As I’ve mentioned many times before, I’ll be starting a tenure-track position at the University of Maine in January 2016. My partner and I have been spending much of this fall preparing for our move to the United States, and one of our main chores has been to search for a moving company. This will be our second major move in less than a year and a half, so we’ve learned a lot about moving companies and their practices in a fairly short period of time. In this post, I’d like to share some of what we have learned, with the hope that others can benefit from our experiences.

Some of you might at first think it odd that I’m discussing moving companies on what has, so far, been mainly an academically-focused blog. But many of you know, as I do, that choosing the path of academia means that you’re likely going to have to move around a lot. Most people complete their degrees at two or three different institutions, and then there’s the joy of moving often for postdocs and limited-term appointments as you wait for the elusive tenure-track position. In our household, we’re fortunate that we’ll only have to move twice. I know many others who’ve had to move what seems like an obscene number of times, sometimes across entire continents. And of course, not everyone decides to go the route of a tenure-track position. Whatever the case, the tips offered here really apply to just about anyone who’s searching for a moving company.

First off, take stock of your situation. How much stuff is going to be moved? Where are you moving to? How far away is it? Are there special considerations that must be taken into account regarding your end destination? These sorts of questions can shorten the list of potential moving companies. For example, some companies are only outfitted to do local or regional moves, so you probably don’t need to call them if you’re heading to the other side of the country. In our case, we’re moving to the United States, so we wanted to find a company that could help guide us through the convoluted process of importing household goods across the border.

The next step is to do a bit of research. Look in the phone book under “moving” and see which companies are listed. Type the name of your community along with “moving companies” into an Internet search engine and see what comes up. Ask your friends and neighbours about local moving companies that they’ve heard good things about. Indeed, the company that my partner and I ended up choosing for our current move came well recommended from folks at my curling club. One thing to keep in mind is that bigger doesn’t always equal better. In our experience, quotes from the national moving companies are often hundreds of dollars more expensive than their locally-based competitors.

Once you have the names and numbers of a few potential moving companies, it’s time to give them a call. This initial call usually doesn’t take very long. Basically, the company will ask where you’re moving to, the size of the place in which you currently live, and date ranges for the move, and then proceed to set up an appointment for when an assessor can come to your place to see how much stuff you have in order to calculate an accurate quote. DO NOT go with a moving company that doesn’t offer to come and do a free assessment. As one industry person explained it to me, such assessments are now pretty much standard practice, but there are less reputable companies out there that still don’t do them. Back at the curling club, one gentleman told me about how he and his family recently moved from Sudbury, Ontario to Peterborough. He mistakenly didn’t get an assessment done and simply informed the moving company over the phone that they lived in a two-bedroom bungalow. Once all of their stuff was loaded on the truck and weighed, the moving company then informed him that it was going to cost two and half times more than what they originally quoted him. In the end, he had to pay the full amount in order to get their stuff delivered. The point here is to make sure you have an assessor walk through your place. Generally, I’ll call and make appointments to have three or four walk through over the period of a couple of days.

Now we’re at the part when the assessor comes to visit. The first thing they’ll likely want to do is sit down to talk about the move, both to give you information and to get information from you. Next, the assessor will want to walk through your place and see how much stuff you have. Be sure to show them everything in every nook and cranny. The more they see and write down or input into their tablet, the more realistic the quote will be. Also, differentiate between things that will definitely be moved and those that are staying behind for whatever reason. After the walk through, you’ll most likely sit back down and chat about how the quote process will proceed. Don’t be surprised if it takes a day or two before the final quote is ready.

It is also at this time that the assessor is available to answer any questions that you might have. I highly recommend drawing up a list of questions beforehand to ensure you don’t miss anything. The types of questions will depend on your particular situation, but here are some we’ve found useful:

  • 10% guarantee: Many companies have guarantees that the final price of your move will not be more than 10% above of what you are quoted. This could end up saving you a lot of money (see the story above about the guy who moved from Sudbury), so verify with the company whether or not they have such a guarantee in place.
  • Range of quotes: Ask for a range of quotes, including with a full pack, just a fragile pack, or if you do all of the packing. You might discover that it’s not much more to get your stuff fully or partially packed.
  • Insurance: What’s the company’s policy on insuring items? How much does it cost to get everything insured?
  • Packing materials: Some companies charge for packing materials, while others do not. If you search around, you can likely find a good company that’ll provide free packing materials.
  • Storage: If something comes up, you might need to store all of your stuff for a while. Ask if they charge for storage. As with packing materials, you might be able to find a company that has free storage for up to a certain period of time.
  • Delivery date: When does the company think that your stuff will be delivered? How long will it take? Is there any sort of guarantee that it’ll be at the end destination by a certain date?

After the assessments, the quotes from the various companies will come rolling in. It’ll be tempting to simply go with the cheapest price, but you’ll also want to weigh the answers you received to all of your questions. It is often the case that paying a bit more to receive a few more services works out better in the long run. Then once you’ve decided on a company, don’t hesitate to contact them with any concerns or questions you might have. You’ll likely be assigned someone who will act as your point person with the company. It’s their job to make sure your move goes as smoothly as possible. You’ve paid for the service, so use it to the fullest.

That’s about all of the wisdom that I can pass on regarding the search for a moving company. Do your research, ask your questions, and make your choice. I hope it all goes well. Good luck.