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Moving Day Nightmares

A woman hired a moving company that said it charged $80 an hour and that it would take about five hours to complete her move from Bowie to Elkridge. Expecting to pay around $500, she was shocked when the company presented her with a bill for $2,300. It had taken the movers 14 hours to make the move, and the bill included $720 for packing materials.

Standing in front of your new home, after a long and tiring moving day, is no time to get into a dispute with the mover over the amount of the bill–especially if the mover demands payment in cash. Yet it happens to consumers frequently.

The best way to avoid these problems is to find a company with a good reputation, and to understand thoroughly how the final cost of your move will be computed. Get recommendations for good moving companies from people you know. Call the Consumer Protection Division to find out if a company has complaints on record. Then, get estimates from two or three different moving companies. Ask to see in advance a copy of the contract you will be asked to sign. Read it to be sure you understand and accept its terms. Don't rely on a quick "guess-timate" given over the phone.

Intrastate Moves: Paying by the Hour
For intrastate moves (moving from one place to another within Maryland), movers usually charge an hourly rate. They typically give an estimate over the phone, often asking only how many rooms of furniture you have to estimate how many hours the move will take.

This kind of informal estimate can lead to an unpleasant surprise for the consumer at the end of the move. It may take the moving crew much longer to perform your move than estimated. You may have many more items to move than the "average" two-bedroom apartment, for example. Also, many companies routinely add charges for the crew's travel time, for packing materials, or for stairs or "long carries" between your door and the parking lot, which might not be mentioned during your telephone call.

It is best to ask for a written estimate, preferably based on the mover visiting your home and seeing the goods to be moved. If the company will not come to your house, be sure to tell them all the furniture you have and how many boxes you think you will have. Ask if there is a charge for "travel time," for "long carries" or stairs, or for anything else. Beware of extremely low estimates–an unscrupulous company may give you a low quote to get your business but hike the final price.

What if you do end up with a bill that you wish to dispute? In the past, movers could refuse to unload your belongings unless you paid what they said you owed, even if it was hundreds or thousands of dollars more than the estimate. Now, Maryland law protects consumers from this situation. In an intrastate move, a mover must deliver your goods to you once it has loaded them onto its truck. If you have a dispute over the bill, the mover must still deliver your goods, and then use any legal collection efforts to recover the disputed amount. If a mover threatens to withhold your goods, you should call the police. You can also file a complaint for mediation with the Consumer Protection Division.

You can read the Maryland law requiring a mover to deliver the consumer's goods (PDF document).

Interstate Moves: Weight Surprises
Charges for interstate (state-to-state) moves are based on your shipment's weight, the distance, and any packing services. When a final bill is higher than the estimate, it is often because the consumer got a "nonbinding estimate" based on an estimated weight, and the shipment weighed more than was estimated. (A binding estimate gives you a guaranteed final price, as long as nothing changes in your shipment as described or in the services you require.)

A nonbinding estimate is only the mover's best guess of what it will cost for your move. You will be charged according to the mover's tariff for the actual weight of your shipment. To get the most accurate estimate of the weight of your shipment, show the mover all of your belongings, including items in the attic, basement or garage.

If the bill does turn out to be much higher than the estimate, the mover must release your goods to you as long as you pay 110% of the estimate, as long as you had a written, nonbinding estimate. You then have 30 days to pay any remaining charges.

When giving you an estimate, an interstate mover is required to give you a copy of the booklet "Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move," prepared by the Federal Highway Administration. You can view it here www.fmcsa.dot.gov.

Charges for Packing Materials
Unexpected charges for packing materials (bubble wrap, boxes, and tape) can cost you hundreds of dollars. If you are having the mover pack your items, ask what it will charge for the labor and materials. Often these charges are not included in estimates unless you ask. Even if you will do your own packing, ask what items must be packed or wrapped protectively. Many movers refuse to move certain items, such as chairs, glass, mirrors, and lamps, unless they are wrapped or boxed. If you know the rules ahead of time, you will probably be able to pack the items more cheaply yourself. However, many movers will not accept liability for damage to items you pack yourself.

Payment Terms
Most moving companies require the customer to pay in full at delivery, by cash, money order or certified check. Some will accept credit cards, but only if that has been arranged beforehand. Be sure you know ahead of time how payment will be accepted.

Protection for Lost and Damaged Items
Most movers have a standard liability coverage for customers' lost and damaged items. This is called "valuation," and it is not insurance. Most mover's standard valuation pays a minimal amount based on the weight of a damaged item, not its value. For example, if the mover damaged a 30-pound computer monitor, it might only pay you 60 cents per pound for it, or $18.

This coverage is so minimal that you should consider purchasing better coverage. The mover may offer you the option to buy a higher level of valuation that would pay for the actual value of your items or replacement cost. Even better, you could obtain insurance from your own insurance carrier or pay your mover to buy true insurance for you from an insurance company. If you have homeowner's insurance, check to see if your policy covers loss or damage during moves.

Revised Feb 2010

Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division
Consumer hotline: (410) 528-8662 or 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free


Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372
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