Any professional moving company that is ethically run, and has been around for any length of time, should be registered with the BBB. If the company isn’t, do not pass go, do not give them $200… drop them. Don’t even pick up the phone. Just continue looking for another one. The reason being, should something go wrong during the course of your move, without the protection of the BBB the only recourse or mediation you have is a lawsuit.
Even if the company is registered, check their rating. In a recent Washington Post article, Edward Johnson, president and chief executive of the Better Business Bureau of Metro Washington DC, was quoted as saying that, “The moving industry is one of our most inquired- and complained-about industries.” One moving company listed in the BBB’s database had 82 complaints filed against it in the last three years. So clearly, a company like that, with a rating of F, is not worth calling. Of course for your purposes, a B+ may not be acceptable either. You want to find a company that has ratings of A- or better, and a slim record of complaints, all of which were hopefully resolved.
Step 2 – Check the company’s licenses and insurance.
Both need to be up to date. Enough said.
Step 3 – Get several estimates
After combing through Consumer Reports and the Better Business Bureau, choose at least three firms from which to get estimates. Understand this: as with many things, you get what you pay for in a mover. A moving company that is properly run is going to have a certain amount of overhead so it can pay for what goes into a successful move, namely properly insured crews, moving equipment, and vehicles.
Example of A Good Moving Company
Fairfax Transfer & Storage of Springfield, Virginia, is an excellent example of a properly run, professional local moving company. They have been in business since 1959, and have completed over 40,000 damage free moves. In order to run their business properly, they must employ a full-time staff of movers, who are insured, bonded, and legal to work in the US, as well as office staff that have to be available to answer customer phone calls at all times. (Some companies do this with an answering service, but at Fairfax Transfer they prefer to give customers the personal touch of a real live human being picking up the phone.) They also own and use their own trucks and equipment. Nothing is rented. They own, manage, and run their own warehouses for their storage clients rather than simply rent public storage space on their behalf. That means they are the ones primarily responsible for the safety and proper storage of their customers belongings, and therefore insured to cover any potential loss. They have also been serving customers in the greater DC region for over five decades – meaning they are unlikely to be unfamiliar with where you are and where your belongings need to go next.
Red Flags That Scream “Bad Movers”
Unsurprisingly, the absence of all the services just mentioned is likely to be the reason why an unprofessional moving company may be able to offer you a much lower price than outfits like Fairfax Transfer & Storage. In fact, if you come up against any of the following scenarios with a moving company, consider them all red flags, screaming not-professionals:
- Staff that shows up without a uniform. No professional or established service provider does that. In any industry.
- Asking for large upfront cash deposits. That’s a big one. It simply isn’t the norm.
- Offering additional insurance. This makes no sense because moving companies aren’t insurance companies. Third party insurance companies do that. Ask to see any such policy if the insurance is offered.
- “You tell us when to be there.” Um… no. A professional company usually has set staffs and schedules with crews planned out well in advance.
- Hidden “fuel surcharges” or extra charges for equipment that should come with the package. You should not have to pay extra for furniture pads, dollies or anything of the sort.
- Extra charges on moving day for long walks or stair carries. Again, that’s a nasty surprise that should be made clear when you contract the job, not when the crew chief shows up with a clip board.
- Requesting your signature on blank forms, of any sort. That’s universally a bad idea, and you’re probably saying, “Who in their right mind would do THAT?” Unfortunately too many people, when they are standing in the front yard of their home and someone is shoving a clipboard in their face telling them to hurry up and sign so they can get started on the move, do.
If any of these red flags appear, even if the crew’s at your door ready to start packing up your home, stall the move and call the company. If you get anything less than a straightforward, forthcoming response, simply stop the move. Yes, that will throw a huge spanner in the works. But it’s better to trust your instincts and lose a deposit than move forward and risk losing all your belongings.
Read The Moving Company’s Contract
The best way to avoid all of this anxiety is by simply reading over your contract. A simple, properly drawn up moving contract protects both parties – the moving company and the customer – should anything go wrong, which inevitably it does for everyone at one point or another. A proper contract protects the customer by holding the moving company to the terms agreed to when they were hired. It eliminates their ability to duck responsibilities, or attempt to extort additional money through heavy handed tactics like the ones described in the recent Washington Post article. A family’s household goods were literally held hostage by their movers until they agreed to pay them four times the price they had originally been quoted for the move.
Perhaps it’s because moving and packing is an inherently confusing and chaotic time for most people. This can be true even for veterans with several moves behind them. No matter the reason, far too many people simply neglect to read their moving contract in full. Which is dangerous. For all you know, you could be signing a waiver that you don’t agree with. This cannot be emphasized enough….
Always read the fine print.
Not just because this is your life’s belongings and memories being entrusted to what is essentially strangers in your home. But because, as has been mentioned at the outset, there’s no one else in charge and you have no other recourse in an unregulated industry other than your contract and the professionalism of the company.
About the author
Fairfax Transfer and Storage has been helping families and businesses move to, from and around the Washington DC area since 1969. They specialize in local moves. Maintain their own fleet of truck and a full-time staff of professional movers. They have their own climate-controlled warehouse located in Springfield, Virginia and provide professional commercial delivery services to local and national businesses and furniture designers. To date, they have completed over 40,000 damage-free moves. You can find them on-line, or call (703)550-7974.