I asked a simple question on a Facebook the other day and was surprised by the incredible responses that I got. The question was this: “Anyone who’s ever moved… what were some things that you wished you had known before you moved?”
The responses that I got were almost universal in their hatred of moving companies. I had a good experience with the moving company that I used, so this did not cross my mind as being a major issue. As I dug a little farther into things, though, it became clear to me that fraudulent movers are a huge problem. To top it off, it turns out that this is not a local St. Louis problem, but a national one.
I found that the complaints fell generally into one of two categories: price gouging/fraud and incompetence. Of course, those who accused their moving companies of incompetence also felt gouged, and rightfully so. I want to share these stories, as a warning to anyone thinking of hiring movers: do your homework and thoroughly research any company you plan to trust in your home and with your belongings.
One respondent, Chris, quickly summed up the views of many when he wrote:
The movers thing is insane. I am about to move and my estimates vary from $200 to $800. Why am I charged $2 per roll of tape? Why do I get charged for that plastic stuff?
He’s not alone. One of the biggest complaints was about the difference between the quoted price and the final price. About his moving experience, Scott wrote:
We were quoted $200 to move 5 miles…then came all the “extras” total was more than $700. Had to threaten legal action (consumer fraud act) before they reduced it to $400
Later, he added:
Moving companies have extras for the use of their blankets, tape, boxes, the amount of feet the have to park from your front door to the moving truck. They won’t tell you about any of these until your possessions are on the truck and in their care.
Chris and Scott have pointed to one of the biggest complaints consumers have about a wide-variety of businesses: a lack of transparency in their pricing. It’s why people get frustrated when they have to pay a destination charge and delivery fee when they buy a car, or when a waiter charges you for a drink refill without letting you know when you order it. It’s also why we suggest that you ask questions and carefully read any contract before you sign it, even a storage lease. (We try to only do business with the very best companies, but you should always do your own due diligence!)
People make decisions based on the information that they have available to them, and they don’t like being jerked around. When a company gives a quote for services, they should be upfront about what’s included and what’s not included. Storage companies are notorious for leaving out additional charges which can double, triple, or even quadruple the final price.
Incredibly, though, Scott’s experience seems pretty legitimate compared to Deanna’s:
I had a moving company give me a bid to move from Oklahoma to Colorado, paid in full before the move, then wouldn’t deliver my items until I gave them another $3000 for delivery. Total rip off scam artists. Then they closed the corporation and opened a new one so I couldn’t sue them.
In other words, Deanna’s moving company actually held her belongings hostage until she paid them a ransom of $3000. She said that the paperwork from the company had a different name on it than the name she knew them by, but she didn’t think twice about it. She said:
I found out afterward that the guy had like 10,000 corporations and every time they do a move they close the corp and open a new one
Then she called it what it is: a scam.
A less obvious, but still fraudulent, practice is simply overcharging a customer. Bert said:
We recently moved twice both times with the same company. Both times they over charged us by trying to make us pay for the movers half lunch hour. We made them take it off.
I asked her why they used the same company a second time. She said:
First time we told them and they acted like they just messed up and took it off. Then when it happened the second time, we felt like it was what they did to see if customers would just pay it. Check your bills!
In other words, they did it intentionally, then acted contrite when caught. And Bert makes a good point: always look over the bill and question any charge you’re not sure about! Shady moving companies are counting on you being so busy and overwhelmed that you will just pay the bill to be finished with it. If you do, you may be paying a bunch of guys to eat lunch.
I said at the outset that these stories fell into two categories: price gouging/fraud and incompetence. So far, the focus has been on price gouging. Elizabeth’s story will start off our grand tour of moving company incompetence:
I had a moving company essentially give up in moving my washer into the basement of my two family flat. They left it sitting outside. Luckily I had a couple friends come over and help later that day.
She was lucky to have good friends nearby. If she had been in a new city, she might not have been able to just call some friends to come by. Also, this is a moving company who couldn’t get a washer indoors. What kind of moving company can’t get a washer into a house? Then, Elizabeth said something that so many of us say after situations like this one:
Looking back, I should have called to complain but I was naive!
Robert’s story will show just how incompetent a moving company can be when they really set their minds to being stupid:
My movers loaded the ENTIRE truck and lost the keys for the truck. The keys were in the front or the back, however you want to look at it of the truck. In other words, the keys were loaded into the truck then everything was loaded after that. Everything had to be unloaded to get the keys or we had to wait for someone with a spare set. We paid by the hour. I had to force them to stop running the clock.
If it weren’t expensive and incredibly frustrating, it might actually be funny. Instead, how hard could it be to put the keys in your pocket or glove box, or even in the house? Robert was smartly assertive in refusing to pay for time that they wasted unloading and reloading the truck. (Who am I kidding? It’s hilarious. Probably not at the time, but now? Hysterical! Sorry, Robert!)
Less comical, even in hindsight, was what happened on Kate’s move:
We had problems with the people who loaded our truck in LA. They did a really half-assed job and packed it all wrong for a cross-country move, breaking half my china and putting big gouges in a bunch of antique/heirloom furniture in the process.
She said that they had used the same company when they moved to LA and had no problems, but this was a different crew and they were… well… nice words did not come next. Kate did, however, give more detail:
They did stuff like use a box of china to “brace” our sofa, putting Jeff’s bike against our china cabinet so the pedals scratched the front of the cabinet (2500 miles’ worth of vibrating together), tossing clearly-marked “FRAGILE” boxes upside down. That sort of thing.
Since they didn’t buy the insurance, and were only paid to load the truck, they refused to accept responsibility. Getting your belongings out of the truck, apparently, can be as much of a problem for movers as getting your belongings in. Erin shared her story:
They took forever, damaged several of our pieces of furniture and then tried to tell us it was already damaged after I watched them drop the dresser trying to take it up the stairs. Didn’t wrap furniture, dented our walls and doorways and left sweat marks up our newly painted staircase.
But perhaps the worst story of them all came from Jenny:
When my grandparents moved across the country the moving company claimed that the truck caught fire and burned up all their things. They showed them a picture if a burnt truck. I don’t buy it.
Claiming that the truck burnt to the ground, and only giving a picture as evidence? That’s about as low as it gets.
So, what can we take from all this? At the beginning of this article, I said that I had a great experience with a moving company. That company was Dielman Moving in St. Louis. When I reached out to them, I asked if they have any advice for people preparing to move, and indeed they did:
- If you have more than four rooms, have an estimator from your prospective moving company come out to look at what needs to be moved.
- Be ready when the movers arrive.
- When you pack, fill your boxes completely and “top them off with packing paper – there should be no deflection – this way they do not crush.”
- “Do not use cheap boxes – use the correct box for what you are packing.”
- Regarding the second item on the list, it goes doubly for breakables. “All breakables should be boxed and ready when the moving crew gets there on move day. All lamps, glass, marble and artwork – if the mover has to take the time to box the items this will cost you money and the move will take longer.”
- “If ice and snow happen on move day – make sure you have ice melt and extra cardboard for flooring protection.
Those are great pieces of advice. But I would like to add a few more, based on the stories I’ve read lately:
Make sure that you are completely upfront about everything and that it’s included in a written estimate. Don’t give them any excuse to throw an unexpected charge at you.
Ask questions at every stage. When you’re calling the movers to book them, ask about costs, overruns, tape, plastic, steps, elevators, and anything else. When they’re there, make sure that they’re working when they’re on the clock, that they’re off the clock when they’re not working, and that you’re keeping an eye on everything while it’s happening. When you get the bill, question any charge that you are not 100% certain about.
If you see something dropped or bumped, talk to the mover about it immediately and write it down. Taking a picture is a good idea, too.
Do your homework. Get references from friends. Check with the Better Business Bureau. Remember that you’re trusting these people in your old house and your new house and with all of your stuff. Plus, they will know everything you have, where you keep it, and where you live. It’s worth an extra thirty minutes of research!
Get everything in writing. Always. Every time.
Scott, who had to threaten legal action against his movers, not surprisingly is a lawyer, and he wanted me to make sure to include this information:
It’s always important to ask questions and get EVERYTHING in writing.
If you get it in writing, then there should be no surprises.
Be careful… do your research… choose wisely… and, of course…
GET IT IN WRITING!
Update: since I posted the question originally, I’ve heard story after story after story. I will be sharing more horrible moving stories occasionally from now on. Please email me with your story at firstname.lastname@example.org!