ValueYourMoney.org
Before You Make A Move
The Savvy Consumer

By Teresa McUsic

Moving 101 Resources

  • State regulator: www.txdmv.gov. Movers in the state must be licensed through the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. Search the TxDMV website for its consumer program Donít Make A Move Without Us to see if a mover is licensed, file a complaint or look up your rights.
  • Federal regulator: ww.ProtectYourMove.gov. Created by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, this website covers most aspects of moving, including checking out your movers licensing, complaint and safety record.
  • Industry help: www.MoveRescue.com, 800-832-1773. This program provides free assistance, including moving costs, to consumers who have fallen victim to disreputable moving companies during an interstate move. Sponsored by Mayflower and United Van Lines.
  • Fort Worth Better Business Bureau at www.fwbbb.com

With record home sales in the area, North Texans are literally on the move this summer and likely are not aware that state and federal agencies and laws in place to oversee that cumbersome process.

Single family home sales in the area reached record numbers in May over the past three years with 9,200 homes sold, up 23 percent from a year earlier, according to data from the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University. The average sales price of $180,000 was another record for at least the past ten years, according to the Center.

Topping the hottest sales list for North Texas was south Fort Worth, including the Everman and Forest Hill area; soutsheast Arlington and Grand Prairie, according to data supplied by the North Texas Real Estate Information System.

Along with those record sales means record moving.

Charley Bell, owner of Bell Brothers Moving in Fort Worth, said his crew of nine trucks is booked for most of June and July and the company is starting to take jobs for August.

“If you have a 4,000 or 5,000 square foot house to move and you need it tomorrow night, it would be pretty tough to find a mover right now,” he said. “March was a record month for us and it looks like June is shaping up that way as well.”

Mayflower, one of the largest national movers, reported a 16 percent increase in business in April over the same month a year earlier, said Melissa Sullivan, spokeswoman for the mover.

“It’s the first time we’ve seen really strong growth since the recession,’ she said.

To feed into the demand, new moving companies are popping up in the area overnight, Bell said.

“In the last few months we’ve see new logos on a lot of older trucks,” he said. “But a lot of them will be in for a few months, break a lot of stuff then end up selling the truck.”

Bell said the first thing consumer should do when hiring a mover is check to see if the company is licensed in the state of Texas through the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.

TxDOT reported in May that complaints against illegal movers—those without licenses--in the state were up six percent over the past seven months. The agency is responsible for licensing all movers in the state and overseeing a number of state regulations of the moving industry.

The Fort Worth Better Business Bureau has reported 813 local complaints in the past year from a total of 113 moving companies in the bureau’s database, said Shae Moore, spokesman for the bureau. Most of the complaints concern items getting damaged in a move, she said. The bureau grades companies from A+ to F and consumers can see complaints and reviews on its website, www.fwbbb.org.

Bell said many of the new moving companies will use day laborers untrained in moving instead of a trained, full-time staff, so consumers should ask companies about their labor force as well as how long they have been in business.

TxDOT has a consumer program to educate the public on moving called Don’t Make the Move Without Us on its website, www.txdot.gov. There consumers can look up their mover and check to see if they are licensed, as well as look at their complaint record.

By next year, TxDOT also will include the tariff or rate charts required to be filed to the agency by each company so consumers can compare costs, said Carol Fallin, chief investigator for motor carrier enforcement for the state agency. Most in-state moves are done on an hourly basis, while out-of-state moves are based on weight and distance.

The state regulations for the most part mirror federal regulations of the moving industry, Fallin said. Among them, proposals or estimates are required to be in writing before a move and movers are required to pay a minimum of 60 cents a pound for damaged material. Companies are fined at $5,000 per violation with a cap of $30,000, and movers can receive up to a year in jail after three class misdemeanors, she said.

Violations for interstate travel — regulated by the Department of Transportations’ Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) — are $10,000 apiece, Fallin said.

TxDMV staff is currently being trained by FMCSA to enforce the federal consumer protection regulations, Fallin said. Texas is the third state to enter into a formal agreement with FMCSA to conduct investigations on interstate moving companies, along with Louisiana and Ohio.

Fallin said each complaint to her agency is investigated and action is taken when the agency spots violations. TxDMV also has a mediation process available for consumers who want to try that process before taking a mover to civil court.

In addition to checking for a license, Fallin recommends comparing the number of complaints to the number of vehicles the mover lists to get a good idea of well how the company operates.

For interstate travel, the FMCSA launched its own consumer campaign in April to information the 35 million Americans who move each year how to spot the red flags of fraudulent movers.

The “Protect Your Move” campaign at www.protectyourmove.gov provides information on the federal oversight of the moving industry, as well consumer tips and information on how to pick a mover and get ready for a move. The website also lets you look up a mover by name to check whether they have registered with the FMCSA, as well as take a look at each mover’s complaint and safety record.

The FMCSA database holds 5,800 household goods moving companies on its registry list, including 728 based in Texas. Last year, the federal agency said it received more than 3,100 consumer complaints about household goods movers, up from 2,851 in 2011.
Among the most common complaints are shipments being held hostage for more payment than previously agreed upon; loss, damage or delay of shipments; unauthorized movers; and other deceptive practices, such as overcharges.

For a move out of state, Mayflower and United Van Lines have a program to help consumers caught in a bad move called MoveRescue. Started in 2003, the program offers hands-on help to victims of bad moves, Sullivan said.

“Often victims call us and say they would book online, take the lowest bid estimate, pay a big deposit and then the mover would put everything in the truck and tell them that they had to pay two or three times their estimate or they would store their stuff where they couldn’t find it or auction it,” she said. “Through the MoveRescue program, victims would talk to our legal team and we could get FMCSA involved or transportation attorneys. Once the goods are released, Mayflower agents will deliver them to their destination for free.”

The program has helped more than 2,000 victims of bad moves, Sullivan said.

If you do your homework first, you shouldn’t need this program, though. There are lots of resources out there to find a legitimate mover.

Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net