Moving across the country is a big deal, and probably not a relocation you want to do on your own. After all, you have plenty of other things on your to-do list.
You can start your search for an excellent moving company by looking for movers registered with the FMCSA, or Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. This watchdog, which is part of the Department of Transportation, exists to help consumers avoid unsafe movers and avoid moving scams. All movers and moving company brokers (more on those in a minute) must register with the FMCSA if they conduct any interstate moves. There are other rules, designed to ensure that the moving company is transparent about pricing, valuation (also referred to as insurance or coverage)arbitration and dispute resolution, which is crucial if you find yourself at odds with the transporter over damage or loss.
You can find all the relevant regulations on the FMCSA website. Most are outlined in a brochure that each moving company must provide to you if they want to do business with you. The pamphlet is called Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Are Moving. The title is appropriate, because along with rights, you also have responsibilities—to do your research, first of all, and choose a mover carefully. You have a responsibility to make sure you understand the documents you are signing and be careful never to sign a blank contract.
The FMCSA recommends that you obtain at least three estimates from movers before deciding on a mover. That might seem like a lot of work, but there is a good reason for it. Comparing estimates from several vendors allows you to validate the bids. Each company will send a representative to your home to do a visual inspection of the things you want to move. The physical walkthrough is one of the requirements for interstate moving companies. If a mover asks you to waive this requirement, be suspicious. Sometimes unscrupulous organizations do not want to be bothered with this step, but a legitimate company will have no reason to skip this essential part of the process. A walkthrough of your home allows the moving company representative to see what you want to move and assess the approximate weight, which is the basis for the move’s price.
If one estimate is noticeably lower than the others, that is a red flag you should consider. That mover may be planning to take advantage of you by offering a “low-ball” non-binding estimate and then presenting you with an inflated invoice at the delivery. A non-binding estimate, which is common, means that the move’s cost increases along with the actual weight of the shipment, so if the mover has underestimated the load, either deliberately or inadvertently, the price is incorrect. Be especially wary if a mover says something to you like, “don’t worry, we won’t ask you to pay more than 110% of the estimate on delivery day.” While that is a true statement, because that is what the FMCSA regulations allow, the mover can bill you for additional weight charges later if the estimate was low and the final cost is higher.
If you have a binding estimate, or a binding estimate not to exceed, then your price cannot increase, and in the not-to-exceed example, it can decrease. The mover will have an incentive to provide an accurate assessment of the weight of the shipment. Movers are allowed to charge a fee for the preparation of binding estimates. Both types of estimates can result in higher final costs in certain circumstances, such as when the consumer adds things to the shipment or requests more services. No matter what kind of bid you get, verify that everything you want to move is listed on the inventory.
Some people prefer to work through a moving broker, which operates like an insurance or mortgage broker. Be aware that brokers do not perform the actual move. The moving broker will talk to you, do the walkthrough to estimate the weight, understand the services you want, and then find a mover to do the work. This service may save you time, and if you find a savvy broker, you may get a great deal. Brokers are required to register with the FMCSA, like movers, so ask for their DOT number. Be careful because while most are above-board, some rogue operators give the industry a bad name. Pay attention to some things that indicate you may not be dealing with a reputable broker:
The best method of saving money on a long-distance move is to move a smaller amount. The most significant component of most cross-country moves is the weight of the shipment. If you can reduce what you take, you can reduce the cost. Think carefully about what you want to take with you. Moving is an ideal time to go through your closets and donate the things you don’t wear anymore (rule of thumb: if you haven’t worn it in six months, donate it!) or just won’t need in California. Extend the same philosophy to the garage, bookshelves, and the dusty reaches of the kitchen and hall cupboards. This is a perfect opportunity to decrease your possessions.
Remember to carefully pack what you are taking (or engage the professional movers to pack for you) and label boxes by destination room to make unpacking more manageable when you arrive at your new home. Also, don’t try to pack hazardous, flammable, or explosive items in any boxes or containers going in the moving truck. Even paint and household cleaners are prohibited, as are houseplants.