PhotoThe next few weeks may be filled with an increasing number of moving vans on the nation's highways. This time of year is prime time for moving, since many families like to wait until school is out, and get settled in before it starts up again.

There are two kinds of moves -- the kind you do yourself and the kind you call in professional movers to do. The first kind you normally do only when you're young and you don't have a lot of stuff. The latter can be expensive and complicated, so careful planning is necessary.

Moving companies are often highly regulated. Not necessarily a bad thing, but the rules and policies might be different from one state to another, since lots of the regulations are at the state level.

Interstate movers are regulated at the federal level by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), part of the Transportation Department. Because you are trusting all your worldly possessions to a mover and agreeing to write a pretty big check, the FMCSA suggests you research your mover carefully.

Protect Your Move

It has set up a special website called Protect Your Move with information and advice. The website connects consumers to a database where they can review interstate moving companies by state or by name and check out the company's on-road safety performance records. The various state consumer protection agencies can also update state contact information for consumers who have questions about household goods movers.

You can also check out movers on review sites like this one. See the ConsumerAffairs Moving Buyers Guide for reviews and more information. 

"Congress has focused important attention on the problem of rogue movers through hearings and funding of a consumer outreach program," FMCSA says on its website. "This attention has helped create the first partnership between federal, state and local officials, and the moving industry itself."

Among the things to watch out for are movers who will provide an estimate over the phone without ever looking at the items to be moved or who will load your stuff, then demand more money to deliver it to its destination.

Four documents

When moving across state lines, you need to be familiar with four documents:

  • Estimate: a description, in writing, of all charges for services the mover will perform. Make sure the estimate is signed by the mover.
  • Order for service: a list of everything the mover will do and when it will do it.
  • Bill of lading: this is the contract between you and the mover and a receipt for your belongings. You should be given a partially completed copy of the bill of lading before the mover leaves with your stuff.
  • Inventory list: this is is the receipt showing each item you shipped and its condition.

Do-it-yourself moves are simpler, but a lot more work. You can obtain box trucks from rental agencies like U-Haul, Budget, Penske, and others. But you're responsible for packing up everything and getting it on the truck.

These truck rental companies generally provide a truck for either a one-way move or a round trip, meaning you return it to the location where you got it. Rates may be structured by the day or mileage, or a combination of the two.

It's important to reserve your truck well in advance, especially if you live in a college town. The weekends before and after school ends usually book well in advance.

A hybrid of a professional and do-it-yourself move is the moving container, provided by companies like Pods and Smartbox. A large moving container is delivered to your location and you load it yourself.

When you're finished, the company picks it up and takes it to your new location, where you unload it.

See the ConsumerAffairs Moving Buyers Guide ​for reviews and a "wizard" that will help you find the mover that's best for you.  

 


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