Get moving, but take some precautions

June 27, 1993|By Copley News Service

If you're planning a move, you're among 43 million Americans expected to relocate this year -- and more than half of them will do it during summer.

Although most large moving companies charge approximately the same, it's a good idea to look closely at the various billing systems and any extra services companies might offer. Get recommendations on movers from friends, relatives or co-workers. Barbara Kaufman, author of "Consumer Action Guide" (Nolo Press), suggests getting three estimates for transportation and packing.

For a long-distance move, an estimate is an approximation of the final cost of your move, based on the weight of your shipment, mileage to your destination and any special services to be performed.

There are three types of estimates -- nonbinding, binding and "not to exceed" -- that anyone planning to move should consider.

For a nonbinding estimate, a moving-company representative comes to your home and examines your possessions, estimates the weight and provides an estimated cost.

Once your shipment is loaded onto the van, the total weight of your goods is determined by subtracting the weight of the moving van before your shipment is loaded from the weight of the van after loading. You pay less if your shipment is lighter than estimated, but will be required to pay more if it's heavier.

Total charges are due at the time of delivery. However, if the cost is much more than original estimate, you may arrange to pay the estimate plus 10 percent upon delivery, provided you agree to pay the balance due within 30 days. Beware: a mover may add additional "charges" to the balance if you take the full 30 days to pay up. Be sure to carefully read your contract with the mover (called a bill of lading) before you sign it.

Unscrupulous companies may intentionally under-estimate to attract your business, so consider nonbinding bids only from reputable, well-known moving companies.

Binding estimates provide a guaranteed moving price after the mover takes a careful inventory of items to be moved.

If the actual weight of your belongings is higher than the estimate, you pay no extra -- provided the items being moved match those included on the estimate. With this type of estimate, you know exactly what you'll be paying and can budget accordingly.

The disadvantage of a binding estimate is that if your belongings weigh less than the estimate, you must still pay the full binding-estimate amount. Some movers charge a fee to give a binding estimate.

A "not to exceed" estimate ensures you pay the lowest price possible for your move. It provides a maximum price. You pay either the binding estimate amount or the actual charges based on actual weight, whichever is less. Not all companies offer a "not to exceed" estimate.

Moving companies are not legally required to give you an estimate for intrastate moves, but many do. If you get an estimate, it must be in writing. When an intrastate estimate is provided, the mover cannot charge more than 10 percent above it.

Charges on local moves (fewer than 50 miles) are usually based on an hourly rate, whereas charges on long-distance moves (more than 50 miles) are usually based on weight and mileage.

When the mover arrives to pick up your possessions, the driver may make an inventory of all articles being moved, noting the condition of everything. Make sure you agree with any assessments made by the mover. If you disagree, make comments on the inventory list; otherwise, you may have difficulty getting compensation if damage occurs. Every item and box should be listed on the inventory sheet so that if a box or item is missing, you will have proof it was picked up.

What's a mover's liability for loss or damage? It's tricky. For both in- and out-of-state moves, the mover will pay you 60 cents a pound if your possessions are damaged or destroyed. But you must sign a statement acknowledging that this is all you want. If you don't, the mover will automatically place a $1.25 per pound valuation on your goods and charge you for that coverage (usually between $40 and $100 depending on the size of your move.)

If this is still not adequate -- and often it is not -- you can buy additional insurance coverage from the mover or your insurance carrier. Before doing so, it is a good idea to check with your homeowner's or renter's insurance policy to see whether your

possessions already are covered during a move.

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