By James Murray

I am a mover of 30 years experience, we are a small local moving company serving upstate New York. I have a few tips for people relocating to a different state.

I gave up representing the big guys almost ten years ago, due to the poor quality service I was seeing provided to my customers. Claims, claims and more claims.

Anyone who moves interstate should contact at least three different movers for estimates. ask for references in writing from previous satisfied customers, ask what the claim ratio for each company was the previous year.

The math is simple -- how many moves did the big company make, how many claims were involved. Take a look at the numbers.

Ask for a Written Binding Estimate or a Best Price Quote. If someone is trying to lowball the price or does not have the experience to figure the cost of the move accurately, the agent will have to eat the difference in cost of the move not the consumer.

Do not sign any paperwork without reading it completely. If the driver or the sales rep has to wait while you do so, make them wait. If there is anything on the form you do not understand, ask for an explanation.

If you are having a moving company pack your belonging in boxes, before the packing begins, ask each packer, "How many years of experience do you have in the moving industry?"

The same question should be asked of the driver and his help.

Never leave valuables in dresser drawers. Carry any articles that can be easily stolen with you when you move, especially if you are going to store your goods in a warehouse.

A long distance driver once told me of a warehouse in New Jersey, where the furniture went in one door and out another to be sold for the highest price.

I believe it was in 1983 that the Interstate Commerce Commission deregulated the interstate moving industry. This allowed the movers to offer discounts to prospective customers. Back then a 10 to 20% discount was common. Today, I hear the discounts have reached up to 60 to 65.

Our industry is highly competetive, with a sales force out there that only cares about the commission they get for each job sold. The industry has lost a lot of movers to the freight industry, I see this on the highway, where tractors that once pulled a household goods trailer are now pulling freight trailers. You can tell by the way the different tractors are painted the various colors of the big interstate haulers. Take a look for yourself when you are on a long trip, I am sure you will see the orange, gold and white and blue, blue and white, green and yellow, etc. tractors.

People who are moving can protect themselves from claims and rip-offs by asking questions, getting references and making sure the inventory form they sign is accurate. To me, it really does not matter what color the truck and trailer are painted, it is the people who are performing the work inside the trailer that make the difference.

Jim Murray is president of John Murray and Sons Moving in Watertown, NY.