Moving Madness

Parry Fletcher, left, and George Sanchez of Hollister Moving and

Most new homeowners have some expectations about the difficulty
of their move. Armed FBI agents aren’t usually part of that
picture, but that’s just the sort of move one Aptos resident
encountered en route to her new home in North Carolina, according
to Doug Halley, owner of Hollister Moving and Storage, an agent of
North American Van Lines.
Halley has owned the Hollister-based business for the last 15
years and has been in the moving business itself for 30 years, but
he was surprised in March 2004, when he received a call from a
frantic customer.
Most new homeowners have some expectations about the difficulty of their move. Armed FBI agents aren’t usually part of that picture, but that’s just the sort of move one Aptos resident encountered en route to her new home in North Carolina, according to Doug Halley, owner of Hollister Moving and Storage, an agent of North American Van Lines.

Halley has owned the Hollister-based business for the last 15 years and has been in the moving business itself for 30 years, but he was surprised in March 2004, when he received a call from a frantic customer.

The Internet-based company Linda Guillory had hired for her cross-country move – a company that had promised to load and ship all of her worldly belongings for just $3,000 – had sent a mover as scheduled.

But after he’d loaded her belongings, he informed her the price would now be $7,000. Later that night, she received a call from the owner of the moving company demanding $27,000 for the move or he wouldn’t release her possessions.

“This woman called me and she was frantic,” said Halley. “She’d come to me for a bid, and I’d told her $12,000, so she was hoping I could take her things from these guys.”

Halley instructed the woman to call the FBI, whose agents would free her goods and arrange for them to be transferred to his truck, but when he arrived at the storage lot to pick up the load, he was in for a surprise.

The San Jose-based contractor refused to give up the woman’s goods, and federal agents were forced to show their firearms before the movers changed their minds.

While this was an extreme scenario, homeowners who don’t do their homework are vulnerable not just to troubles such as extortion, but to a slew of other moving horrors from careless damage to outright theft.

To ensure the safety of your next move, ask questions, do some digging and keep a level head because having a little common sense is the key to hiring the best mover for your family, local experts said.

Moving may seem like an overwhelming and frightening task, but the first thing to do is to remember that the moving business is a business nonetheless with costs, overhead and policies just like most industries.

And like most industries, there are varying levels of quality among movers. Some are licensed. Some are not. Some conduct thorough background investigations of all employees, while others hire those with checkered pasts, and it’s up to the homeowners to choose the company that they feel will serve them best.

“The only thing I can tell you is, don’t go with the lowest bid,” said John Krogen, vice president of Morgan Hill Moving and Storage. “People today usually always take the lowest bid, but it’s like when you buy a car. If you can buy a car for $6,000 or $20,000, which one do you think is going to be the better car?”

Internet companies often offer far cheaper bids than brick-and-mortar facilities, but there is also no guarantee that they will do the shipping themselves.

Often, online movers contract with other moving companies, which may not abide by the terms of the moving contract. Also, most movers base their rates on per-pound charges, which are impossible to measure without a visual inspection of a homeowner’s property, said Halley.

“Right now there is legislation being proposed that would keep movers from being able to make contracts over the Internet,” said Halley, former president for his local chapter of the California Moving and Storage Association. “That’s the biggest problem right now, and the way this works, it will still be possible to work with an owner on the Internet, but it will have to be based on a visual inspection, which is the only way to really tell what kind of costs you’re talking about.”

Homeowners should interview more than one mover, said Halley, but they are most likely to find the mover they will end up using through referral rather than the yellow pages, he added.

Friends and neighbors are good sources for this type of information, but real estate agents are perhaps a homeowner’s best resource in choosing a mover since they hear about different local companies from new homeowners nearly every time they sell a home, Halley said.

Gather three to four estimates from reputable movers, advised Halley, who recommended homeowners obtain their mover’s California Public Utilities Commission

license number to run by the PUC as well as monitoring groups like the Better Business Bureau.

This is no guarantee that homeowners will be happy with their service, but it is a good starting point. Here are some of the other things homeowners may want to ask potential movers about:

Moving Policies

While most homeowners may see the benefit of getting an estimate before their move, many do not realize that they can also ask for another price: the company’s “guaranteed not to exceed” rate.

This will tell homeowners just how much they could be required to pay in order to get their belongings back, and it should be negotiated and placed in the contract before the move, said Halley.

Another option: homeowners can also ask for a binding contract prior to the move, stipulating a single, fixed price before the truck is ever loaded, according to the Better Business Bureau.

Homeowners should also get an inventory of all household goods to be shipped, making sure all copies are complete and legible.

Insurance Policies

Shipping companies in California carry what is known as “minimal value coverage” on all the goods they transport. However, a company’s liability is limited under this form of insurance to a maximum reimbursement of $0.60 per pound, said Halley.

“That’s dangerous,” he said. “A 100-pound color TV set, if it’s dropped or destroyed, would only give a customer $60. You can buy valuation protection, which covers your belongings, either at full value or with depreciation, but depreciation on a 5-year-old TV set is about 80 percent, so that form is really no better than the minimum.”

Hiring Policies

Not everyone does complete criminal background investigations on employees, said Halley.

Some movers hire from a federally subsidized employment pool, exposing your most precious possessions to recently paroled inmates and drug offenders.

Others simply don’t pay for decent background checks, which can mean a lot of unsuitable candidates get through the cracks.

“We do background checks on all employees, and we turn away about 50 percent of the people who apply to work for us,” said Halley.

Testing Policies

California law requires moving companies to drug test moving van drivers, but not packers or helpers. To safeguard your valuables, Halley also recommended homeowners ask whether or not they drug test all of their employees or just drivers.

And once a mover has been selected, there is still plenty of work to be done. Packing shouldn’t be on the your list if you plan on going far, said Krogen.

“Most people don’t know how to pack, especially for long distances,” Krogen said. “They think they can just throw things in a box, but you can’t do that, and if you’re not used to packing it’s cheaper to have a mover do it in the end than to have half your dishes break before you ever get them out of the box.”

If you must pack your own belongings, be sure to stand breakable items like dishes on end so they will not be crushed under their own weight as easily, said Krogen.

It also helps to have a partner in the packing process, said Realtor Kathy Marinsik of Coldwell Banker.

“We give our clients a moving checklist, which is kind of a helpful countdown for a successful move,” said Marinsik. “During a 30 day escrow, you want to start at the beginning because you don’t want to leave all of the packing to the last minute.”

Marinsik suggested gathering important legal documents and other valuables before movers arrive and keeping those items with you during the course of the move.

It’s also important to create an “open first” box with all of the really important items for the first few nights in your new home, she said.

This kit can include toiletries, clothing, bed linens and medications as well as fasteners and hand tools that may be necessary for putting large pieces of furniture back together.

“One of the big things that also forget is to transfer services,” said Marinsik. “You should call at least a week ahead of time to make sure that your power and water and all that get shut off at the right time, and that the utilities and cable get turned on in your new place. And you also need to file a change of address.”

Don’t worry about going to the post office, though. These days you can fill out the form online at www.usps.com.

For more tips on a successful move, visit www.century21 .com/learn and click on the link labeled “Learning about Moving and Relocation.”

Moving your pets

The boxes, the stress and the frenzied activity: Moving may all be too much for your pets, and drugging your animals may be more of an extreme measure than is necessary, according to Deleta Jones, a trainer at Gilroy Veterinary Hospital.

“People tend to drug way too quickly,” said Jones. “Most of the time you’re better off just putting them somewhere that is secure or removed during your move.”

Pet owners may do well to crate their animals, board them at a care facility, leave them with a relative or lock them in the bathroom – with, of course, appropriate supplies and facilities – while boxes are being packed and loaded, said Jones.

“All the packing and the moving and the people in and out is going to get them in a turmoil, and if you’re stressed, the animal is also going to be stressed,” she said. “The quieter and more calm you can keep the environment for the cat or dog, the more calm they’re going to be once you do move them to the new place.”

Jones recommends crating or keeping animals in a confined space for the first 72 hours after they are moved to a new location to allow them to adjust to the stresses, smells and ambient sounds of the new locale.

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