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Most people would say that “value for money” is the most important factor in choosing movers. Unfortunately, most people don’t have a whole lot of experience when it comes to assessing the value they are getting from a moving company.
One of the biggest mistakes a consumer can make when choosing a moving company is basing their decision on an estimated cost or hourly rate. These are arbitrary figures that rarely reflect the actual cost or effectiveness of a moving service. It is decisions based on these factors alone that have led to the majority of the widely publicized horror stories of the moving industry. In the end, the actual cost of a move can be much more than the just the total on the moving bill. Being informed is the consumer’s best measure to guard against being taken advantage of and to ensure a successful move.
The moving industry is largely unregulated in Canada and attracts a wide array of rogue, fly-by-night operators and unethical, opportunistic business models. Since moving is something most people don’t do on a regular basis, many companies in the moving industry view consumers as a passing target that they are not likely to do business with again. It is not uncommon for jobs to be “stretched out”, hidden fees to be tacked on, or even to have belongings go missing. The fact that most moving contracts give the moving company the legal right to keep a consumer’s belongings on the truck until they have paid, puts the customer at even further disadvantage should any of these issues arise.
Estimates are seldom accurate in the moving industry and are almost impossible to enforce. This is because the scope of the work to be performed is variable. Unless the moving company is handling the entire relocation process, including all packing and unpacking, and the consumer is not going to be in either the origin or destination locations from the time of the estimate until after the move is complete, there are just far too many factors that can affect the moving process. The moving company can easily claim that the situation is not the same as it was at the time of the estimate. They can claim the customer moved furniture around, wasn’t properly prepared, did a poor job packing boxes, packed more boxes than should have been expected, failed to mention some furniture, and the list goes on. There is always a way to blame inflated costs on the customer or circumstances outside of the movers’ control. Less than scrupulous moving companies and estimators will use this to their advantage, allowing them to “lowball” the cost of the move in order to secure the booking.
Hourly rates are another completely relative factor that can often leave consumers upset with the final bill. As with most products and services, costs are usually associated with a level of quality lending to the common saying “you get what you pay for”. While this is not always accurate, it usually does hold true in the moving industry. Most moving companies compete on price because the majority of consumers don’t know to look for more than that. In order to compete on price, they have to find ways to lower their overhead. Considering that labour is a very large part of operating costs for moving companies, it is usually one of the first areas they look to in an effort to cut costs. It is for this reason that most moving companies hire “swampers” to assist the driver with the move. The term “swampers” refers to general labour, day labour, part-timers, or just overall less experienced movers. They are usually paid significantly less than professional, full time movers and are often paid cash as temp labour. Less experienced movers will often result in moves taking longer, less professional handling of furniture, and a higher rate of damage to homes and belongings. These companies will also often skimp on equipment and supplies in an effort to further reduce costs. In comparison, a company that employs only full-time professional movers, professionally wraps all furniture, and spends money on proper equipment, will almost always be more efficient and present a much lower risk of damage. When taking these factors into account, a professional company charging $190 per hour for a 3-man crew could end up costing significantly less than a non-professional company charging $150 per hour for the same size crew.
Other things to consider when weighing value for money are insurance coverage and additional measures taken to protect your home and belongings. These two things usually go hand-in-hand. The more liable the moving company is for damages, the more they are likely to spend on experienced labour, proper equipment and supplies in order to mitigate that risk. A moving company offering full replacement value coverage through their actual insurance (very rare) is going to ensure that a full team of professional movers protects floors with runners, bags mattresses, and wraps every piece of furniture before it leaves the house. Companies offering “basic coverage” (essentially uninsured) or “protection” (in house coverage – not insurance), are less likely to spend as much on preventing damage as they have less financial risk involved. More on insurance versus protection here.
Before comparing the value companies have to offer, consumers should ensure that they are comparing legitimate and reputable companies. Checking with the Better Business Bureau should be every consumer’s first stop when it comes to researching the reputation of moving companies or any home service provider. Accredited members of the BBB have agreed to be bound by arbitration in cases of disagreement between the service provider and the customer. This is a consumer’s best chance of recourse in situations where they feel they have not received the service they paid for or that the company has not acted in good faith. Unlike reviews on Google and most other websites, the BBB website is also an excellent source of verified reviews. Another excellent reference is the Canadian Association of Movers. Members of CAM have proven they are incorporated companies (not just a website), registered with WSIB (Workplace Safety and insurance Board), properly insured (cargo and liability), and must follow a code of conduct which is intended to protect consumers. While membership with the BBB and CAM are definitely important things to look for in a moving company, it should be noted that the intent of these organizations is to protect consumers, not to rate companies on their level of service. For example, you can have a junk removal company, a student moving company, and a high end moving company that are all rated A+ with the BBB but they are all going to offer different levels of service.