Finding the Right Mover

by Gary Foreman

Most of you can probably still remember your first move. You called a few friends, brought in some pizzas and drinks, and before you knew it the move was over. Chances are that it wasn't that tough. Probably the heaviest thing you owned were the stereo speakers!

But things are different now. You're in a two bedroom apartment or a three bedroom house. You've acquired a sofa, bedroom set, dining room table and Grandma's china. After considering the cost of renting a truck, furniture dollies, hand trucks and pads it seems like maybe you should consider hiring professional movers this time. Before you make a final decision you'd like to compare costs. So how do you find the best mover?

Begin by defining what you'll ask a mover to do for you. Will you pack the dishes and books? Who supplies the boxes? If you're taking your appliances, can you disconnect and reconnect them in your new home? Is your move local or inter-state?

Then ask friends about their experiences with movers. People who have just moved into your area that you know through work, school, church or little league can be an excellent source. You'll add or delete companies from your list based on what they say. Check consumer organizations in your area, too.

When you've selected three to five companies call them in for an estimate. But don't just show them your stuff and get a quickie estimate. Interview them! Ask lots of questions. Moving may seem like simple work, but like most fields, professionals know from experience what works and what doesn't. And quality professionals are happy to display their knowledge by answering your questions.

Tell them when you expect to be moving and where you'll be going. Show them all of the items that will need to be moved including attic, basement and garage. Don't assume that they know you have stuff tucked under every bed. Once you've reviewed everything get a detailed written estimate. Don't settle for one bottom line figure that covers everything. Understand how much of the total is for each part of the job. That will help you decide if you want to tackle part of it (like packing) yourself.

On a local move the cost will be based on an estimate of how many hours will be required to complete the job. The mover will multiply by the cost per hour to arrive at the estimate.

An inter-state move is more difficult. Here the estimates will be based on the number of pounds you're moving and the distance between cities. In the U.S. the government used to set rates and companies could only compete by offering superior service. Today, van lines have some flexibility in setting rates.

There are two types of estimates that you can receive; binding and non-binding. A binding estimate guarantees the price for a list of services that are clearly stated on the estimate. It's good to know the exact cost, but make sure that everything is listed in the agreement. If you're antique buffet isn't listed to be moved it'll cost you extra to put it on the truck.

Non-binding estimates are just that. An estimate. The final cost will not be determined until your possessions are weighed on the truck. You have very little leverage to negotiate surprises at that time. So if one estimate is significantly lower than others, find out why before you agree to use their services.

Remember, too, the lowest price isn't always the best value. It could be worth a few dollars to have more careful hands move your treasures. After all, if a family heirloom is broken insurance can pay for it, but it can never be replaced.

If you're moving inter-state, your mover should give you a copy of a consumer booklet called "Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move" and tell you about the Dispute Settlement Program sponsored by the American Movers Conference. Just the fact that there is a procedure for arbitration tells you to be careful!

You'll also need to discuss how much liability insurance is needed. All moving companies must assume responsibility for the value of your possessions. But the protection is limited. The mover is responsible for repaying 60 cents per pound. So if a 40 pound TV is destroyed you'll receive $24.

If you're willing to pay for additional coverage there are other options. You can select 'declared value' or 'lump sum value' for partial reimbursement. The best coverage is called 'full value protection' and basically covers the cost of replacing the item. Deductibles may apply, so be sure you understand what you're getting. Read the fine print before something gets broken.

Finally, you'll need to make arrangements for paying the mover. It is customary for movers to be paid in cash, certified check or money order. Most will not accept personal checks. Some will take your credit card. You should make your selection of a mover four to six weeks before your big day, especially during the busy summer months.

Moving all your possessions is a big undertaking. You need to decide whether to do it yourself or hire a mover. Even if you hire a mover you still have to supervise packing, take inventory, coordinate schedules, check the delivery and make claims for any damage.

Yep, it's not like the old days where a couple of pickup trucks and some good friends could get the job done. But like so many things, taking the time to make an informed decision now could pay big dividends in time and money before the job is through. Happy moving!

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Gary Foreman

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar website and newsletters in 1996. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money and Gary shares his philosophy of money here. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+. Gary is also available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.

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