Question: I recently purchased a new home and now face the daunting task of moving. What's the best way to find a reliable moving company at a fair price?
Answer: Since the moving industry was deregulated in 1995, many companies have cropped up, promising the best rates. But the lowest bid--particularly from those who advertise exclusively on the Internet--isn't always the best, according to the American Moving and Storage Assn., an industry trade group based in Alexandria, Va.
"If you get some estimates, and one guy is half of everyone else, that's a warning sign right there," spokesman David Sparkman said. "The consumer thinks, 'I found the best deal,' but then they get to the destination and are told it actually costs more."
He suggests consumers first work from a list of reputable companies to obtain price estimates. The trade group's Web site at www.moving.org lists certified companies that agree to an arbitration process in case of disputes.
Referrals from friends and relatives are always helpful, while the Better Business Bureau can report whether complaints have been filed against the companies you are considering.
Consumers should then gather written estimates from at least three moving companies. Binding estimates are preferred because they lock the company into a fixed price, even though they may run slightly higher than nonbinding ones.
Moving companies charge rates based on distance and weight, often with additional charges for packing materials, driving in the city, stairs or extra steps from the front door and the truck. That's why estimates given solely over the phone or Internet are suspect, Sparkman said. "No professional would ever give you an estimate over the phone," he said. "They have to come into your home and see what's there."
Many people prefer to have their possessions packed by movers, which may make a move more expensive. To save money, consumers should consider packing items such as books and clothing themselves, because boxes and tape tend to be charged at a markup over retail prices. More fragile items, however, are best left to movers because insurance doesn't always cover self-packed items.
Also consider taking out additional insurance because many consumer complaints about movers focus on damaged goods, according to Consumer Reports.
The standard coverage, which comes at no cost, is 60 cents per pound per item. That means if a 10-pound crystal bowl costing $500 is shattered, a consumer would only get $6. Homeowners insurance also might provide some coverage, while movers offer supplemental coverage at extra cost.
When receiving estimates, ask the company to include the cost of an inventory or a list of your goods with notes about any damage before and after the move. Upon delivery, don't sign the inventory until you have inspected your furniture and the exterior of the cartons for damage.
Finally, moving experts advise flexibility. Consumers can likely get discounts and better service by avoiding the peak moving times of May to September, or by waiting to move in the middle of the month rather than the beginning or end.
Other information about moving can be found at the American Moving and Storage Assn.'s Web site, as well as www.moving.com and www.getamover.com.