Nov 6, 2009

Where To Find A Good Moving Company

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimates that only about a third of all internet moving brokers meet federal registration requirements. That means that two out of three moving companies are operating outside the rules. Yet, most people start their search for a mover online. Yes, there are many reputable companies to be found online. The company you hire will most assuredly have a website. But, find your mover the old fashioned way: ask for referrals.

To find a good referral, start in your own neighborhood. Has anyone moved in lately? Call them or knock on their door; they will likely have a story to tell about their move. Call a local Realtor. They hear all the stories about who is good and who to stay away from. Many large real estate companies will have a Relocation Department that contracts with corporations to handle the real estate end of relocating employees. These Relocation Departments know who the good movers are. How about friends and family? Even if they have not moved recently, they may know someone who has.

If you cannot get a referral for a mover, my recommendation is to stick with one of the top six nationwide moving companies. I suggest this not because they are better than the smaller companies; I suggest this because they have claims systems and insurance in place in case something goes wrong. I found these companies to be efficient in the way their claims were handled. Having said that, be aware that since I was involved, that means there was damage to be assessed. It is important to know that if there is damage, you will not be swept under the rug. The top seven companies are (in no particular order) United Van Lines, Mayflower, Allied, North American, Global Van Lines, and Graebel. Most national moving companies work through a network of locally owned affiliates. The quality and efficiency of the local affiliates will vary. Claims will be centralized.

Remember, a well known name is no guarantee of performance. The bottom line is this: it does not matter what the name on the truck is. What matters is the quality of the people who show up to do the work and the efficiency and reliability of the system used to get your goods moved. The sad fact is, in America no one wants to be a mover. It is hard work and it does not pay very well. Consequently, movers do not consider the job a career. It is considered temporary employment until they find something better. Usually the only career professional involved in your move will be the driver. It is rare to find packers and movers that have uninterrupted years of service. Do not be fooled by a salesman who says that their people are well trained professionals. In the busy season, your movers will likely be part time or temporary workers who are long on attitude and short on skill.

Choose at least three companies from which to get an estimate, but do not make your decision yet. In a future article, I will show you how to check out the companies safety record and check the reliability of their price estimate.

Nov 5, 2009

How To Estimate The Weight Of Your Household Goods For Moving

Moving companies are often wrong when it comes to estimating the weight and value of your household goods shipment. Some estimators do a pretty good job, but there is such high turnover in the industry that you never know how experienced your estimator really is. If you make your contract decision based on price, you may be in for a big surprise when the driver hands you the final bill at your destination.

There are a few simple steps you can take to estimate the weight on your own. Following these steps will keep you in charge of the process and protect your rights in case you need to make a claim.

You want to start by sorting and inventorying your belongings. If this sounds like more work than you want to do, there are companies you can hire to inventory and value the contents of your home. No matter who does your inventory, you need to have an inventory done. Without it, you are at a disadvantage from the start. With it, you have a foundational document that can be used throughout your dealings with the moving companies.

Start by separating the valuable stuff from the ordinary stuff, the heavy stuff from the light stuff, and eliminate anything that the movers won't be moving. As you go, simply list what you have. The list will help you determine the weight and value of your shipment. The best way to proceed is to start upstairs and work your way down, or start down then up if you prefer. Move around each room in a clockwise direction and write down everything you see. Write down items on the floor first, and then items on the wall, and then items in cabinets. Stay consistent from room to room so you don't miss anything. Collections can be listed as collections, rather than individual pieces. When you are done with the house, inventory the shed and the garage in the same fashion.

You probably won't take everything in your house. Items that won't be moved fall into two categories: things you can't take, and things you won't want to take. The things you can't take include anything that could explode, start a fire, rot, or give off toxic fumes. Such items cannot be transported or placed into storage. These are the items that are most troublesome to deal with. You can't just throw them in the trash. Call your county department of the environment; they will tell you how to dispose of them. Have a plan for getting rid of these items. You don't want to leave a bunch of hazardous waste in your house. Realtors frown on that. Makes the house harder to sell. Items you don't want to take should be donated to charity, sold, or consigned to auction. Have the items picked up before you get your estimates. If it's not in the house, it won't contribute to an estimating mistake.

Once you know what you are going to move, there are three approaches to estimating the weight of your shipment. The first way is to take an educated guess. Add up the individual weights of the items on your inventory. For reference, I have provided a downloadable table of household weights on my website, . If you are moving an item that is not on my list, find an item of similar heft and use the weight of that item. Remember, you are looking for a god estimate, not an exact number. Add up all the individual items for your total weight.

The second way to estimate the weight of your shipment is to take a wild guess. I'm not kidding; this method actually works. I'm told that the average shipment of household goods will weigh about 40 pounds per item. Remember that some items will be boxes of small goods. Total the number of items on your inventory (including boxes) and multiply by 40. If you have 150 items on your inventory, your weight will be somewhere in the 6,000 pound range. Not impressed with this method? That's why I call it a wild guess. Still, if your wild guess came in at 6,000 pounds and your estimator gave you an estimate of 3,000 pounds, wouldn't you want to know why?

The third way is illegal, so use it at your own risk. There are household goods weight calculators online. Most of them are on government owned websites, military and GSA. They are supposed to be for authorized users. If you decide to use one, be sure to read the warnings and use good judgment. I only include this information here because I know that some of you will look online for your weights.

Beware if your estimator wants to give you an estimate based on cubic feet; i.e., how much space your shipment will take up in the truck. This is a useless number for billing purposes, since interstate carriers have to charge you based on weight and distance. Figuring cubic feet is useful, however, in determining whether you will be sharing a truck with another shipper, get a whole truck to yourself, or need two trucks. The chart on my website also lists the sizes of household items in cubic feet.

With your inventory done and your weight figured, the next thing you need to know is how to determine the value of your shipment for insurance purposes. Those considerations will be the subject of my next post.

Nov 4, 2009

You Can Pay Attention Or Pay A Higher Price But Either Way You'll Pay

About five years ago, I was asked to inspect a moving damage claim on Maryland's Eastern Shore. The movers' truck had flipped over on an exit ramp and rolled down a hill. When I arrived at the customer's home to inspect the damage, I found the worst mess I've ever seen on a moving claim. I found the metal sleeper sofa frame twisted and unusable, and wooden furniture crushed and broken. The most heart-breaking loss for the customer was the loss of her porcelain collection. She had packed her Hummels, Lladros and Limoges into one box, and when opened, there was nothing left but crushed and broken glass. The box was simply labeled fragile; there was no list of what was in the box. She could not remember, specifically, all the items in the box. She had no proof of ownership: no receipts, no photographs. Her claim was denied, on several counts.

The above story has lots of implications, but for now I want to use it to illustrate just one point: before you move, you have to know what you have. The moving company will charge you according to the weight of your shipment, the value of your shipment, the distance shipped, and what extra services you require. You will pay for insurance based on the value of your shipment. If you don't know what your household goods are worth and what they weigh, how will you know if you are being charged correctly?

Moving companies want your business. Are you likely to give your business to the mover with the highest price (all other things being equal)? Of course not. The salesman knows this, so he will quote you a competitive price. In the moving business, competitive price usually means fictional price. One of the most common complaints against moving companies is that the moving company will quote you a price prior to pickup, and double or triple the price upon delivery. Here's what actually happens in most of these cases: 1. The salesman underestimates the weight (due to lack of training, laziness,or greed)and prices his estimate accordingly; 2. The customer hasn't a clue if the salesman's weight guess is right or not and does not challenge the weight; 3. The customer isn't sure what their stuff is worth, so they take an uninformed guess; 4. The shipment is officially weighed, and the customer is not present at the weighing and does not request a copy of the weight ticket; 5. At delivery, the customer is presented with a bill based on the actual weight of the shipment and the published tariff of the mover (which is how the mover is supposed to charge) and the bill is much higher than the estimate; 6. The customer claims they are being cheated; 7. There is damage to the furniture, and the valuation is not sufficient to pay for the repairs.

What actually happened here? There are two possibilities: 1. The customer was not paying attention. The salesman was wrong, and the customer didn't know it. The customer did not know the weight or value of the shipment (this is simple to guess, if you know how). They did not know their rights in regard to confirming or challenging the charges. 2. The customer was not paying attention. The movers knew this, and they were crooks and had every intention of scamming the customer. Either way, the customer was not paying attention.

Before you call for estimates, you have to have a way to determine if you are being told the truth and being treated fairly. This is not the movers responsibility, it is yours. The first step in preserving your rights is to know what you have, what it's worth, and how much it weighs. On my website ( I make available a chart that will give you the weights and cubic footage of common household items. I also have an estate/tag sale pricing guide, which will give you approximate values for your furniture, appliances, and decor.

When you move, you can pay attention, or you can pay a higher price. But, either way you will pay.