How to avoid losing your shirt in moving to a new abode

Spending Smart

Your Money

August 21, 2005|By Gregory Karp

MOVING INTO a new apartment or house is among the most overwhelming of life events, both emotionally and financially. So it pays to know how to eliminate unnecessary moving expenses and to avoid being gypped.

In response to a growing problem, Congress last month passed consumer protections and stiffer penalties against rogue movers as part of the new federal highway reauthorization that President Bush signed into law. But the new rules governing interstate moves are not likely to take effect for a while, so for now it's buyer beware.

Here are some tips on saving money and avoiding problems:

Get reimbursed for job-related moving expenses.

If you're moving for a job, try to get all you can in reimbursement of moving expenses. A full relocation package is ideal, but anything you can negotiate is just free money.

Be flexible on timing.

May through September and the beginning and the end of each month are busy times for moving companies and truck rentals, which means they may be more expensive than during off times. A midmonth winter move might yield the best deal, if you have that flexibility. You're also likely to get a better crew.

Buy your own packing materials.

Specialized boxes, such as wardrobe boxes, packing tape, Bubble Wrap and similar products might be cheaper to buy at a self-moving company such as U-haul International Inc. or a shipping-supply company rather than buying directly from the moving company you're using.

Pack things yourself.

You can save hundreds by packing most of your belongings yourself. An exception would be fragile and valuable items, which you might want packed by a professional. There are two reasons. First, the items are less likely to be broken or damaged if packed by a pro in packing materials designed for fragile items. And second, many movers won't insure boxes you packed yourself.

Consider "You load, we haul."

This is a hybrid option, where you pack stuff yourself and the trucking company drops off a trailer at your house for a couple of days so you can load it. Then a professional driver will pick it up and drive it to your new home, where he drops it, and you unload it yourself. This might be an especially good idea for those who want to move themselves but are nervous about driving a large truck.

Here are red flags that show you might be dealing with a rogue mover:

Low-ball estimates.

Get at least three price quotes for full-service moves, with an eye toward companies recommended by friends and relatives. Be skeptical of price quotes that far undercut competitors; it may be a sign the mover will come up with extra charges once he has your possessions.

It may increase your chance of finding a reputable company if you make sure it's a member of the American Moving and Storage Association, www.moving.org, or 703-683-7410.

Charge by volume.

If a moving company wants to charge by the cubic foot rather than weight, it's a giveaway that the outfit may not be reputable.

Immediate estimates.

Beware if the mover doesn't offer or agree to an on-site inspection of your household goods and gives an estimate over the phone or Internet.

Cash upfront.

Be suspicious if the moving company demands cash or a large deposit before the move.

For helpful information on interstate moves, see Web sites for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, www.protectyourmove.gov, or the American Moving and Storage Association.

Gregory Karp is a personal finance writer for The Morning Call, a Tribune Publishing newspaper in Allentown, Pa. E-mail him at yourmoney- tribune.com.

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