“Honesty pays, but it don’t seem to pay enough to suit some people.”
The American cartoonist and humorist Frank McKinney “Kin” Hubbard probably wasn’t talking about professional movers when he penned this now famous quote, but if he was, he wasn’t far off the mark. Spring has finally come to much of the continent, and with the warmer weather comes moving season. Thousands of people across the country will re-locate this summer and many of them will spend big bucks hiring a professional moving company to do the job. If you are one of the thousands, you have some big changes ahead of you, and you have at least one big choice. Who can I trust?
We’ve all heard the stories. It always starts out the same way. “These guys were so cheap! I couldn’t believe it. Just $45/hour!” Unfortunately it always ends the same way too. “$800!?! What? It’s been three hours. You said $45 an hour. That should be $135!” You’re in a jam now. All your belongings are on a truck that you don’t own and these movers who were so happy and pleasant just a few minutes ago are starting to look decidedly dangerous. You are either going to part with the eight hundred clams or they are going to drive away with all of your worldly possessions. And don’t even think about calling the police. Chances are you signed a piece of paper at the start of the day that had small print under the small print that says that you are indeed liable for that extra $150 charge for taking your air conditioner out of the window, or the $300 they want because your new place has four stairs leading to the door. Sorry pal. Outta luck.
So what to do? How do you avoid this situation? What are the red flags and how do you spot them? Do not fret, my friend. Presented here, in plain English is a simple list of easy to remember (and terribly cliche rules) for making your moving day a success.
1. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
I told you it was going to be cliche. This simple adage will protect you. It is your shield against the liars and the thieves. Hold it out in front of you proudly and never, never forget it. They will try to blindside you, they will try to slide past your defences. The siren song of saving hundreds of dollars on your moving day will draw you in with it’s sweet melody, but jagged rocks lie ahead, waiting to dash you into a sea of troubles. How do you know if it’s too good to be true? Well…
2. Do the math.
A tried and true policy that you should never go without. The numbers don’t lie. Here is how it works. Your budget moving company has quoted you a price of $45/hour for two men with a nice big truck. Wonderful! Right? Uh… no. Every company has expenses. Anyone who has ever operated a small business venture knows that that list of expenses is often a long one. Moving companies are no exception. The company has to pay for trucks, parking, fuel, other equipment (gloves, ropes, blankets, boxes, etc.), advertising (hey, you had to find them somewhere, right?), possibly an office space, office supplies, phone bills, insurance – the list goes on.
But wait. They haven’t paid for labour yet! The number one most expensive thing on any move is the movers themselves. Let’s say our moving company pays its’ workers minimum wage in Ontario. That’s $10.25/hour (and this is a long shot. the dark side of the moving industry is rife with illegal, unprotected labour making well below minimum). You have two guys working, so make that $20.50 per hour just to pay the guys. That leaves $24.50/hour to pay for everything else. Have you filled a cube van with fuel lately? Doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for profit, does it? Remember, whoever owns this moving company has to make a living wage for themselves too.
“But hold on”, you say. “Even with all the other expenses $24.50 an hour isn’t that bad!” Well. You might be right if you were working 8-10 hours a day 25-28 days of the month. But that ain’t how it works, friend. Everyone wants to move on the last 7 days of the month! The moving company’s busy window is a short one. Long periods of down time mean no money is coming in at all for a good portion of every month. Now honest companies find other ways to survive, including storage, small deliveries and junk removal but it is not easy. These are competitive markets with their own fair share of shady characters.
So here’s the jig in a nutshell. If a company cannot make enough money to survive based on their hourly rate they will find other ways to scam you out of your money. Let me repeat that for impact. THEY WILL FIND OTHER WAYS TO SCAM YOU! Whether they go for the classic bait and switch discussed earlier or they just light finger through your jewelry box when you’re not looking, they are gonna get paid one way or the next. Sad, no?
3. Sorry, cash only.
This one speaks for itself. Every reputable business accepts credit and debit cards. I mean, come on. PayPal at the very least. Cash only should set the alarms ringing.
5. The Devil is in the details.
How did they answer their phone when you called? Did they answer with a grunt and a slightly rude tone? Did they sound overly eager to book your job on the spot? Do they want a large deposit up front? Ding ding ding… the alarms should be ringing. What is their email address? Does it end with @realmovingcompany.com or does it end with @hotmail? Do they have their own website? Look closely. Is it a real honest to goodness website with real pages and design concepts or is it a template hosted by a free service? Look at the pictures on their advertising. Are there pictures of their own trucks with logos on the sides or are there pictures of generic white moving trucks that still have a Stock Photo watermark on them. Will they send a representative to meet with you BEFORE moving day? No? Hmmm… the details will tell the real story.
6. I need to see your papers, please.
Just because someone’s Craigslist ad says they have insurance does not make it true. Just because a Better Business logo appears on a website does not mean that they didn’t just lift it from Google images and slap it up there! Ask to see the original documents! The W.S.I.B issues clearance certificates to valid contractors. Ask to take a look at them. Ask to see a copy of their liability insurance. I’m not saying you need to check the reference numbers against any databases or anything, but most fly by night companies will start to get nervous when you start asking the tough questions. And this brings me to my final point on our little list…
7. If you get a bad feeling, get out.
Remember the first time you walked by that dark alley somewhere in the big city? Probably late at night, maybe had one or two cocktails more than planned and it suddenly got real late, real fast? You know the feeling I mean. Something just wasn’t right. No one had to tell you about it, you just knew. Don’t go down that alley. That’s where bad things happen to good people. Listen to that feeling. If you call your mover and that little voice says “this doesn’t seem right” then get the heck outta there. It’s just not worth it.
So there you go. Advice from the belly of the beast. Moving is a stressful and exciting time. It is a time for new beginnings. It is a time to take stock, clean house and start fresh. If you are one of the thousands of people moving out, moving up or just moving on this summer then congrats, friend and best of luck. Just remember, when you are choosing your mover, keep your head up, your eyes clear, and your ears open. Do your homework and stop to think. You get what you pay for.
I had to get one more cliche in there, didn’t I?