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Planning a Move? Take These Steps to Protect Yourself

Consumers can avoid costly mistakes by becoming familiar with the process, investigating movers in advance and by buying beefed-up coverage.

May 10, 1999|By KATHY M. KRISTOF | Times Staff Writer

One Thanksgiving, Leonard Raymond packed all his possessions on a moving truck bound from Dallas to Sacramento. The truck made it to his new apartment a little more than a week later, but thousands of dollars worth of electronic equipment--his computer, television sets, stereo--and a host of lamps and other expensive items did not, he claims.


For the Record

This article was previously posted without its original publication date: May 10, 1999.


"It was just real clear that somebody had just helped themselves to my stuff," Raymond says. "What was actually still on the truck looked like it had been at a garage sale. It was all battered and dinged."

Although he says he purchased an enhanced insurance-type plan, he claims his attempts to get the mover, Los Angeles-based Starving Students Inc., to compensate him for his estimated $40,000 loss have gone nowhere. He is suing the company in Sacramento Superior Court over the alleged property loss, seeking more than $40,000 in damages plus legal fees.

Raymond's case is being investigated, says Starving Students' Vice President Michael Kadish, who defends the company's overall record. He declined to discuss Raymond's claims in further detail.

With 50,000 moves a year, a few customers are bound to be dissatisfied, Kadish says. Though Starving Students has an "unsatisfactory" rating from the Los Angeles Better Business Bureau based on its complaint history, it ranks among the nation's 10 largest movers and has been in business for 25 years.

As Raymond's saga shows, protecting your assets in a move is harder than it might seem.

Complaints like Raymond's are all too common in today's marketplace, experts say. Since the Interstate Commerce Commission was disbanded several years ago, complaints against movers have surged.

Consumers say movers show up late--or not at all--break or lose things and frequently charge far more than promised. Virtually everyone agrees that the industry's standard "valuation" package--movers' answer to property insurance, intended to cover items that get lost or broken in transit--is inadequate, often paying pennies on the dollar lost.

Worse, a cadre of "bandit" movers, which are neither licensed nor insured, don't even attempt to deliver goods, stranding consumers without their possessions and without recourse.

Recognizing that the cost of a professional move, which can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand (depending on the distance and weight involved) pales in comparison with the cost of losing your furniture and clothing to a bandit mover, virtually everyone involved with the industry--from Congress to trade groups--is considering steps to try to improve things.

In the meantime, experts say consumers can avoid costly mistakes by becoming familiar with the process, investigating movers in advance and by buying beefed-up coverage. Specifically:

* In addition to getting recommendations from friends and relatives, consumers need to check to see if their mover is licensed, says Douglas Hill, president of the California Moving and Storage Assn. You can do that by calling the Public Utilities Commission or Department of Transportation nearest you, or by calling one of the industry trade groups. In California, the CMSA can be reached at (800) 672-1415 or via its Web page at http://www.thecmsa.org. For other states, you can call the American Moving and Storage Assn. at (703) 683-7410. Its Web page also lists many, but not all, licensed movers at http://www.moving.org.

Licensed movers are registered with the state and have at least basic liability protection. Be warned: If the mover is not licensed, its is operating illegally.

* Go to the mover's office and simply buy a box, Hill suggests. Seeing the office and the employees might indicate whether you'll feel comfortable letting these people into your home, he says. Not having a local office is another red flag.

* Understand that all licensed movers offer "valuation" packages, the industry's answer to property insurance for your goods. Like so-called "collision damage waivers" that you can buy when renting a car, the moving industry's valuation packages are not insurance. But they function much like it.

The standard package, included in the cost of a move, compensates you 60 cents for each pound of lost or destroyed material. If the mover drops a 30-pound computer monitor, it will pay you $18.

There are two other valuation options, but they'll cost you. You can buy "actual cash value" coverage, which will compensate you for the depreciated value of goods that are lost or broken during a move--that's enough, for example, to get you another 2-year-old computer monitor if yours gets dropped, but not a new one. Or you can buy so-called "full value" protection, which would compensate you, in the previous example, with enough to buy a new monitor.

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