There was a time when you could move all your stuff with a buddy, a van and a six pack of cheap brews to bribe said friend. But those days are in your rearview mirror. So, like most grown-ups, you will need to hire movers.

A top company should take good care of your possessions while moving them from home A to home B, respecting your time, your spaces and your stuff. Checkbook.org’s ratings of area moving companies will help you find a business that will do a good job.

Through a special arrangement, Star Tribune readers can access Checkbook’s ratings of area moving companies for free through Nov. 5 by visiting Checkbook.org/StarTribune/movers.

Think first about what services you need. You will save a lot of money by doing some or a lot of the work yourself. You will save the most by packing your own stuff. On most local moves, paying a moving company to do all the packing doubles your costs.

For whatever help you need, be sure to get prices from several companies.

Estimates should detail the services to be performed and include an inventory of items to be moved; otherwise, on moving day you may get into a dispute with a mover who wants to charge extra for work you thought the estimate included.

Checkbook’s undercover shoppers collected prices for two local moves and three hypothetical long-distance moves, and for each job found dramatic company-to-company price differences.

For example, quotes to move the contents of a four-bedroom house from Bloomington to Burnsville ranged from $1,700 to $3,600. Prices to move a townhouse from Woodbury to St. Paul ranged from $550 to more than $1,200. To move 10,000 pounds of goods from Minneapolis to Berkeley, Calif., estimates ranged from $7,000 to $14,000.

For intrastate moves of 50 miles or fewer, companies typically charge based on hourly rates for the number of workers and number of hours it takes to pack, load, move and unload household goods. The only way to get a good price is to shop around.

Unfortunately, Minnesota law does not allow movers to offer binding estimates. In fact, it doesn’t even require movers to provide estimates.

If the job takes more time than estimated, a company can charge substantially more than the estimate. This means customers are exposed to the possibility of being lowballed — and hiring a company that has a low estimate when a company with a higher estimate might do the job for less. On the other hand, the law does prohibit movers from charging for more hours than a move actually requires.

For interstate moves, moving companies can and do provide binding-price proposals, if asked. For these moves, companies operate under a tariff system that calculates the cost of moves using weight and mileage, not hours. Company tariffs also stipulate special charges for packing and exceptional matters, such as storage, extra stops and waiting time.

However, a company’s specific tariff rate for a given move is somewhat irrelevant because it can still impose exceptions to its filed tariff rates. Usually a company agrees to discount its tariff rate, or portions of its tariff rate, by a specified percentage. It might, for example, offer a 35% discount for the long-haul part of its charges and a 20% discount for packing.

For long-distance moves, we advise you to get either binding estimates or estimates with a binding maximum.

If you need storage services, or if your goods will be placed into storage while awaiting transfer during a long-distance move, get prices for it and obtain documents indicating where the goods will be stored and check on the charges. If possible, inspect the storage facility. Also get proof that insurance will cover your belongings against theft, fire and other risks while in storage, because insurance for goods in transit won’t cover them during long-term storage.

During your move, be on the scene — and attentive — when your belongings are loaded and unloaded. Make sure the moving company prepares an inventory of your belongings. Carefully read the bill of lading before you sign it. Later, as your goods are unloaded, check the condition of each item. Do not sign anything without first noting any damage that has occurred.

If you find damage after the movers leave, notify the company promptly, and keep the broken items and packing materials as you found them in the box, so the mover’s claims representative can check them.

Finally, when shopping for a mover beware of brokers. Several brokers operate on the internet, often disguising themselves as local-moving outfits. These companies do not own or operate any trucks or employ movers; they simply collect a deposit and arrange for a moving company to handle your move.

The problem with such arrangements is that you have no control over who actually performs the work. Since the broker chooses the mover, you may get stuck with an inferior outfit.

And because the broker typically collects its fee upfront, it may be uninterested in mediating disputes with the mover.

 

Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org is a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. We are supported by consumers and take no money from the service providers we evaluate. See ratings of area carpet stores free of charge until Nov. 5 at Checkbook.org/StarTribune/movers.