There’s no question that moving can be a stressful experience. The right moving company can help smooth out even the most challenging relocations, letting you focus on your new home. Selecting the best moving company, however, requires a lot of homework. While there are many highly qualified and reputable moving companies, you can sour your entire experience by making the wrong choice.

For the Best Moving Experience Possible, You Need a Plan

While your entire moving process benefits from a well-thought-out plan, finding the best moving company is perhaps the most essential part of the entire ordeal. During the planning process, you can determine the services you’ll need, and match these needs to companies that you interview or review.

Choosing the right moving company requires a good amount of time and research. But with a clear plan of action, you can pave the way for a smooth moving experience. Here’s how:

Finding a Reputable Moving Company

When evaluating a reputable moving company,  look beyond marketing materials and online ads. A quick online search will likely display dozens of moving companies in your area.

Searching online is a solid first step. It lets you know of the businesses that serve your location and can be a source of helpful user reviews.

However, some people question the usefulness of online user reviews, especially negative ones. These sources can have value, but you need to dig deep and weed out irrelevant bashing or reviews that provide little or no information other than a star rating.

Ask Around For Referrals

Some of the best referral sources are people you actually know in real life. This is especially the case with moving companies. Ask friends, family and neighbors for referrals and make a list of companies to consider. By asking trusted acquaintances and those who care about you, you can expect honest and accurate referrals.

Investigating Movers

Even when a moving company comes with glowing reviews from people you trust, you still need to do some of your own due diligence. Luckily, in today’s connected and informed world, performing a background check on moving companies is an easy job, as long as you know where to look.

Look Up License Numbers

First, make sure you are dealing with a legitimate moving company by checking with local and federal agencies that provide licenses. If not provided, ask a prospective moving company for its license numbers. Some states, such as New York and Florida, require moving companies to be licensed before providing services within the state. Your state’s Department of Transportation is a good starting point for moving company regulatory information.

Check the FMCSA for Interstate Movers

In addition to checking with your state’s DOT for a complaint history, federal law regulates moving companies that cross state borders. If you are planning an interstate move, consult federal sources of moving company information. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, maintains a database of moving companies, with contact information, safety ratings and complaint logs. Another source of reputation information on moving companies can be found through the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA).

Beware of Any Red Flags

During your background check, you should keep an eye out for safety violations and excessive complaints. We all know that people can tend to only air negative opinions online. Keep that in mind when reading negative reviews.

If a mover has less than a perfect customer review history, take the time to read some of the negatives before writing off the moving company. Sometimes the problem has less to do with the moving company and more to do with bad circumstances, such a moving during a storm.

Question Safety Violations

Safety violations are more objective and should always be taken seriously by those looking to do business with a moving company. If you speak to a moving company and get a generally good vibe about its services, but find either excessive negative reviews or safety issues, don’t be afraid to probe the company for a reason.

Put Customer Service To the Test

Even the best professional moving company cannot please everyone. No company is perfect, but consumers can find value in how moving companies deal with problems. Rather than write off a business based on some negative reviews, ask the company about the issues raised in the reviews and how they can assure you that the same problems won’t affect your move. You can learn much about a company’s commitment to customer service and experience by asking these tough questions.

Getting Estimates

Close-up of shipping document with pencil

Once you identify a few moving company candidates — and you should make sure to pick more than one company — you can start the estimate process. Estimates help you determine the best possible price for moving services, but they also provide details about the services to be performed.

A good rule of thumb is to choose three companies for estimates.  Make sure these companies actually inspect your things, so that you know the estimate of your household goods is as accurate as possible.

A good estimate for a local move should be based on hourly rates. If the movers are able to finish up early then you could end up paying less. Of course, if it takes longer you might have to pay more.

Comparing Estimates

In order to be of any use, estimates should have the same parameters. For example, if company A provides a cheaper estimate, make sure that the services under the estimate are identical to those of other companies’ estimates.

Beware of companies that require a large deposit or impose extra fees, especially when other companies don’t!

Bindings vs. Non-Binding Estimates

Estimates come in two varieties: binding and non-binding. A binding estimate is a firm agreement. You will pay exactly what is listed, and the terms of the contract will be identical to the terms of the estimate. A non-binding estimate is not a guarantee but serves as a reasonably accurate approximation.

There is a good reason for the use of a non-binding estimate. Your final cost for moving services will be more accurate if based on the actual weight of your things. There are some protections from final bills that are way off base from a non-binding estimate. For instance, you are only required to pay up to 110 percent of the original estimate at the time of delivery. You are, however, not excused from the additional charges. You will have 30 days after the delivery date to make up the difference.

Pre-moving Day Considerations

Before your moving date, you should ensure that you fully understand your agreement with the moving company. Insurance is a common concern. In general, moving companies are responsible for damage to your property during transportation.

Full Replacement Value Protection

There are two levels of liability that you should understand before entering into a moving company agreement. The first is full replacement value protection. This insurance is more costly, which will reflect in a higher estimate. When comparing estimates, it is important to know what type of insurance is included.

Full replacement means if an item gets damaged during the move, the mover will either undertake to repair the damage or replacing the item with something of the same or similar kind and quality. If a replacement cannot be had, the mover can pay you for the cost of replacement.

Released Value Protection

Bargain-basement moving deals can be had if you waive full replacement insurance and opt for what is called “released value” protection. This is the minimal amount of insurance allowed by law, and under this scenario, the mover is only liable for 60 cents per pound, per item.

Consider your things for a moment, especially the kind of things that are susceptible to damage during a move. How much does that antique vase from your grandmother weigh? Would 60 cents a pound make you whole? Probably not, so tread carefully when trading insurance coverage for a cheaper move.

Third-Party Insurance

You should also know that third-party cargo insurance is available and in many cases highly advisable for those looking to minimize risk exposure.

Scheduling Your Move

Once you are ready for moving day, make sure you discuss scheduling with the mover well in advance. Understand how much advanced notice the company needs. Also, be aware of a need for flexibility on all ends. If you are selling a home, your buyer may have delays that affect their move. Similarly, the people vacating your new place might also experience delays.

Begin the scheduling conversation early, understand the schedule concerns of your moving company and the various other parties involved in your move, and be prepared and as flexible as possible.

Cancellation and Rescheduling

By this point, you should be well-versed with the terms of your moving agreement. If not, get up to speed on notice requirements for changing or canceling a move. Knowing the impact of cancellation is essential for real estate closing date extension requests, for example.

Moving Day Paperwork

The most critical moving day document is the bill of lading from your mover. This document is legally required and details precisely what the mover is transporting. Most importantly, it acts as a legal acknowledgment that a carrier has your belongings. It serves as your receipt while you are separated from your things.

In addition to the bill of lading, you should have your estimate, insurance paperwork and contact information for the moving company. But, if you’ve done your homework and have developed a good relationship with your mover, the company will make sure that you have copies of all pertinent paperwork.  You should also keep your own detailed inventory list to make sure everything that goes in the truck comes off of it.

Moving can be stressful, but it can also be an exciting part of a new beginning. Reduce stress and make the process easier by working with a reputable moving company. Use these tips to help find the best company, and you’ll be prepared for an effortless move.

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Kevin Wheatley