Movers, we all know, rank just above car salesman on most lists of least trustworthy service providers.
Urban legends abound about couples whose furniture was held hostage until they coughed up extra cash for charges well above the agreed-to price, or truckloads of precious goods that never made it to that new homestead because the movers were, in fact, con men. And some of these stories are no doubt true, or so my friends tell me, as they know people who know people to whom this really happened. (Friends, I should note, who swore, after they helped me move last time in exchange for pizza and beer, that they wouldn't be my friends if I asked them again, and rightly so.) It's enough to make sore backs, dinged desks, broken china and scratched new floors seem like a quite acceptable outcome. Still, fatalism is rarely a winning strategy, nor is it necessary for those willing to approach the matter with the care and forethought it so richly deserves. My wife, Lorraine, and I are in the midst of just such a move, from Brooklyn, N.Y., to the Hudson Valley, and have found it to be, if not exactly a pleasurable experience, at least a manageable one. Our first, untutored move was -- surprise! -- to get references. We were fortunate enough to know an unfortunate friend who's moved three times in the metropolitan New York area in the span of a year, and for the latter two he happily employed
- Beware low-ballers. Yes, it may sound self-serving, but the people who quote the lowest prices are more likely to (a) not guarantee their fee in any way (and overcharge) and (b) break stuff. "There are lots of fly-by-night operations around," Betta says, "and you usually get what you pay for."
- Do your research. Getting references, as I did, is a good start, but you should also contact the
Better Business Bureauto check on a company's record, as well as the Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrationto make sure your prospective mover has the appropriate licenses. You'd also do well to ensure that the company you choose has a track record of at least several years.
- Leave enough time. Moving companies should be contacted at least one month in advance. Also, be aware that June and August tend to be the busiest moving months, and that the middle and end of months are when moves take place, as that's when leases come due. "Leave enough time" obviously refers to packing, too. Betta notes that approximately 25% of Scanio's customers choose to have the company do all the packing and unpacking, a pricey proposition that I wasn't in a position to use, deliciously tempting though it sounded. Still, for the deep-pocketed, it's no doubt a brilliant idea. For the even more deep-pocketed, Scanio offers a "total relocation solution," which bundles moving, storage, boxes, locksmiths, painting, flooring, cleaning and personal organizing into one service --
- Understand the meaning of time. Betta says that many customers misconstrue what travel time is: It includes not only the time it takes for movers to drive from the old residence to the new one, but also the time it takes to get to point A from the company's headquarters and back to it from point B.
- Check your insurance. In the haste of moving, people often forget to check whether they're covered by their current insurance before purchasing coverage from the moving company. Alas, our renter's insurance did not cover potential losses or breakage during a move, and we will thus fork over another $70 for that added protection.
- Pack smart. Scanio, to my delight and relief, always packs artwork, mirrors, lamps and electronics, including computer equipment, as part of its fee, and provides wardrobe boxes so that clients don't need to box hanging clothes. Still, that didn't get us entirely out of the woods. Betta recommends smaller boxes for books and CDs (charges are by volume of stuff, not total boxes) and double-thick cardboard, preferably the boxes designed expressly for dishes and glasses, for kitchen breakables. He also reminded me to clearly mark all boxes to indicate which room each should be put in. "Any mover worth its salt should put everything in the appropriate room as part of its service," he points out.
- Be ready for the big day. Just as you demand the movers be on time, so you should be raring to go at the appointed hour -- with the fee, as well as cash to tip the big, strong, yet oh-so-careful movers who will help you begin your new life. Betta declined to name a percentage, but 10%-15% is the norm for good service.
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