Starting a life in a new home? Then you’ll need to know how to choose movers—and not just any dude with a van, but someone you can trust. After all, these pros will be handling your prized possessions. Before you watch your beloved items disappear into the back of a strange truck, heed this advice from experts on how to read between the lines of moving reviews, check their license and background, and all in all do your due diligence so you can move in and on with your life without a hitch.
1. Check a mover’s license and insurance
Any company that does moves within your state must have a state license to operate—and should be happy to show you proof. If you’re moving out of state, you’ll need a mover who also has a unique license number issued by the United States Department of Transportation (you can search for that here).
On that same website, you can verify that your potential movers are up to date on insurance.
“Never use a moving company without a license number or insurance,” advises Laura McHolm, a moving and storage expert and co-founder of NorthStar Moving, which specializes in eco-luxury moving and storage services. “Think underage, unlicensed teenage driver at the wheel of a semi-truck. Not a good idea, right? Neither is an unlicensed or uninsured bunch of folks who call themselves a moving company or group of dudes who really only do moving as a side job.”
2. Read moving reviews
One way to whittle down your options is to read online moving reviews—on Yelp and other sites—to get a sense of how well (or not) they’ve satisfied clients in the past.
“Don’t just look at the ‘star rating’ but how many reviews a company has,” advises Garrett O’Shea, president and chief marketing officer of PockitShip, a personal on-demand pickup, delivery, and moving company in the DC and Baltimore areas. “If the good ones far outweigh the bad, you can assume they’re reputable.”
Other online tools you can use include Angie’s List, Thumbtack, or Home Advisor.
“These sites typically require you to sign up and, in some cases, pay to be a member, but membership has its privileges,” O’Shea says. For instance, you might score special deals for deeper discounts.
And don’t forget the old school standard, the Better Business Bureau. A quick online search will let you know if your movers have any outstanding complaints.
3. Get an in-house estimate
Although an “over the phone” estimate sounds dreamily convenient, it’s also a red flag. You need an actual human being to take a look at your belongings in real life.
“Not surprisingly, most people are clueless at estimating how much stuff they have,” says Angie Hicks, founder of Angie’s List. “Telling— versus showing—a mover you have a three-bedroom home doesn’t indicate if those rooms are minimally furnished or packed to the gills.”
If a mover insists that an in-person estimate isn’t necessary, it may not have the experience you want.
4. Don’t just go for the cheapest movers
As you start talking to movers, you’ll see that prices vary a lot.
“Like anything else, you typically get what you pay for,” says O’Shea.
To increase the chances of your belongings getting from Point A to Point Z intact, “go with a company that has the proper equipment, packing materials, and know-how,” O’Shea says. Even if a mover initially seems outside your budget, “most times, there’s room to negotiate,” he adds.
Still can’t swallow the cost of full-service movers—but loath to hire a random crew off Craigslist? Not to worry. You still have reputable options. Sites such as HireAHelper and MovingHelp allow you to rent your own moving truck, then carefully choose a crew to assist with the loading and unloading. Problem (carefully) solved!