Summer is peak moving season. An estimated 45% percent of all moves are made between May and august. While many professional movers do their jobs with the professionalism and honesty that you would expect, there are also some bad actors in the moving industry who will take advantage of you.
This is how I moved from Texas to Washington State, losing $2,500 in the process and six weeks of sleep. And what I would have done differently next time.
Why I finally hired movers
In the last 10 years I have moved 12 times. I moved a lot in my life and have changed addresses a dozen times over the past 10 years. When it came time for my second cross country move in June 2022 I decided to give up the DIY moving lifestyle. In my 30s, I wanted to hire people to ship and pack my belongings for me. Renting a UHaul for someone who weighs 100 pounds and has no truck driving skills was not an option.
The decision was made more out of comfort than financial considerations. I estimated the value of all the furniture and other items I would need to move to Washington at less than $4,000. This was the amount I expected to spend for the move. It would have been easier to sell or donate my modestly priced possessions, but I couldn't bear the idea of replacing everything. This would have meant living in an empty flat for a very long time.
The best is not good enough.
I began calling the moving companies that I found on Google by searching "best moving companies" in December 2021. I received quotes that were north of $8,000. After comparing them, it became clear to me that the best was not within my budget. I posted my information on an online broker with glowing reviews, and let the movers compete for my business.
They fought me, sending me emails and calls. I chose a moving firm that offered me a quote for $4,100, and had decent customer service compared to other movers. I paid a deposit of $1,700 and was reassured by the fact that they accepted credit cards. If something went wrong, I was able to dispute the transaction.
I didn't know that a large deposit is a warning sign.
The world is falling apart
It's been almost five months. Two days before my scheduled pick-up, it was late May. The moving company told me that the price of gas had increased and it would be more costly to move. Although I was not happy with the news, I agreed to pay an additional $250 for my move. I didn't have time to search for another company.
I called a few days prior to the pickup date and asked for information such as the arrival time of the movers and their contact details. I called the customer service agent, who was unable to answer any of my questions. They told me to wait while sounding frustrated. The moving truck finally arrived on the day the pickup was scheduled. It was a surprise to me that the moving truck was not from the company I had hired but rather from another set of movers (I found out later that the original company is just a broker).
They looked at my belongings and furniture, and said that the person who spoke to me on the phone had underestimated the amount of space my items would require on the truck. The movers then gave me a quote for $6,200. This was $2,000 higher than the price I had been quoted in January.
I felt my heart drop straight into my stomach. My flight to Seattle in two days was so close that I had to get my belongings out of my apartment. I did not have the money to pay for the pick-up ($2,160), and the movers only accepted wire transfers or checks.
After feeling miserable and broke I convinced them to take two checks. One for $1,800, which they cashed that day, and one for $360, which they cashed a few weeks later, when the check wouldn't bounce. They said the move would last a week or so.
I tried to comfort myself by thinking that, even though I had blown through my budget straight away, I would soon have my possessions with me back in Seattle.
I am so naive.
How I lost $400 and gained a large oil stain
The movers cashed in the first check of $1,800 on the day they picked up the goods and the second check, for $360, two weeks later, as promised.
They cashed it again, but this time they messed up the check number.
I tried to call the company who picked up my items but was never able to get through. When I called the broker, which I initially thought was the moving firm, I was given an email. I tried to contact the movers using this email address. After waiting for several days and becoming frustrated, I called Chase to explain what happened. The bank representative reversed the charge after a 10-minute discussion.
The movers returned to the phone a short time later and appeared confused, but profusely apologized. The two-week deadline had passed, so I called to ask where my items were. They hadn't found a truck for my move.
It turned out that when the movers moved my belongings from my old apartment to a storage unit, they were only moving them. Then, I had to wait until a pickup where a truck would pick up my things and transport them to Washington State.
The moving contract was a painful read, but I remembered that the carrier would have 30 days to complete the delivery. It was true with one caveat. The moving contract stated that the carrier had 30 days to deliver. This meant that the latest date of delivery was close to mid-July.
Over five weeks I slept and ate on the floor. I called the moving company repeatedly without success. Online, I found horror stories similar to mine. They couldn't contact the carrier and waited weeks for their items. In addition, they were overcharged over a third the original price. When their items finally arrived, they were broken or missing.
On the 29th day of business, the truck showed up. I was so relieved that I wanted to cry. When the driver arrived at my neighborhood, he shouted to me that his truck could not make it into my road. I was irritated as I had never been before and told him I didn't know it was my job to find out what type of truck he owned and plan a route. He shouted a bit more, and then said he would reload all my stuff onto a smaller vehicle for $400.
I was no longer surprised. I paid for the service, which included the extra fee, and then let the man load my stuff. My dining room table was covered in a large oily stain. My bookcase appeared to be about to break in half. My TV stand was so wobbly that it was obvious no TV could ever be safely placed on it again. As I unpacked boxes, I found things that did not belong to me.
It was simply too expensive to claim any compensation for my damaged furniture, so I let it be. I was ready to move on from the whole experience. It was a lesson learned that dealing with movers when moving across country is not worth it unless you have an entire house of investment furniture and money to pay for a reputable firm.
What I should have instead done
It would have been better to sell my cheap furniture before moving, even though I was adamant about not doing so.
I spent more money on my move than the value of my possessions. Even a year after that, as a personal finance journalist, I still feel bad about it.
If I could go in time, I would still save the same amount of cash and ship my vehicle to Seattle. (This process was thankfully painless and fast). I would then mail my valuables and get rid of the rest, before applying for a credit card.
I had done something similar in the past. Everything I owned was able to fit into the back seat of my car when I moved from California to Texas. I had to purchase everything from a bed, to a paper-towel holder, to kitchen utensils. I decided to sign up for Discover it(r), which offers a 0% APR. I spent most of my money on Amazon, where the card offered 5% cash back in the fall (upto $1,500 per quarter). I received some cash and paid off the balance in a few short months.
Had I decided to hire movers instead, I would have used some of the money saved for card rewards. You can earn a bonus by spending a lot of money you will be able to pay back right away. As of this writing, you could get 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 in your first three months on purchases with the Chase Sapphire Card. This is $750 when redeeming through Chase's Travel Portal.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card was already mine, so I wasn't entitled to the welcome bonus. My Affinity Visa(r), Signature card earns 5% on Amazon purchases up to $3500 per month. If I spend $3,000 furnishing my apartment in Seattle, I would earn $150 cash back. This will save me $2,500 that I could have spent on an expensive move.