The Problem With Moving Brokers

poorly packed moving truck

You’ll hear the advice “don’t use a moving broker!” across the internet, and for many people, it’s good advice. You’ll find loads of horror stories from people who use moving brokers.

This said, some of the largest, most reputable van lines in the U.S. are also licensed moving brokers, so there are some legitimate moving brokers out there. The question is: Who can you trust? Who will provide the most reliable moving services on your move date?

Do your research before working with a broker to avoid last-minute headaches. Avoid companies that are only licensed to broker moves. Generally, we see a lot of issues with companies that only broker moves.

Companies licensed as both carrier and broker should be thoroughly evaluated. Compare quotes and services easily using a tool like our moving cost calculator.

In this post, we’ll lay out how to avoid shady moving brokers and find the right moving company for your needs. We’ll show you red flags to watch out for with shady moving brokers.  Don’t fall victim to moving scams or bad moving brokers, which will only make your moving experience stressful and more costly.

But first, let’s understand what a moving broker is.

What is a moving broker?

Moving brokers are middlemen who book your move and then hire a third party moving company to perform the move. Moving brokers are not the actual moving company.

A moving broker is only responsible for booking the move. Once the move is booked, the broker will find a moving company who will do the actual move on moving day.

moving brokers

This means that the responsibility for the move will fall solely on the moving company the broker hires. If the broker made a mistake on the estimate, it’s up to the moving company to correct the estimate and renegotiate the price, if necessary. And an estimate is just that – an estimate.

At the end of the day, the broker is the one setting up the estimate. That means they’re the ones asking how much stuff you’re moving, what dates you need to move, and nailing down logistics like whether a truck can park in front of your home or apartment. A good broker will be very thorough. On the other hand, bad brokers will rush the process just to try and complete the sale. When the actual mover shows up, they’ll need to rework the estimate, which often means huge price increases since the initial estimate was missing details.

Brokers will often rush to book the sale and omit critical details from the estimate.

In the worst cases, the broker will purposefully leave details off the estimate so they can quote a lower price. This typically leads to price increases on moving day – an unwelcome surprise during an already-expensive day!

Here’s an example from a 2011 Senate investigation on moving brokers where a customer’s price increased by nearly 50% during her move.

moving broker investigation senate write up

moving broker nationwide relocation senate investigation

Many moving brokers take this lack of accountability as a free license to book moves however they please. Brokers aren’t responsible for the actual move since they get their cut upfront as part of the booking deposit. If the broker does a bad job creating an estimate, it’s the moving company’s problem and they’re the ones that have to rectify it. The broker doesn’t care since they’ve been paid and don’t have liability for the actual move. This could leave you with a bad moving company on moving day, and thus, an overall negative moving experience.

Good Moving Brokers vs Bad Brokers

Good moving brokers with good local movers will work closely with the moving company to make sure estimates and fees are consistent from broker to mover. The best moving company will be a reliable find from the broker and the price will remain consistent with the original quote.

A good moving broker (much like professional movers) will also have mixed customer reviews. If you see a broker with only rave reviews, beware. Many companies use shady tactics to hide or delete negative reviews and only post positive reviews. The truth is, long distance moving is hard to get right, even for the best companies.

You can also look for companies with a good rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). But be aware that this is easy for companies to game as well. Bad brokers with tons of bad ratings will simply shut down and reopen under a different name. Instead of just looking at BBB ratings, consider how many years they’ve been in business. Again, this isn’t a perfect metric as some scammers will buy older companies to make it look like they have a long operating history.

This can seem overwhelming, but the fact is, the moving industry is full of great, reputable companies. You just need to make sure you do plenty of research and shop around to enlist one of the good ones.

Make sure you’re working with reputable movers from a reputable moving company who will be upfront with you. You don’t want to get stuck with bad movers, bait-and-switch tactics, or one of those worst moving companies riddled with fake reviews.

Moving brokers who offer a full-service move will provide a moving estimate or moving quote, and operate with a professional moving company that can get the job done for you. That way, you’re not stuck or stranded on moving day, scurrying around to find packing materials to take care of your things before your big move.

Why use a moving broker?

Good moving brokers have the following benefits:

  • Offer lower pricing. The broker will solicit bids from various moving companies and can find or negotiate the best deals, so that your moving day is as cost-effective as possible.
  • Less likely to cancel a move. If a moving truck breaks down or if there is a delay, the broker can tap into the truck capacity of their network and find a mover with a reliable moving truck at the last minute.
  • Negotiate on your behalf. If something goes wrong, brokers can threaten to stop sending jobs to the moving company, thereby giving them leverage on the mover.
  • Service more rural/remote areas. Since moving brokers have access to a lot of truck capacity, they can find trucks headed through less trafficked regions and get remote moves covered.

Sounds good, right?

However, most of these benefits end up being the exact opposite with dishonest moving brokers.

Let’s look at how these “advantages” typically play out with shady moving brokers.

  • Offer lower pricing. The broker frequently prices the move too low, thereby forcing the moving company to increase the cost on moving day.
  • Less likely to cancel a move. Moving companies have little allegiance to low-quality moving brokers and will regularly cancel moves if a better job comes along. This could leave you stranded and frustrated on moving day.
  • Negotiate on your behalf. If something goes wrong, the moving company will blame the broker and the broker will blame the mover and ultimately no one will take responsibility for issues.
  • Service more rural/remote areas. This one is actually true and many moving companies will only work with shady moving brokers if they have an empty truck they can’t fill.

For these reasons and more, it’s critical to avoid bad moving brokers.

How to check if a company is a broker

You can use the FMCSA’s SAFER mover database to check if a company is a broker.

If the company is a licensed broker, they’ll be assigned a U.S. Department of Transportation Number (DOT#) and a Motor Carrier Number (MC#). You’ll need to obtain one of these numbers.

Companies will typically provide their DOT# or MC# on the estimate paperwork. They may also be listed on their website (check for it in the footer) or on their “About Us” or “Contact Us” pages.

Head over to the FMCSA’s SAFER mover database and plug in one of these numbers. You’ll want to pay attention to the Entity Type: and Operating Status: listed in the database.

A regular moving company should look like this…

FYI: HHG is short for Household Goods.

fmcsa safer database moving company

Now, a pure moving broker should look like this. This means they own no trucks and only broker moves.

fmcsa safer database for a moving broker

Pure moving brokers typically have flashy websites and high-quality salespeople. They’re excellent at selling you the move.

However, you want to avoid these companies! These companies are notorious for low-quality standards and shady sales tactics. They will only make your moving experience more difficult and stressful.

Lastly, companies that are both moving companies and moving brokers will look like this.

fmcsa safer database moving company and broker authority

If a company has both licenses, you’ll want to ask them if your move will be brokered. If the move is going to be brokered, always ask to get the actual moving companies name who will be performing the move.

Always demand an in-home or video-based estimate for your valuation. Phone-based, verbal estimates are notoriously inaccurate, and they are also a telltale sign of a shady moving broker. Once you choose a company, be sure to get a written agreement or contract outlining the terms and pricing of your move. Be sure to include any additional services that will affect your pricing.

Bottom line: avoid companies that are only licensed to broker moves. Companies with a license to broker a move and a license to perform moves should be evaluated just like any regular moving company.

Additional Resources:

FMCSA Movers vs. Brokers – A guide from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on the difference between movers and moving brokers.

Avatar Moving – An explainer piece on how internet moving brokers differ from the traditional van line business model.

Prepare for your move

Know your rights, do your research, and compare quotes before choosing a moving provider. The more effort you put in up front, the less time you’ll have to spend down the road remedying issues. Use our moving checklist to make sure your move is as seamless as possible from start to finish.

As you’re preparing for your move, be sure to check out our free moving cost calculator, to help you get an accurate estimate of the cost of your move before moving day as you head to your new home.

Moving interstate? Heading from the south to New York or vice versa, or beyond? We’ve got you covered with the best interstate moving companies, too, if you’re long-distance moving. If you’re heading cross country or need long-distance movers to get to your new home, you’ll want to be even more discerning about who you work with for the moving experience.

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