Don’t hire the wrong moving company – can you spot the difference?
Newlywed Lance Hopper looked forward to moving from Jacksonville, Fla., to Tampa with his bride. Not yet an Angie’s List member, he called a moving company: Ocean Moving and Storage in Pembroke Park, Fla.
“I wasn’t comfortable doing this, but I had to rely on a phone estimate from the mover as I was already in Tampa working,” Hopper says of his summer 2010 move. “They told me they had a truck coming through town with enough room to pick up my stuff — all for $1,200.”
Hopper returned to Jacksonville to supervise the movers and says problems started as soon as the moving truck arrived late to his house. “There was no way they could fit everything in the truck,” he says. “They only loaded half of my wife’s belongings.”
When the moving truck arrived in Tampa, Hopper says the movers refused to unload and demanded the $1,200 he agreed to pay over the phone in cash . “They wouldn’t accept any other form of payment,” he says.
Hopper says the movers took his belongings to storage. “They were absolutely hateful,” he says. “They held it for two days because they had another job scheduled. I ended up paying them $1,800 in cash for everything. This was the worst business I’ve ever dealt with in my entire life.”
He says the Tampa move motivated him to join Angie’s List. Ocean Moving, which didn’t return calls seeking comment, has 13 complaints on fi le with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration since 2008, including four in the last year .
Nearly 40 million people move each year, according to the American Moving & Storage Association, a trade association with more than 3,200 moving company members. In a recent online poll, 38 percent of Angie’s List members say they encountered a problem with their most recent move, such as damage, extra fees or stolen goods.
AMSA president Linda Bauer Darr says unscrupulous movers cause problems for homeowners and industry professionals. “We don’t like to call them movers because they’re really crooks,” she says. “The rogues are our No. 1 complaint.”
Bauer Darr says homeowners should avoid soliciting moving bids online because most jobs require physical inspection to provide an accurate estimate. “Consumers are buying everything online and think it’s that easy to move a house — one click and it’s done,” she says. “But it’s not that simple. Rogues take advantage of people who don’t do their homework thoroughly.”
In response to complaints about rogue operators, AMSA implemented a certification program in 2009 to help homeowners identify reputable movers. Called ProMover, the seven-point screening program helps to verify a company’s ownership, licensing, insurance and safety records. It also checks for any felony convictions among key personnel, and requires the certified ProMover to sign a code of conduct.
Hiring a ProMover is a good start, says Nick Baucom, owner of highly rated moving company Two Marines Moving in Alexandria, Va. But for local moves, homeowners especially need to do their due diligence. “There’s not much protection,” he says. “It’s really on the consumer to choose carefully who handles his or her move.”
Baucom says the biggest mistake people make is going for the lowest bidder. “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is,” he says.
After hiring several movers over the years, including a good experience with highly rated moving company Two Men and a Truck in Des Moines, Iowa, Angie’s List member Cynthia Nieb of Broomfield, Colo., says she’s learned to do her homework. “I interviewed four companies. I knew I was buying a service and I had to be smart about it,” she says. “As a result, I didn’t have any problems.”
Member Rebecca Stone says she encountered nothing but problems when she hired American Eagle Movers to move her from Austin, Texas, to St. Petersburg, Fla., last summer.
She says the poorly rated Pompano Beach moving company, named a Miami Worst Contractor of 2011, arrived a day late, raised the price by $1,200, demanded cash before unloading and caused damages in excess of $40,000.
“It turned out to be the move from hell,” she says, adding that she didn’t hire them off the List because she didn’t have a Tampa membership at the time.
An FMCSA spokeswoman confirmed the agency revoked American Eagle’s moving license four times since 2005 for lack of insurance, and it’s currently investigating five complaints against the company. Robert Buck, American Eagle’s vice president, says he fired the driver who handled Stone’s move and lets an arbitrator handle claims, but declined to name the third party handling Stone’s case.
Stone says she received a call from someone claiming to be a “third-party adjuster” who wanted to issue a small check for American Eagle, but she told them she wanted to talk to her attorney. “It’s like someone stealing your car and [saying they’ll] reimburse you for dominoes in the back seat,” she says.
Two other poorly rated movers, Texas Moving Service in Kaufman, Texas, and Bravo Moving in Atlanta, also were named 2011 Worst Contractors for similar consumer-related issues. Bravo never returned messages, and Texas Moving says it no longer brokers moves.
According to poll results, members say their biggest overall complaint concerns damaged goods. AMSA estimates property damage occurs in about 20 percent of moves. All movers must assume liability for the value of the goods they transport, and they offer two types of valuation. “Released value” is a no-cost option that provides minimal protection, requiring movers to cover any damages at 60 cents per pound, per article.
Movers settle claims based on the weight of the damaged item, so 60 cents per pound for a 100-pound television would net only $60. Homeowners may also purchase “full-value” replacement protection, the most comprehensive plan. The FMCSA says the full-value charge for a shipment valued at $25,000 would be about $250 (but cost varies).
“It’s very important to know what kind of coverage you have,” says Terry Judd, owner of highly rated moving company Mr. Mover in Columbus, Ohio. “There are different levels and a good mover should explain and review that.”
Experts recommend checking a company’s record with AMSA, FMCSA, and state agencies/associations. Jeff Walker, president of movingscam.com, an online advocacy group, agrees. “Research, research, research,” he says. “I implore anyone looking for a reputable mover to do their homework.”
— with additional reporting by Michael Schroeder