Do your homework before hiring a moving company

Posted Friday, Jun. 14, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Moving 101 resources •  Texas Department of Motor Vehicles: Movers in the state must be licensed through the DMV ( www.txdmv.gov). Search the DMV website for its consumer program Don’t Make A Move Without Us to see if a mover is licensed, file a complaint or look up your rights. •  Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration: The agency’s www.ProtectYourMove.gov website covers most aspects of moving, including licensing, complaints and safety record. •  Industry help: www.MoveRescue.com or 800-832-1773 provides free assistance, including moving costs, to consumers victimized by disreputable movers during an interstate move. Sponsored by Mayflower and United Van Lines. •  Fort Worth Better Business Bureau: www.fwbbb.com

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With record home sales in the region, North Texans are literally on the move this summer, likely unaware that state and federal agencies and laws oversee that cumbersome process.

Single-family home sales hit new highs in May with 9,200 homes sold, up 23 percent from a year earlier, according to data from the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University. The average sales price of $180,000 was the highest in at least the past 10 years, according to the center.

Charley Bell, owner of Bell Brothers Moving in Fort Worth, said his crew of nine trucks is booked for most of June and July, and the company is starting to take jobs for August.

“If you have a 4,000- or 5,000-square-foot house to move and you need it tomorrow night, it would be pretty tough to find a mover right now,” he said. “March was a record month for us, and it looks like June is shaping up that way as well.”

Mayflower, one of the largest national movers, reported a 16 percent increase in business in April over the same month a year earlier, said Melissa Sullivan, spokeswoman for the mover. “It’s the first time we’ve seen really strong growth since the recession,’ she said.

As a result, new moving companies are popping up in the area overnight, Bell said.

“In the last few months we’ve seen new logos on a lot of older trucks,” he said. “But a lot of them will be in for a few months, break a lot of stuff, then end up selling the truck.”

Bell said the first thing consumers should do when hiring a mover is check to see if the company is licensed through the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.

The DMV reported in May that complaints against illegal movers — those without state licenses — were up 6 percent over the past seven months. The agency is responsible for licensing all movers in the state and overseeing state regulations.

The Fort Worth Better Business Bureau reported 813 local complaints in the past year about a total of 113 moving companies in the bureau’s database, said Shae Moore, spokesman for the bureau. Most of the complaints concern items getting damaged in a move, she said. The bureau grades companies from A+ to F, and consumers can see complaints and reviews on its website, www.fwbbb.org.

Bell said many new moving companies use day laborers untrained in moving instead of a trained, full-time staff, so consumers should ask companies about their labor force as well as how long they have been in business.

The DMV has a consumer program to educate the public on moving called Don’t Make A Move Without Us on its website, www.txdmv.gov. There, consumers can look up a mover and see if they are licensed, as well as look at complaint records.

By next year, the DMV also will include the tariff or rate charts required to be filed to the agency by each company so consumers can compare costs, said Carol Fallin, chief investigator for motor carrier enforcement for the state agency. Most in-state moves are done on an hourly basis, while out-of-state moves are based on weight and distance.

State regulations for movers largely mirror federal regulations, Fallin said. Among them, proposals or estimates are required in writing before a move, and movers are required to pay a minimum of 60 cents a pound for damaged material.

Violations for interstate travel — regulated by the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) – are $10,000 apiece, Fallin said.

DMV staff is currently being trained by FMCSA to enforce the federal consumer protection regulations, Fallin said. Texas is the third state to enter into a formal agreement with FMCSA to conduct investigations on interstate moving companies, along with Louisiana and Ohio.

Fallin said each complaint to her agency is investigated and action is taken when the agency spots violations. DMV also has a mediation process available for consumers who want to try that process before taking a mover to civil court.

In addition to checking for a license, Fallin recommends comparing the number of complaints to the number of vehicles the mover lists to get a good idea of well how the company operates.

For interstate travel, the FMCSA launched its own consumer campaign in April to information the 35 million Americans who move each year how to spot the red flags of fraudulent movers.

The “Protect Your Move” campaign at www.protectyourmove.gov provides information on the federal oversight of the moving industry, as well consumer tips and information on how to pick a mover and get ready for a move. The website also lets you look up a mover by name to check whether they have registered with the FMCSA, as well as take a look at each mover’s complaint and safety record.

The FMCSA database holds 5,800 household goods moving companies on its registry list, including 728 in Texas. Last year, the federal agency said it received more than 3,100 consumer complaints about household goods movers, up from 2,851 in 2011.

Among the most common complaints are shipments being held hostage for more payment than previously agreed upon; loss, damage or delay of shipments; unauthorized movers; and other deceptive practices, such as overcharges.

For a move out of state, Mayflower and United Van Lines have a program to help consumers caught in a bad move called MoveRescue. Started in 2003, the program offers hands-on help to victims of bad moves, Mayflower’s Sullivan said.

“Often victims call us and say they would book online, take the lowest bid estimate, pay a big deposit and then the mover would put everything in the truck and tell them that they had to pay two or three times their estimate or they would store their stuff where they couldn’t find it or auction it,” she said. “Through the MoveRescue program, victims would talk to our legal team and we could get FMCSA involved or transportation attorneys. Once the goods are released, Mayflower agents will deliver them to their destination for free.”

The program has helped more than 2,000 victims of bad moves, Sullivan said.

Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net

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