3 signs of a bad moving company
Americans move a lot – enough that, if you think about it, American history would be nothing without the moving industry.
From the prehistoric hunters who walked across the land bridge from Asia to Alaska to the Vikings, Pilgrims and immigrants who make their way to America today, it's clear that if the concept of moving didn't exist, the U.S. wouldn't either. According to recent census records, about 16.5 million households, or 38.7 million Americans, move annually.
But that doesn't mean we're always good at choosing a moving company. There are many fly-by-night, unlicensed movers and enterprises that either intend to con you – or are too disorganized and inexperienced to offer you a good move.
So how do you know you're about to give money – and all of your belongings – to a crooked or subpar moving company? These three signs should give you pause.
The price is much lower than the competition. Sad but true. Everyone wants a deal, and you can't be blamed for going to a lower-priced moving company. And while finding an affordable mover doesn't mean you're about to be scammed, if you feel like you've landed an unbelievable deal, it probably is unbelievable.
Ryan Carrigan is a co-founder of moveBuddha.com, a website that, as Carrigan puts it, "acts like a travel agency for people who are moving. (You can type in where you're moving to and from and get information on how much it will cost you to move, if you allow moveBuddha.com to hook you up with a professional mover.)
"I will often connect people with high-quality moving companies only to hear back that the customer found a cheaper mover," Carrigan says.
"Thanks anyway," the customer will tell him.
Later, Carrigan says, "I make it a point to follow-up with these people after their move to see how it went. We are always eager to find quality movers with better prices. I would say about half the people who respond to my follow-up go on to describe a horrible experience with a rogue mover. Prices that triple on move day, stolen items, insane amounts of damage ... "
But there's always one thing in common, Carrigan says. The initial quote is usually 20 to 30 percent lower than any other company offers.
The deposit is too high. Your mover may ask for a deposit fee, and that's perfectly normal, says T.J. Peterson, social media coordinator for Oz Moving and Storage, a company in New York City that's been around since 1993.
"None should be above 10 percent of the job cost," Peterson says, adding that in his company's case, the cost is a flat $50 deposit.
When you get over 10 percent, start to become wary. As Nancy Conner writes in her book, "Buying a Home: The Missing Manual," "it's not unreasonable for a mover to ask for a deposit of $100 or $200 to cover their costs if you change your mind, but if a mover wants more upfront – like 25 percent of the cost of the move – don't pay it."
You know very little about the company. Like the pricing, this can be tricky, too. You might think you know enough about a moving company when actually you don't.
For instance, Kevin Adkins, CEO of Kenmore Law Group in Los Angeles, hired a moving company in 2012 that he found in the Yellow Pages. You don't think of bad guys advertising there, but inept and unscrupulous companies can wind up in the phone book like anyone else.
What drew Adkins in was the ad featuring a low price.
"It said two men, experienced, and it said the price per hour," he says, adding that the price was slightly cheaper than what competitors were advertising.
Adkins called the company and was won over by the estimated hours for the move. "When I called around, other movers were saying it would take them six to eight hours; this guy was saying it would take them just a couple of hours. So yes, it was the price that drew me in," he says. Only two hours meant a cheap price.
So Adkins arranged the move and felt fine about everything. But when the truck showed up, Adkins noticed there was no logo or business name on the vehicle. Nothing, Adkins says, "that indicated this is a real business. The truck had nothing on it."
If you want to know if your movers are reputable, ask for something like their Department of Transportation numbers.
"If a company cannot prove they are registered with the state and United States Department of Transportation, that's a warning sign," Peterson says.
Peterson points out a couple of other potential trouble spots: no Better Business Bureau profile and no bad reviews. It's virtually impossible to be in any business and not get the occasional disgruntled customer writing about his experience with a company.
As Peterson says, "A few hiccups for any reputable company is not a warning sign. It is an inevitable side effect of being in business."
Another consistent red flag among those who've had bad experiences, Carrigan notes, is that "the quote was given over the phone. No one ever laid eyes on the mover until moving day."
Indeed, when Adkins met the owner, that's when he knew he was in trouble. The guy smelled like he hadn't showered in months, says Adkins, who became even more suspicious when he realized the two movers with the owner didn't know each other's names.
"Later on I found out that the owner – the smelly guy – would just find random people on the street the day of to help him," Adkins says.
It was a less-than-pleasant move. Instead of the two hours Adkins was told, the move took eight hours.
"The whole time the owner was either spitting on the floor or yelling profanities," Adkins says.
Adkins later learned that the owner of the truck was basically homeless. He slept in the truck, which explained why he never showered.
And unfortunately, "they didn't know how to pack anything," Adkins says. "All my furniture got damaged," he says, including his refrigerator, which cost $1,000 to replace.
But it could have been worse. The two men picked at random may someday have a future as professional movers. "The good news is that they were both freakishly strong," Adkins says.
More from U.S. News & World Report:
8 Hacks to Ease Your Financial Life
9 Red Flags That Could Trigger a Tax Audit
9 Scary Things Consumers Do With Their Money