Later, on a scorching Miami afternoon, I crushed a disk in my back, lifting a 200-pound walk board.
I showered at truck stops, slept at rest areas, and saw shakedowns by burley laborers more times than I care to remember.
As a salesperson, I cold-called prospective national account customers and did hundreds of in-home surveys for families moving in town, across the country, and around the world, and thanks to Murphy’s Law, I lay awake many nights worrying about big moves I’d booked.
Do I miss it?
That said, I love the moving business. Still, now instead of shifting gears, carrying pianos, and fielding calls from agitated customers, I write about it from the comfort of my air-conditioned office.
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot and learned a lot about the industry. And now it’s time to share those insights. Before we dive in, here are some key takeaways we’ll mention in this post:
- Always hire a reputable moving company to avoid scams and make sure your move is stress-free.
- If possible, avoid moving last minute.
- Figure out how much stuff you’ll move to get the most accurate estimate.
- There are also different types of estimates, so learn which estimate is best for you.
So without further ado – 7 things you probably didn’t know about the moving business.
Help Your Rep Give You the Best Estimate
As a van line sales rep, I spent most of my time in prospective customers’ homes, building rapport and “selling” them on the company’s services.
Among other things, that entailed doing a walk-through to determine what services they needed and what items they were and weren’t planning on moving.
But here’s the thing – about ⅓ of them didn’t know.
Imagine touring a 4-bedroom home in swanky Scottsdale trying to take an accurate inventory, but each time you ask an important question, you got one of the following answers –
- I’m not sure about the living room set – we may donate it to Goodwill
- The new homeowners might buy the appliances.
- We’ll probably get rid of the home gym in the basement.
- We should get most of the packing done.
When taking an inventory, surveyors mark items in each room. They indicate which things go, those that don’t, and note whether the crew or homeowner will pack the contents of dressers and closets.
But it’s much more challenging to plan the move accordingly when you give responses like the ones above.
Try to get a general idea of the services you’ll need and what you’ll need to move. Then give each rep the same information.
Beware the “High-Ball” Estimate
In a perfect world, all moving estimates would be within 10% of one another.
They’re often not, but if one is 40 or 50% higher than the others, you may be getting high-balled.
Nefarious movers and brokers use low-ball estimates to dupe unwitting customers into using their services, but high-ball estimates do just the opposite.
It may sound crass and unprofessional, but reps often inflate estimates for “high maintenance” customers who they think will demand excessive amounts of their time.
After all, for commissioned salespeople, time is money.
One evening I met with a couple moving from Phoenix to New York whose previous move was such a disaster that a national investigative news program did a segment about it.
The poor souls lost thousands of dollars by booking a rogue moving company that held their household goods hostage and damaged everything in the process.
Their anguish was palpable, and I was genuinely sympathetic. Still, I sat on their couch for nearly 90 minutes while they showed me the video and questioned me like the Senate Ethics Committee.
All told, I spent nearly 4 hours with them.
When I submitted my estimate the following day, I’d padded it by 25% to ensure that if we did move them, they wouldn’t pay more than the quoted price.
I assured them that we were a reputable and quality-conscious company with experienced crews and that their final charges would probably be lower than estimated. In the end, they went with a lower bid, which ironically (or tragically) is what got them into trouble in the first place.
If you’ve had a bad moving experience, don’t hesitate to express your concerns during the screening process, but divulging too much information may make your estimate higher than it should be.
Your Movers May Not Actually Be Employees of the Company
Just because your crew is wearing A to Z Mega Movers t-shirts doesn’t mean they’re actually employees.
This is especially true if you’re moving from one state to another with a national van line.
If you’re saying goodbye to dreary Cleveland for sunny Phoenix, you’ll book your move with van line’s local agent, but on move day, the driver who loads your belongings will probably be from an out-of-state agent.
It’s how the van line system works and why it’s so efficient.
Drivers usually hire laborers from the local agent to help with loading and unloading, but the workers aren’t employees in most cases.
Instead, they’re often “casual labors” who may not be subject to drug tests and background checks.
In short, casual laborers do a thankless and back-breaking job for little pay, but the truth is, moving furniture in the heat, rain, and snow for peanuts can attract shady folks too.
Always keep personal and valuable items locked away when the crew is working, and be conscious of where they are in your home at all times.
If Possible Avoid Last-Minute Moves
Though some companies claim to be “Last-Minute Moving Specialists,” putting together a move at the 9th hour usually doesn’t go well, and many professional movers do their best to avoid them.
Most moves require weeks or months of planning and preparation, but many last-minute moves are due to traumatic and unforeseen life events like evictions, breakups, and divorces.
These circumstances can be logistical disasters for moving companies, and people unfortunate enough to find themselves in these positions are often difficult to deal with.
Most of us have dealt with similar issues at one time or another, but these moves often turn into nightmares for moving companies.
They typically go like this…
A call comes into the office at 4:40 on a Friday afternoon.
The person on the other end is frantic.
They need to move that evening, or at the latest the following morning.
The office staff either provides a phone survey or sends out a salesperson who finds a dirty house, a distraught homeowner, crying kids, and a barking dog.
If they book such a last-minute move (which is rare), it’s not uncommon for the crew to arrive to a truck from another moving company in the driveway. Sometimes the owner has decided not to move after all.
Now the company has invested lots of time and energy into making a move happen – all for naught.
If at all possible, avoid moving at the last minute. And if you have to move without much notice, try your best to manage your expectations about the process.
Understand Internet Quotes vs. In-Home Estimates
“Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples.”
It’s a saying I hear so often in the moving business that I’m now averse to fruit in general. Still, it’s even more relevant today when many people forego in-home estimates for internet quotes.
You have to know which estimate is best for you.
Online quotes can be great tools for starting the moving process, but having in-home estimates from local moving companies or van line agents are preferable.
If you’re moving the contents of a moderately furnished studio apartment, chances are you can get an accurate quote online.
That said, for larger apartments and multi-bedroom houses, you should always opt for in-home estimates because if you’ve chosen reputable moving companies with experienced salespeople, they’ll almost always be more accurate.
It’s not a hard and fast rule, but nefarious movers and brokers who only provide online quotes are the ones most likely to scam you.
What’s up With the Big Discounts?
If you’ve ever shopped for an engagement ring, you’ve seen signs stating –
80% off this weekend only!
We all know they’re still making a healthy profit, and the moving business is the same.
On interstate moves, movers use tariffs which appear as schedules of rates for each service they provide.
However, the standard tariff prices are so high that few people could afford at regular price.
It all started with the deregulation of the trucking industry more than three decades ago.
Before that, laws didn’t legally permit movers to discount their rates, but after deregulation, they could.
To outbid their competition, moving companies gave discounts starting slowly at 5 and 10% off. But by the mid-’90s, those discounts were up to 50 and 60% off.
These days it’s common to get discounts approaching 70%.
These days a 67% discount is about the fair market price, so don’t let companies fool you into thinking you’re getting an “insider’s deal.”
The Truth About Binding Estimates
Moving is a fiercely competitive business, and some of the prominent industry players give binding estimates on nearly every interstate move.
Binding estimates can be a customer’s best friend, but they’re not always permanent.
The only time a binding estimate stays valid is when you ship the exact amount of items you included on the estimate.
If you add items, need more services, or didn’t get around to packing the things you intended to, your mover can bump up the price even if they gave you a binding estimate.
Most sales reps go to great lengths to provide accurate inventories and estimates because if they don’t, things can go downhill quickly.
For example, if on an interstate move, a driver shows up to a home that has a guaranteed estimate at 14,000 pounds, but he (or she) thinks there are 20,000 pounds of household goods, they’ll take issue.
After all, no driver wants to haul an additional 6,000 pounds for free, so they’ll have the option of “challenging” the estimate.
They’ll take an item count to determine what they think the weight is.
Then they’ll call the company, who’ll call the sales rep to come out and get to the bottom of it – which usually means asking the customer to pay more if they’ve added items or require additional services.
This process can take hours, and it’s stressful for customers, drivers, and salespeople.
Don’t get complacent about the move just because you have a binding estimate.
For a free ball-park estimate on your next move, check out our moving cost calculator.
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