1. Beware of a low estimate.
A disreputable mover will give you a lowball estimate. On the day of the move, he'll walk around your house and say, "Oh, some of these things need to be packed." Then he'll charge you an exorbitant amount to do it. Or he might say, "Gee, we're going to have to take that bed apart." And then he'll tack on another ridiculous charge.
To avoid this from happening, make sure you're as detailed and upfront about every box and piece of furniture. If you have time, ask the moving company to come to your house for an estimate. They might want to do the walk-through over the phone, but you might get screwed if you go that route. If you have furniture that needs to be disassembled and reassembled, they should be part of your written estimate — and the crew is responsible for bringing the right wrenches and tools. And when you get your final bill, review it closely for any weird charges.
2. Make smart decisions.
Your greatest nightmare is getting hooked up with an unlicensed mover. He not only lacks liability insurance, but also workers' comp. If one of these fellows trips and falls down your steps with a heavy piece, get out your checkbook, my friend.
3. Schedule your move wisely — if you can.
Late May through August is jammed with people looking to move, so it's not an ideal time. The best season is around Christmas.
4. Look into specialty movers.
Anybody can move a piano or a snowmobile. But if you have museum-quality art, call in the guys with the white gloves.
5. Deal quickly with "untrustworthy" movers.
If your movers show up and you have a bad feeling about them — maybe they said something that wasn't proper or they just look a little rough — keep a few things in mind. This is a tough business of hard physical labor, so don't judge a book by its cover, so to speak. If it's a question of inappropriate behavior, get on the phone in two seconds with a manager. And do it before anything's on the truck.
6. Protect your stuff.
If you don't like the way the movers are handling your things, be direct. Say, "Hey, you're making me nervous." If they're throwing stuff around or seem to be careless, you stop the job. Alert your estimator that you don't know what's going on, but he's going to have a claim for damages if things don't improve. He'll get a supervisor out there, pronto. No reputable mover wants a problem.
Keep in mind that the contents of boxes you pack on your own are not covered for damage or loss, so make sure you pack them as well as you can. For valuables like jewelry or small electronics, you should move those yourself. Let's just say, some things can get "lost."
7. Keep an eye on the clock.
But don't worry too much about it if it seems like they are "wasting time." Many people have an unrealistic expectation of the time it takes. People have complained that they paid for three movers, but they only see two guys moving stuff. Where's the third? He's on the back of the truck wrapping and packing. No crew wants to dog the job. They want to get home, sit down, and have a beer.
8. Watch your own behavior.
Some movers might "punish" clients for rubbing them the wrong way. If they really feel they've been abused and disrespected, they'll want to get away from the bad client and get the job done as quickly as possible. They'll wind up putting a lot more boxes in the garage than there need to be and quietly mumble, "Let them lug 'em in the house themselves." As an added tweak, they'll flip the boxes so you can't read the labels to see what's in them or where they go. The worst thing you could do during a move is be dismissive, treat the crew like dirt, and not letting them use your bathroom.
When the crew gets there in the morning, tell them right off that you're going to buy them lunch. Sometimes guys on the crew don't have the money or the time. This small gesture can lift the whole spirit of the move. Also, be ready when the movers get there. Be fully packed. Then, please stay out of the way.
9. Look out for hidden inflated costs.
The bandit mover will start adding stuff that isn't on your estimate. He'll charge you for each moving pad — pads are free, by the way — and then $4 to tape the pads to the furniture. Or they'll say certain items suddenly need special boxes. And guess what? They're $12 each.
10. Beware of cash-only dealings.
That's not a red flag, that's a "run away!" Remember: You can't stop cash. You can stop a credit card.
11. Follow up with a complaint.
If you're unfortunate to have something go wrong during the move and the mover fails to resolve the complaint, register a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. It'll lower his rating and hurt his business. Then, take him to small-claims court. No mover in his right mind wants to stand before a judge who probably has had two bad moves in his life.