So you decided to hire movers. Congratulations! You’ve saved your back, eliminated about 80% of the stress of moving, and have avoided annoying your friends with the old, “hey man can you help me move next Saturday” bit.
Unfortunately you can’t totally relax yet. There are a couple of issues savvy movers need to be aware of to protect themselves from in case their movers aren’t the most “white glove.” Into every life a little moving damage must fall. So remember, there are two things you need to know: (1) what type of damage to look for, and (2) how to handle damage if it occurs.
Damage comes in two varieties: damage to your stuff (broken plates and dinged furniture), and damage to your place (scraped door frame and dings on the walls)—both the one you’re leaving or the one you’re moving into.
Damage to your stuff
Starting with your most valuable objects, we suggest you take several photographs of your breakables and any easily damaged furniture. These photos are your proof that your stuff was in good condition before the movers arrived.
Most movers will not take responsibility for boxes that you pack. So it’s up to you to really protect your valuables. Invest in bubble wrap, foam, sytrofoam peanuts, whatever it takes. Don’t think the movers will have any sympathy (or liability) if stuff breaks in boxes you pack.
One tip when packing valuables is to make sure the box is densely packed—nothing should be moving around and the box shouldn’t wilt or be crushed if somebody were to put a lot of weight on it. Consider dividing valuable items into multiple smaller boxes. This reduces the chance that the one box with all of your grandmother’s irreplaceable crystal gets dropped and everything is destroyed. And if something is really irreplaceable and valuable, don’t let the movers move it. Just put it in your car and drive it yourself.
When your stuff is delivered to your new place, take time to exam every box. Any boxes that appear damaged, you should open and examine the contents. Also, carefully examine your furniture for scrapes, especially on the corners of wood furniture. The edges and corners of wood pieces are often the easiest for movers to damage, and unfortunately also show the worst. Important: do not sign off on any paperwork until you have done a thorough examination of your stuff and your old and new home.
Damage to your place
Damage to your place can occur if your movers are careless or tired and accidentally scrape a door frame, wall, or (God forbid) your hardwood floors. Movers are human and indeed, sometimes mistakes can happen. But you need to protect yourself—before you leave your old place, you need to check every door, wall, hallway, or common area where the movers may have caused damage. And you should do the same at your new place once your moving truck is unloaded.
If you report damage before your movers leave, you should bring it to their attention and note any damage on your inventory sheet or bill of lading. Do *not*, we repeat DO NOT, accept an offer to “settle up” on the damages on the spot. Many movers are instructed to offer an on-the-spot cash settlement for any damage. If you approach the movers about damages, they may say, “if we give you $150 back will that be ok?” If you accept their offer, you cannot go back to them later and say, “well, after I got a real estimate the damage cost $800.” Just never accept an on-the-spot offer to repay your damages.
Whoops, I missed some damage, can I report it later?
Moving day can be hectic, and in all the commotion, it’s possible that you will miss some damage. If you notice damage after unpacking, you have nine months to file a claim with the moving company. You should send a written letter to your moving company that describes in detail the items and nature of the damage. The company has 30 days to acknowledge your claim and 120 days (from receipt of your claim) to make an offer. Your moving company may wish to send an appraiser to evaluate any damage. We suggest sending your letter via Certified Mail because it gives you proof they received your letter.
Moving.org says, “When making a claim or considering a settlement offer, keep in mind the amount of liability that you declared on your shipment. For example, if the value declared on your shipment was $5,000, the mover’s maximum liability for loss or damage to the articles in your shipment is $5,000. Claims for more than this amount will be declined because they are in excess of the mover’s liability that you declared on your shipment.” We agree.
My mover is being difficult. Now what?
If you have a problem with a mover that seems to be at an impasse, you should report it to the Better Business Bureau in the city where the company is located. Movers who cross state boundaries are regulated by the Department of Transportation; their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Movers are also regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Administration. You can also file a complaint with your state’s Attorney General as they also investigate cases of consumer fraud. Lastly, you can file a small claims suit against the mover (but check your contract to make sure they don’t require you to enter arbitration or use a court in their hometown).
Chances are that you’ll hire good, honest, ethical movers who will treat you right. Just take a few extra steps to protect yourself and your move will work out just fine!