By Anita Clark
Moving scams are real and if you or your clients have ever been victimized, you know how difficult the frustration and struggle is to get your property. While real estate agents are typically not involved in the moving aspect of home relocation, they can provide advice or even provide a list of potential sources to make the move a simple and scam-free process.
As agents, it’s important to know the pitfalls that can ruin a move for your clients. Knowing the challenges and red flags will help customers steer clear of moving companies that exhibit these traits. Keep the following things in mind the next time your clients ask you for moving assistance or a list of local movers.
Unethical Moving Companies
If you have ever experienced movers who refuse to open the truck unless you pay more money, there are few things that will get consumers’ boiling over faster. According to the “Protect Your Move” campaign by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, one in 10 consumers who move falls victim to this scam. Fortunately, there is an easy solution to this issue—always put it in writing!
The most important thing your client can do to protect themselves is to have a written contract that clearly states what the mover will do as part of the terms of the contract. If the contract is vague or does not specifically identify what they are responsible for, your client will need to resolve that issue before signing any moving contract. Like all home buyers, your clients want to save money when they move, not get caught with shady fees at the end of the moving company transaction.
A Dishonest Moving Intermediary
Have you ever received a quote that is suspiciously low compared to other quotes? Maybe the quote offered way more than competitors are offering. Occasionally, these are legitimate; but if it looks too good to be true, it often is.
These dishonest moving company representatives bring in unsuspecting customers by having much lower rates or an astonishing range of services. Once an agreement is made, always over the phone or online, they ask for a deposit. They then “sell” that customer to another moving company.
The new company is completely unaware of the agreement with the dishonest moving company and provides their own list of services offered and a quote. When your client tries to reach the first company, they are either unresponsive or claim it is no longer their responsibility. The second moving company, often legitimate, is not going to honor the agreement made by the first company, so the consumer is stuck having to pay more to the second company.
You can help your clients or customers avoid this scenario by staying “in the know” with peripheral companies/services. This is especially true if you are providing a list of names of potential moving companies.
Hidden Moving Fees
Do you know anyone who enjoys doing business with a company that tries to charge you additional fees either after services have been started or before they will begin delivering the service? I don’t! Anytime you run across a company that tries this scam, report them to the Better Business Bureau or your local Chamber of Commerce or Consumer Protection Office.
If you have not seen this scam, it usually involves a low quote that does not breakdown what the costs are specifically for. Before the move is completed, they provide a new list of costs for charges that were not identified in the original agreement. Ten of the more common hidden moving fees consumers may experience include:
- Gas fees: Gas costs to pick up and deliver items (this is typically already included in the quote).
- Assembly/disassembly: Charge to take apart or put items back together (i.e. beds, electronics, wardrobes).
- Bulk items: Piano, large appliances, outdoor equipment, etc.
- Environmental: Typically seen as a disposal fee. Customers should find out if they should get rid of the packing materials, if the movers do that and it’s included in the quote, or if the movers do that for an additional fee.
- Insurance: An additional insurance charge is something consumers should not pay for. Moving companies are required to assume liability for the items they are moving. This either takes the form of full value protection (replacement) or an alternative level of liability (percentage-based).
- Packing labor/supplies: This can be costly, so consumers should understand what they are and are not getting.
- Storage fee: Delays happen. Clients should identify upfront what happens if they cannot take possession at the agreed upon date and time.
- Tips: Often encouraged, but your clients should pay what they’re are comfortable with, not a value the movers are pushing them for.
- Transportation: For international moves, consumers should understand the transport methodology and the associated costs.
- Tolls: Your clients should never pay for the moving company’s tolls. That should be included.
- Weight-Based: This is where a company gives a low quote based on weight estimate but a new and higher price once they drive to the scale and weigh the goods. Another way these movers try to fool customers is by adding weight to the truck before weighing it. A few of the most common approaches are filling up an empty gas tank and adding items or even people to the truck getting weighed. If a consumer suspects this has happened, they should request a reweigh while they’re present.
Trust but verify to ensure movers are being transparent about the fees they are charging to move you or your clients’ property. Moving scams are not something customers should have to concern themselves with, so help them by providing resources they can research so they can choose a reputable moving company.
How to Avoid Moving Scams
Once you know what to look for, spotting bad movers is not as difficult as you would think. It will require a little research but nothing too extensive. Some of the key things your clients can do to avoid moving scams are:
- Online company check: Review their history, reviews, website, and even previous clients if that information is available, and make sure they’re insured.
- Face-to-face quote: Always ensure moving companies come to the house and do a thorough inventory so they can prepare an accurate quote. If they will only provide a quote online or via phone, be concerned and wary!
- Too-good-to-be-true quotes: Consumers should learn the going rate by calling movers. They will find most are within 10% of each other with various options and associated fees. When your clients get a quote that is unrealistically low, it is often a sign the movers are not legitimate or have hidden costs or unfounded open truck/unpack fees.
- Written contracts: If you or your clients want to ensure your legal options can be exercised (and won), make sure any agreement is in writing and breaks down what is and is not provided as well as all costs associated with the move. If you cannot get a written contract or the contract does not itemize the services and fees, avoid the moving company. It is that simple.
Final Moving Scam Advice
The joy and even the angst of relocating should never be made more difficult by hiring the wrong moving company or having to deal with additional costs, hidden fees, or rogue movers. By knowing the signs and vetting both reputable and non-reputable companies, you are setting your customers up for success and helping build trust that can turn them into life-time clients.
Anita Clark is a residential real estate agent with Coldwell Banker SSK, REALTORS®, in Houston County, Ga. She is from Coventry, England, is a retired military spouse, and has been assisting buyers, investors, and sellers in middle Georgia since 2007. Connect with Anita on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, or on her Warner Robins GA Real Estate Blog.