Make sure you entrust your stuff to the good guys.
1. You want a bill, not a ransom note. The Better Business Bureau says it received more than 9,300 complaints about movers in the U.S. in 2013. Common among them: a bait-and-switch scheme in which a mover quotes a price and then holds your possessions hostage unless you pay an unexpected fee, says Katherine Hutt, a spokeswoman for the BBB.
2. Get it in writing. Start by asking for estimates from at least three movers, and be skeptical if one company quotes a much lower rate than the others. Movers should offer to visit your home to assess the job. The cost estimate for an in-state move is usually based on the number of hours it will take. For interstate moves, the cost is likely to be calculated based on weight and distance. "When you contact movers, you want them to seem attentive and fastidious," says Matt Wixon, president of Bookstore Movers, in Arlington, Va. A mover that doesn't seem interested in the details could be careless with your stuff, says Wixon. Be wary if the mover requires a large deposit or accepts only cash, which leaves no record of the transaction.
3. Check out the mover's rep. Don't rely solely on word of mouth. Go to the BBB's Web site to see whether there are complaints against the company and whether they've been resolved. Interstate movers should be licensed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). To search for movers registered with the Department of Transportation, go to www.protectyourmove.gov. Or use the ProMovers search page to get quotes from companies that have passed the American Moving and Storage Association's background checks and licensing and insurance requirements.
4. Make sure you're covered. Call your homeowners or renters insurance provider to see whether your policy covers your belongings while they're in transit. You'll likely find that your plan covers the same perils during the move as it does at home, says Jeanne Salvatore, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute. If your moving truck bursts into flames, your policy may reimburse you, but it won't cover your belongings if they are broken or damaged by the mover. Interstate movers must offer two kinds of supplementary liability insurance. Released value coverage, at no extra cost, insures your belongings at a rate of 60 cents per pound. So if a mover shatters your 30-pound flat-screen TV, you'll be compensated a measly $18. Or you can buy full value insurance, which will cover repairs or replacement of damaged goods. Rates typically start at about $200 for $100,000 worth of coverage, says Linda Darr, of the American Moving and Storage Association. If you discover while unpacking that something's broken or scratched, you have nine months to file a claim. The FMCSA requires interstate movers to offer arbitration to help settle disputes.
5. Who you gonna call? If the mover is holding your items hostage, call the FMCSA at 888-368-7238. For all other complaints, contact the National Consumer Complaint Database of the FMCSA. If you have a problem with a local or in-state move, go to www.protectyourmove.gov to find local consumer protection offices.