For many, moving to a new home is when you’re most vulnerable. Not only are you packing up all your belongings, but you’re also leaving your home to put roots down elsewhere.
Unfortunately, when we’re at our most vulnerable is when other people will try to take advantage. Whether it’s a scam posing as a legitimate company purely to take your money or an actual business loading your belongings on a truck only to demand more money from you to deliver them, the American Moving and Storage Association says thousands of unassuming consumers fall victim each year.
AMSA issued a press release in January that tells the story of one moving scam in which a network of Florida-based moving companies with ties to St. Louis misappropriated the name of a genuine company based out of Manassas, Virginia – Able Moving & Storage – and listed an unrelated license number issued to a completely different business on its website, according to Scott Michael, president and CEO of AMSA. The legitimate Virginia-based business reported to AMSA that roughly 80 consumers affected by the scam company have contact it so far.
The Florida-based company in question, according to the Better Business Bureau's alert on the group, is a rogue mover operating the most common type of scam. With this scam, you get an estimate (typically a low one), but once all your prized possessions are in the truck, the mover will demand far more money than was estimated to complete the job.
“They may say it while the truck is sitting in your old driveway or, worse, you may get to your new house and they say, ‘We’re not delivering your stuff until you give us more money,’” says Katherine Hutt, director of communications for the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
In other cases, the scam manifests as a simple money grab, as Hutt describes: “They just take your money. They’ll ask for a deposit – a third [of the cost] or whatever – and then they’ll just take your money, and you’ll never hear from them again.”
While recovering money from a scammer who disappears after taking your deposit may be difficult, don’t be afraid to call the police when you’re being denied access to your property. “If they’re physically holding your goods ransom, you should definitely go to the police, because that is blatantly illegal,” Hutt says.
Of course, the goal is to avoid predatory moving companies from the start and to have a smooth, successful move that isn’t any more stressful than it needs to be. Follow these seven steps to ensure you’re hiring a reputable moving company that’s right for the job – and won't cause you any extra headaches.
Get three estimates. As with any type of service you hire in regard to your home, you should interview more than one company and do thorough research on all those you consider. “It’s an important vetting process to make sure you know the company,” Michael says.
More specifically, “those should be in-home estimates,” Hutt says. A moving company that doesn’t want to visit your home is more likely to argue that you didn't accurately describe your belongings for the estimate and demand more money from you once the truck is loaded.
Check with the BBB and other reporting organizations. Organizations like the Better Business Bureau can reveal if a company has received complaints from previous customers that may set off a red flag for you. You can also determine if the business appears to be attentive and genuine.
Check out sites like Yelp and others that specialize in reviewing moving companies, but be careful what sources you look at, says Mike Glanz, co-founder and CEO of HireAHelper.com: “There’s certain websites out there that make money off moving company advertisements.”
Follow up with out-of-state headquarters. To avoid falling prey to scams like the one occurring in St. Louis, if the company you’re researching appears to have an out-of-state headquarters, call the main company line to confirm they have a record of the local affiliate you’re talking to, as well as a record of your previous inquiry.
“Look online and try to find the headquarters of the established mover, and make sure that they are affiliated with whoever you’re dealing with,” Michael says.
Check out the address. A genuine moving company is going to have an office and place to keep the moving trucks when they’re not in use. If it’s local, drive past the company’s address to verify the address is valid and not residential. If you can't get to the property, Google Street View can be a good substitute, but be mindful of how long ago the image was taken.
Consider changing your moving plan. Whether you’ve fallen victim to a moving scam before or just don’t like the idea of handing over everything you own to strangers, you have options.
You can go with a hybrid move – where you rent the truck and hire laborers separately at your existing place, then drive the truck yourself to your new home and hire another set of movers there to help you unload the truck.
Glanz admits he’s a bit biased, since HireAHelper.com provides the service of vetting and connecting consumers with the movers for a hybrid move, but he finds many individuals are looking for a more cost-effective alternative to the pricey, sometimes treacherous world of moving.
“People are starting to realize there is just a little too much risk associated with hiring a company with control of all your possessions,” Glanz says.
Check for replacement insurance. While additional insurance isn’t necessarily the difference between a rogue mover and legitimate business, it can help ensure you’re satisfied with the quality of the move.
All moving companies are required by the federal government to carry insurance, but minimal coverage, or released value protection, assumes liability for a maximum of 60 cents per pound. So if a 100-pound TV gets damaged during the move and doesn’t work anymore, you’ll receive just $60 from the mover – “Even if that TV cost you $2,000,” Glanz says.
While it will add more to the total cost of your move, full value protection will ensure the mover repairs any damaged item to the same condition and working order or replaces it with a like product. You can learn more about coverage for a move through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Ask about truck suspension for long-distance moves. You can also minimize the chances of incurring damage to your belongings by inquiring about the type of truck that will be moving your goods from one state to another.
Glanz notes a truck with air-ride suspension is the safer option over steel spring suspension, keeping your possessions from knocking around during the trip. If the truck does not have air-ride suspension, "you’re five to 10 times more likely to incur damage across the country,” he says.
Be ready for things to go wrong.
No one loves shelling out money for unexpected expenses, but sometimes that seems like a rite of passage in homeownership. “Most of the time, the unhappy surprises are simply due to people being unaware of the things that can crop up,” says Brad Hunter, chief economist for HomeAdvisor. First-time homebuyers in particular may not know what to expect after closing on a home, and there’s nothing worse than developing buyer’s remorse about one of the largest investments you’ll ever make. Here are eight headaches to prepare for if you’re looking to purchase a house.A suddenly less-than-desirable location
A suddenly less-than-desirable location
Buying a house across the street from a high school didn’t seem like such a bad idea when you saw how nicely renovated it was. But when you don’t have kids and Friday night football games are keeping you up later than you would like, you realize you should have made a pros-and-cons list regarding the location. Don’t let a charming interior override a location you dislike or a lot that will give you flooding problems. “If you don’t like your lot, don’t buy the house, because you cannot change that,” says Kim Wirtz, a Realtor for Century 21 Affiliated in Lockport, Illinois.A high monthly mortgage payment
A high monthly mortgage payment
One of the most crippling headaches to deal with is a monthly mortgage payment you find you can’t quite afford. Lysette Portales, a real estate agent with Century 21 Jim White & Associates in Treasure Island, Florida, says she stresses to clients that they should shop around for a mortgage with multiple lenders and inquire with each about different program options. “A lot of them might be able to do 100 percent [financing],” she says, noting that many homebuyers typically only know about a couple mortgage programs and settle for one without considering what would be most affordable option both now and down the line.Items that are on their last legs
Items that are on their last legs
Whether it's the roof, water heater or furnace, aging home systems will need replacement. And that may end up being sooner than you’d like, especially if you didn’t pay close attention to the age and condition of the roof, plumbing, electric and heating and cooling systems when your inspector pointed them out. HomeAdvisor’s 2015 New Homeowner Survey found that 75 percent of homeowners face an unexpected emergency within a year of purchase. To expect the unexpected, Hunter points to the survey’s recommendation that homeowners plan to spend 1 percent of the home’s purchase price on unplanned repairs. Maintaining at least that much in your emergency fund will help keep you from dipping into other savings from year to year.Old systems
It’s important to pay attention to a home's aging big-ticket items before you even make an offer. “A lot of homebuyers are distracted by how cute a home can be,” Portales says, adding that she makes it her job to point out the age of the roof, air conditioning unit, water heater and more to buyers. Then when it comes time to calculate an offer, you should factor in the cost of those pieces that will need immediate replacement when determining how much you think the home is worth.An air conditioner that's not the same
An air conditioner that's not the same
Wirtz says one of the things in a home that seems to always break or have issues within the first year of its purchase is the air conditioner. But it’s not always because it breaks down – she says it simply might not be as effective as the new homeowner wants it to be. “It may not be cooling like they’re used to,” Wirtz says. You can either learn to deal with a little less cooling, bring in an HVAC pro to inspect and fix any problems or research any DIY fixes that might get it cooling better – like air conditioner cleaning spray.Unseen leaks
Home inspectors aren’t able to see through walls, so the discovery of a pipe leak isn’t uncommon after you’ve moved into the home. But this is one repair you want to make as quickly as possible. “When there’s water that is not stopped, it can create mold – and mold remediation is extremely expensive and extremely difficult,” Hunter says. Mold growth in your home can cause serious health problems, so it’s imperative to address any moisture issues as quickly as possible to avoid it becoming any more dangerous, let alone more expensive.Surprise renovation expenses
Surprise renovation expenses
Fixer-uppers are all the rage these days, as many homebuyers are willing to take on renovation projects in exchange for a slightly lower price tag. But when budgeting for your renovations, leave plenty of room for the discovery of existing problems once your contractor looks behind the walls. The HomeAdvisor survey found 51 percent of homeowners spent more time on home projects than they expected. “Even if you have a fully vetted, well-reviewed contractor … they still might uncover issues that maybe a previous contractor left incomplete,” Hunter says. He recommends leaving around 10 percent extra space in your budget for surprise problems of any kind.Problems that pile up
Problems that pile up
All too often it feels like the problems in a home have a snowballing effect, but you don’t have to go broke tackling them all at once. “Day one, [homeowners] won’t have to tackle all those projects,” Hunter says. “They can use the list of items found by the home inspector as a checklist and prioritize the items on that list and create a budget.” You should immediately address those problems that create a health or safety issue, such as a broken step or leak in your roof that could lead to mold. But replacing an older dishwasher can wait until next year, when you have more room in your home repair budget.Read More
She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.
Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.