As summer approaches, so does the great American moving season. More than half of all household moves are made between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and if you’re planning a change of venue for your own clan, now is the time to start thinking about logistics.
Experts in the moving and storage industry say that, for this particular period, you’ll need to plan six to eight weeks in advance to book a reputable moving company. Finding that reputable company can be a challenge, however, and a little research should be done before you entrust all of your worldly possessions to professional care.
Each year, the Better Business Bureau receives thousands of complaints against companies that have not met estimates, have lost or damaged belongings, and missed pick-up and delivery schedules. Such rates of past failure serve as warning to savvy consumers, who should consider the following as they gather bids and conduct interviews.
• Check their license and insurance.
First and foremost, determine whether a mover is licensed and insured. Movers should be registered with your state’s Department of Transportation, and interstate movers should be licensed with the Interstate Commerce Commission.
• Collect competitive estimates. Obtain written estimates from at least three moving companies, and make sure they’re based on an in-person assessment of your current space and belongings. While it’s possible for estimates to be completed online or over the phone, these methods aren’t usually the best way to get an accurate assessment of costs. Moving estimators need to poke around in your closets, look under your bed, and inventory everything in your kitchen cabinets. Make sure the estimator also checks the basement and attic, because anything left out of the estimate could seriously alter your bill at the end of the move.
• Know whether an estimate is binding or non-binding. These are the two general industry categories for estimates, and you should know the difference before booking a mover. With non-binding estimates, the moving cost is based on an estimated hourly rate and/or the estimated weight of the cargo. The risk is that it can be difficult to know how heavy a house’s contents might be or how long they’ll take to move. According to the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA) of Alexandria, Virginia, there are no guarantees that the final cost won’t exceed the non-binding estimate. Binding estimates, on the other hand, are far better. While you may be charged a fee for a mover to bind an estimate, the ultimate cost of the move will be predetermined and final. With binding estimates, a mover is required to take a closer look at your home’s contents, leaving the moving company financially responsible for the estimate’s accuracy.
• Understand the fine print. Once you have estimates in hand, make sure you understand all of the charges listed. Some furnishings, such as your baby grand piano, may require special handling that adds to the bottom line. There may also be limits on the company’s ability to handle and transport some items (such as firearms), which will necessitate additional arrangements on your part.
• Ensure that you’re insured. When you secure a moving company, you’ll need to consider what kind of insurance coverage to purchase. While moving companies are held accountable for the goods they transport, there are different levels to consider, with “released value” and “full value protection” being the most common. Under released value, the basic, no-extra-charge option, the mover assumes liability for no more than 60 cents per pound—not much at all if an expensive item is damaged. Full value protection costs more, but provides the most comprehensive coverage for your belongings. Available at different deductible levels, this type ensures that the customer will be reimbursed for any articles that are lost, damaged or destroyed at the current market replacement value, regardless of the age of the lost or damaged item. Under this option, any articles determined to be of “extraordinary value” and worth over $100 per pound (e.g., fine jewelry) must be specifically listed in shipping documents; otherwise, movers are permitted to limit their liability in related cases of loss or damage. Be sure to get a full explanation of such terms during the estimation process.
• Confirm the crew. Only commit to a service that builds its moving crews from experienced, full-time staff covered by the company’s insurance. Such a team will work effectively and efficiently together, and get the job done to the delight of both you and your belongings.
• Check references. It may sound silly, but this is your stuff we’re talking about, right? A reputable moving company will be happy to provide a list of references who can be contacted for honest evaluations of efficiency, care, and professionalism.
Note: Tom Kraeutler is the Home Improvement Editor for AOL and host of 'The Money Pit,' a nationally syndicated home improvement radio program. To find a local radio station, download the show's podcast or sign-up for Tom's free weekly e-newsletter, visit the program's Web site.