A smiling cross-country mover wearing a uniform is reaching for the box while unloading the van full of boxes.

Placing your possessions in the hands of a cross-country mover takes trust, so do your research (Photo credit: Leika Production)

So, you and your family have finally decided to move cross-country. Thousands of miles away, your new home is waiting for you, and you’re trying to organize things.

Over the years, you’ve collected many essential things, some furniture you genuinely love, and perhaps some valuable or antique items. Not to mention all the necessary things you use every day, like clothing for yourself and the kids, dishes, televisions, and towels … once you start writing down the list, it goes on for pages.

You need a cross-country mover to help you out. But it can’t be just anyone. So, how do you find a cross-country mover?

This article will give you all the information you need to find a cross-country mover. Livabl spoke to Steven McKenna, the vice president, and general manager of Allied Van Lines, for some insight on cross-country moving and how to select the best and most reputable mover for your needs.

What should a person be looking for in a cross-country mover?

“First and foremost, the carrier should be licensed by the Department of Transportation. There should be a DOT number associated with the carrier they choose. All too often, folks will pick up a paper or see an internet ad claiming that the carrier is low-cost. People will respond to that, but they’re actually responding to a broker. And then that broker turns around and sells that opportunity to a carrier. The customer should ensure they work with a licensed carrier for the service.”

Remember that while virtually all movers will do online quotes for you, you also want to be sure that your long-distance mover will send an agent out to survey all your goods moving to your new home. The in-home surveys will be an excellent opportunity to sift through the candidates until you find the right mover for you.

Stay away from any company that refuses to visit your home for accurate price calculations and instead insists on providing you with estimates over the phone or via email. During the ongoing in-house survey, be sure to show the representatives of the cross-country moving companies all household items and personal belongings that you intend to move, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

What should they be looking for in terms of insurance availability?

“In the transportation costs, by law, there’s an amount available to be used in claims. But most carriers in the US will provide a product called full value coverage, meaning that if an item worth $100, unfortunately, gets damaged. We will replace that item at the replacement cost. By law, the other base coverages included in the transportation costs only cover 60 cents per pound. So, if an item weighed 100 pounds, the limit of our liability would be $6. So, we highly encourage customers to accept a full valuation or full value coverage product. If there is damage, the item will be repaired or replaced to its original state.”

“For high-value items, we ask that they be identified separately on the inventory, and we have a document for them. But there, they are all covered under the product. The customer can buy more coverage if there are extremely high-value items. We still highly encourage folks to take their other coin collections and things like that, put them in the car, and drive them to their destination.”

Movers must accept liability for your items while they have the shipment, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be reimbursed for replacing an item if it is damaged during the move. Your written moving estimate should specify the moving insurance coverage the mover will provide. If you can’t identify it, ask right away.

Remember: Different laws and regulations come into play with long-distance moves across state lines. If you want more information on the legalities of interstate moves, visit the U.S. Department of Transportation FMCSA website on moving.

How does a moving company calculate costs?

“It’s based on distance and weight. So, typically in our company, we offer a guaranteed price. A consultant would come to your home and estimate the requirements, or we do those surveys virtually. So, either way, we take a survey of the home and what the moving requirements will be.”

“And then based on that, there’s an estimate of the weight determined, so we go to the house and identify all the big items. Then we use historical item size calculations to come up with an estimated weight. Finally, we provide a guaranteed price to the customer based on that weight. And then obviously the distance is the other component to it.”

What about packing services?

“We offer services like packing for a customer. So, a local agent can provide packing, which comes in various forms. A customer may want us to pack everything, or they may just want us to pack what would be considered fragile items, such as the kitchen curio cabinets and things like that. Meanwhile, the customer chooses to take care of stuff in their desk drawers, clothing, and things of that nature. So, it can be the level of service that can be adjusted based on the customer’s needs. Frankly, that’s a way for the customer to save a few dollars by handling some of those things.”

Most large moving companies offer packing services. You’ll pay a premium for this option, but it may be worth the price if you have limited mobility or you’re looking for a less stressful move. All fees for packing services and materials should be listed on the estimate. You can have the company box everything or only specific items. Some moving companies charge per item, while others charge per hour.

Discuss this with the moving company if you need to move any other cumbersome items (a piano would qualify here). If you choose a smaller or independent mover, they may not be capable of handling these items, and those that are will likely charge an additional fee. These items should be listed on your moving inventory with a special note if there’ll be an extra charge for moving them.

What should customers be aware of in the fine print of their contract?

“A lot of it centers on the custody control of the shipment. So, the customer would have a bill of lading that they would have to sign. That acknowledges that the carrier is now taking custody of the shipment. And that bill of lading would include the service’s price, the shipment’s valuation, and the insurance coverage on the shipment. It will also include service guarantees or service promises in terms of delivery.”

“That bill of lading is the contract between the customer and us. It does center on the claim’s liability and custody, transfer custody of the goods until it’s handed back to the customer at the destination. There are acts of God that come into play, and the government regulates those. There are opportunities to minimize super catastrophic losses in a flood or hurricane. But other than that, there’s no secret surprises or gotchas.”

Here’s something to keep in mind: If something unexpected happens and you need to suddenly change the date of your move or decide to take more items than you originally planned, you might incur additional fees. Though most companies can accommodate last-minute changes, these adjustments might mean a company has to change strategies about timing and require additional movers to help. Always ask in advance, especially if you might have to deal with some time changes during the move.

Who is the customer’s point of contact once the move is underway?

“Once the order is placed with an Allied agent, that local agent will be the point of contact for the customer. The driver may or may not be with that particular agent. Still, they’re an Allied driver, so the customer service point has all the information and contacts to keep up with where the shipment is located and the final schedule to the destination. So, there’s a sales agent who plays the customer service support role.”

What pitfalls do you need to be aware of during a cross-country move?

“Unfortunately, folks in this world try to take advantage of people. Customers need to be diligent about whom they choose to engage with when it comes to moving companies. At our industry level. We have a professional mover certification. That means an agent, moving company, or carrier needs to meet certain qualifications.”
“That involves safety, being rated by the Better Business Bureau, and things of that nature. Are they actually licensed? Are they a member in good standing, and are they designated a pro mover? So, that’s a great first step for folks to look for. They can also go to the American Trucking Association’s Moving and Storage Conference website, which will list all the members of that trade association.”

“For the customer, foremost, it’s about whom they’re going to do business with when it’s time to move their home across the country. It’s easy to be attracted by the lowest price that you might see on an internet ad, but don’t fall for these tricks. Some of the less-than-scrupulous folks will frequently encounter a mover who will claim your move will cost $1,500 between these points. Then they load up the truck and say, ‘Oh, hey, this is much heavier than we thought.’ Then the bill when everyone gets to the destination will be $5,000.”

“That’s the kind of behavior that gets the moving business a bad reputation. That behavior is not done by professional movers like Allied, North American, United, Atlas, and other businesses that are our chief competitors.”

“We highly encourage folks to get multiple estimates. Estimating the weight of a shipment is not an exact science. So, there are different ways that can be done and different approaches by different companies. We encourage customers to get at least two or maybe even three estimates if they have the time. It helps them and gives them a good understanding of the professional cost.”

“Beyond that, it’s just maintaining contact with your provider. Make sure you understand the schedule and how to be prepared and do what you have committed to do in advance. Like any professional mover, Allied and others will give the customer a great checklist to be prepared for the day.”

Remember that you shouldn’t go with the first mover you find. Multiple quotes are the right way to go before deciding. Talk to friends, family, and neighbors who have moved in the last few years. Go online and seek out reviews of the companies you’re considering.

Here’s something you should know: If you’re moving across state lines, your mover must follow the rules established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). These rules say interstate movers must provide written estimates and that if you’re moving from within 50 miles of the mover’s (or broker’s) location, they must base the estimate on a physical survey of your belongings unless you waive the requirement in writing.

What about extra charges?

“When it comes to charging extra for movers to climb many stairs, we have not had those unique pricing structures for many years. There are some unusual circumstances. Sometimes we must use a shuttle — that’s when we use a smaller truck because the big truck can’t get close enough to the origin. But that would be identified by the sales agent. And with Allied’s pricing, if that service is required at the destination, then that customer is not charged additionally for that service.”

“We have a means of compensating the provider for doing that work without burdening the customer with a surprise bill of hundreds of dollars at the destination. Sometimes there are unique circumstances, and the sales agent will let the customer know that we’re going to add a few more dollars because we need extra workers or additional time, given the circumstances of the location. But all that would be clearly spelled out in our guaranteed price structure.”

Do your homework to spare the headaches

Doing proper advanced research on cross-country movers will likely save you much grief. Never hesitate to ask friends and neighbors who have moved recently about their experiences. While a mover may look good on paper, someone’s personal experience could prove otherwise. Keep getting those quotes while you have the time — three is a good number to aim for so you can compare costs and choose the mover that’s right for you.

Online reviews can also be a good guide, but don’t forget to trust your gut when the movers come for their in-person quote. How professional did the moving company seem? Do they have a good reputation? Do they have a brick-and-mortar office and a professional moving truck? Do they have business cards and a professional website? Did the mover arrive promptly and answer all questions before, during, and after the inspection? Did they provide you with an official bill of lading? Did something just feel off? Ask yourself these types of questions before hiring a moving company.

Also, be sure to quiz the mover about their experiences with your kind of move. For instance, if you’re moving to a high-rise apartment building, a townhome with lots of steps, a house with a small doorway, or a busy street, you should inquire whether the moving company has experience with the type of move. An experienced mover will be well-prepared to handle a move with steep stairs, elevators, parking limitations, and more.

A reputable and trustworthy cross-country mover will never hesitate to answer any of your questions. They will spell everything out for you, with no hidden surprises, and their customer support will keep you in the loop to let you know when all your worldly goods have arrived safely. Moving is chaotic, but a quality cross-country mover will help the experience go a lot easier.

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