NEW YORK (Zillow) -- The United States is a geographically mobile nation with nearly 17% of the population moving each year.

It should come as no surprise that the number of complaints filed against moving companies has steadily increased over the past decade. Do your research and learn the questions you should ask a potential mover.

Get recommendations

Ask friends about movers they’ve worked with and whether their experiences were positive.

Once you narrow down your choices, check them out with the Better Business Bureau. If one of the companies has complaints filed against it, take a pass. You also can contact the American Moving and Storage Association to learn if a company is a member, which means it has agreed to abide by the organization’s guidelines. Don’t eliminate a firm just because it doesn’t belong -- membership is optional.

Also, check out consumer advocacy sites including and Rip-Off Report, which maintain lists of companies with a history of complaints.

Get several estimates

Ask your top three companies to conduct in-home estimates; do not rely on phone or online estimates.

An estimate is a document that, when signed by you and the moving-company representative, serves as your order for service and bill of lading. These, along with the inventory list created when your goods are loaded, are the basic documents any mover should provide.

Make sure the document is labeled “Written Binding Estimate” and is signed and dated by the mover. For an interstate move, the estimate should describe the type and quantity of goods you’re shipping, distance to your new home, when your things will be picked up and delivered, and additional services and supplies the moving company is providing.

For an in-state move, for which you can’t get a binding estimate, you should still get a written estimate that outlines hourly rates and additional costs you may incur (supplies, tolls, driving time).

Gather information

While the estimator is at your home, get all the details you can about the company. Make sure it will not be contracting the job out to another mover. Ask how long the company has been in business. Also ask for:

  •     The company’s full name and other names under which it does business.
  •     The company’s address, phone numbers, email and website addresses.
  •     Names and contact information for at least three local references.
  •     U.S. Department of Transportation and Motor Carrier license numbers.
  •     The booklet “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move.”

Federal law requires interstate movers to provide this booklet to customers. For in-state moves, movers are regulated by the state’s department of transportation or its public utilities or commerce commission; some states publish their own guides.

Compare estimates, dig deeper

When you’ve gathered your estimates, compare them. Beware of extremely low bids; examine high bids to see where extra costs are coming from. Next, take the information you’ve collected and do more research:

Are the companies incorporated in your state?

Check with the secretary of state’s office to confirm how long the companies have been in business.

Do the companies have the licenses and insurances required to move you legally? Search for the companies’ motor carrier license information on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Safer System website.

Watch for red flags

Movers are almost always paid upon delivery. Reputable movers will not demand cash or a large deposit; if you pay up front, you have no control over when -- or if -- you’ll see your belongings again.

Also be aware that some companies get around the Better Business Bureau and other scam busters by constantly doing business under new names. Be sure the company has a local address and answers the phone with its full business name -- not just “movers” or something equally generic.

The importance of hiring a reliable, capable mover cannot be overstated. If you have questions, ask for clarification. Best case, you’ll end up with several competitive bids from reputable companies -- then you may be able to negotiate to get an even better rate.

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