- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Moving eight times in nine years gave Seth Weizel a good sense of what moving day is all about.
Even someone as savvy as Mr. Weizel can make a rookie mistake, a fact that makes moving one of life's stickiest stressors.
Whether aided by friends or professional laborers, moving is never a simple task. Late trucks, broken valuables and hidden costs can ratchet up the stress levels and the move's final price tag.
For his previous move to Leesburg, Va., Mr. Weizel, 31, secured a reputable mover weeks in advance. Shortly before moving day, he found a flier left on his door advertising a moving company with much lower rates. He canceled the first mover and went with the second.
The day of the move, two men with an unmarked truck arrived and told him the move would cost much more than the estimate. Mr. Weizel stood his ground on the original figures, but the movers later dropped one of his boxes, breaking several items.
"It was a nightmare," he says.
For his current move to Vienna he is living temporarily in the District he stuck with a reputable mover but fell victim to fine print.
The movers charged him nearly $400 extra for packing services, such as shrink-wrapping delicate items, nearly doubling the cost of the move.
"People should get it in writing beforehand," Mr. Weizel says. "The estimate did say packing materials are extra, but it was buried down on the bottom."
A reputable mover offers either binding or nonbinding estimates. The former guarantees the cost of the move.
Kiran Dixit moved just a few miles from her Rockville home to a town house last week. Moving 15 times during the past nine years taught her not to get too attached to material goods.
"I don't have things that I have to have with me. If I crash them, I don't feel bad about it," Ms. Dixit says. "It's just realizing anything I haven't used in a year, I throw away."
Still, some of her goods, including a collection of fine china, forced her to find a trustworthy moving company.
For last week's move, Ms. Dixit did an online search to find a local mover, but her research didn't stop there. "I screened them," she says. "I requested they meet me and they come see what I have."
Joe Hein, owner of Finch Moving Co. in Gaithersburg, says a good mover will eyeball a home in person before settling on a price. "Don't let anybody give you a price over the phone without taking a look," Mr. Hein says.
Each home is different, as are its contents, and only a personal inspection can accurately gauge what a move will entail.
Mr. Hein says a quality mover will be certified by the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA), based in Alexandria.
Otherwise, he says, anyone can use a large truck and a few laborers and claim to be a professional mover. That person may know nothing about how to move a client's valuables properly and safely.
David Sparkman, AMSA's vice president of communications, says a certified mover offers complete written estimates, responds to complaints quickly and completes the work in a timely fashion.
Mr. Sparkman suggests that consumers not pick a moving company based on the size of its Yellow Pages advertisement. Also, if several movers offer estimates within a certain price range and another mover's price tag is about half that amount, be wary.
He says such movers may invent add-on costs on the day of the move, as was the case with Mr. Weizel's move, or prove less than graceful in their moving methods.
His association's Web site (www.moving.org) recently created a mover referral service to link people with certified companies. For no charge, visitors can plug in their origin and destination and receive a list of certified movers who cover that terrain.
Anyone considering a move should begin making arrangements at least four to six weeks before the moving date, the association recommends.
People move most often from May through September, so anyone moving during those months might want to set aside even more time for the move.
Anyone dealing with a professional mover is covered by a very limited insurance policy at no extra cost. Under the U.S. Department of Transportation's Surface Transportation Board, the consumer is insured at no cost for 60 cents per pound per item being moved. A damaged 10-pound television worth $200 would be covered up to $6 by the mover (10 pounds multiplied by 60 cents).
Consumers can opt for more comprehensive coverage for escalating prices.
On the days before the move, Mr. Hein suggests keeping plastic bags handy to gather any bolts or screws left behind when furniture is disassembled.
John Carey, owner of Transition Movers in Annandale, says using the right bag or box for the right home item can make for a smooth, pain-free move. Garbage bags might seem like a good option for packing clothes and linens, he says, but people tend to overstuff those bags, which later break during transit.
It helps when homeowners take a realistic view of the task at hand, Mr. Carey says.
"Sometimes people think movers [will] take care of everything," he says. "Although we're professionals, we can't make that armoire go up the stairs. If it doesn't fit, it doesn't fit."
A common mistake people make is underestimating the amount of goods they have to move. "They give you a list of all their furniture but not how many chairs they have. [Chairs] are very bulky and don't pack well in trucks," Mr. Carey says.
The best way to avoid moving-day nightmares is to prepare well in advance of the move. Remove unneeded items, secure boxes marked "fragile" and tape the bottom of boxes, not just the tops.
Moving means having enough boxes on hand to store all those valuables.
If someone needs a few extra boxes, the local grocery store often can supply them, Mr. Carey says. (Be sure to check that the boxes contained dry goods and not produce.)
If the store can't help, he suggests asking the moving company for more boxes or visiting Mail Boxes Etc., Parcel Plus or Staples.
Mr. Carey says not all moving companies operate in the same manner. Some might not mind lugging away furniture with drawers still in place and full of clothes. Others won't touch those items until they are emptied and every drawer has been removed.
Even if a company doesn't mind, say, moving a full dresser, the weight of the materials within it could cause the legs to snap during transit, he says.
Hiring a moving company for the first time can be nerve-wracking, even if the customer follows the right procedures, Mr. Carey says. The right planning can insulate clients from a disastrous move.
If you're well-prepared, the boxes are taped up, and the drawers are emptied, the move shouldn't be too problematic, he says. "Even a poorly skilled mover can get you moved with not too many problems."

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