- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

It's moving day and your friends promised to help with the hard work, but only half the crew shows up an hour later than they said they would and they start by rummaging through the ice box for a few beers before getting started. It's OK because your friend who has the truck still hasn't arrived.

Sound too familiar? Maybe you should consider hiring professionals for your move. It might be worth it if you value your prized possessions, local movers say.

Estimates for moves within the D.C. metropolitan area range from as low as $500 for a two-bedroom apartment in the District to more than $2,000 for a larger home in Virginia or Maryland. Some movers charge an hourly rate. Others provide estimates based on the weight of the furniture and the distance of the move.

If you are moving cross-country, estimates are usually calculated by using a table that matches up the current ZIP code and the destination ZIP code. A move from Virginia to California might cost as much as $9,500, but that money pays for a packing and moving experience and peace of mind.

Maureen Cameron, marketing director for Interstate Worldwide Relocation in Springfield, says her company realizes that "moving is not just a truck, friends and a six-pack."

All movers and packers with Interstate Worldwide Relocation complete an intense 40-hour training session to ensure that they can effectively pack and handle all items. New employees are trained in an innovative "talking training house" that simulates the moving experience and alerts movers if they drop any items or bump them up against the wall. This focused training is essential because company officials "want to ensure that your life's treasures get to where they need to, unharmed," says Mrs. Cameron.

Smaller moving companies might not have the cutting-edge technology, but they hope to score points with quality customer service and a quick response time.

Stuart Johnson, office manager of Ellen's Movers in Hyattsville, says the customer interaction with a smaller company is "more personable" because you know with whom you are dealing. He also points out that smaller companies often can work on shorter notice.

"They [larger movers] can tell you it will be 45 days to pick up and 45 days to deliver … we are more accommodating," Mr. Johnson says. "Because we don't do as much long-distance moving, we can come the day that you want."

Whether dealing with a small or a large company, most professional movers provide a free in-home estimate and walk the potential customer through the move. This helps a homeowner determine what will be packed and moved and what will be left behind.

Bud Morrissette, chief operating officer of Interstate Worldwide Relocation explains that, if customers haven't decided whether to pack their own items, or how much furniture they will be moving, they might find it worthwhile to ask for an hourly rate and an estimate of how long the move should take.

International Worldwide Relocation charges $95 to $100 per hour for three movers and a van. For educated customers who have already decided exactly what they will be moving, the company can provide a fixed contract to meet their needs.

All movers are required to provide basic transit protection during the move at a rate of 60 cents per pound per item. Clients can customize the type of protection they want based on the value of their goods, says Mr. Morrissette. Most movers offer full value replacement protection or depreciated protection, based on an industry standard depreciation schedule.

Packing is a factor that can also significantly impact the total costs of moving. Tom Grass, vice president of Thomas AAA Moving and Storage in Gaithersburg, explains that packing is labor intensive and can account for up to 80 percent of the cost of the move. When providing estimates, he breaks down costs by packing material, packing labor, and moving.

"We let customers pick a la carte," he says. "We'll do as little or as much packing as they want. Many people want that luxury, but some just can't afford it."

David Sparkman, vice president for communications at the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA) based in Alexandria, urges consumers to educate themselves and be selective before deciding on a professional mover, rather that just going with the lowest estimate.

"If the movers are moving a grandfather clock that has been in your family for four generations, would you choose 'Joe's moving company,' simply because they give you the lowest bid?" he asks.

When researching a moving company, Mr. Sparkman says that consumers should consider the rates and charges that will apply, the mover's policy for liability for your belongings, how pickup and delivery will work, and how the movers handle claims.

Mr. Sparkman says the most important factor to consider when selecting a moving company is how the company handles claims and complaints.

The interstate moving industry is largely unregulated, Mr. Sparkman points out, but companies that are registered with the AMSA agree to higher levels of consumer protection, he says.

Most important, they agree to arbitrate disputes of up to $5,000 arising from loss or damage to the articles in your shipment, he says.

Not all movers participate in this program.

Michael Wentworth, marketing representative and estimator for Gulliver's Movers in Alexandria, agrees that having all of the facts before choosing a mover is essential.

"There can be many gimmicks and hidden charges," he says. For example, a company may charge a flat rate per pound, but then add costs for navigating furniture up stairs.

Gulliver's Movers caters to customers with more valuable belongings that might include antiques, pianos, and electronics. The firm uses a wide variety of preparation techniques to ensure that high-ticket items are protected during the move.

Mr. Wentworth says the company normally charges $1,500-$2,000 to move a single-family home with two to three bedrooms, not including packing.

He says that he sometimes loses customers because of higher prices, but he points out that his priority is to provide customers with realistic estimates for a quality move.

"You get what you pay for," Mr. Wentworth says.

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