How to Pick the Best Moving Company When You Move to NYC

By Peter Vijeh
Peter Vijeh
Peter Vijeh
Peter Vijeh created Moving to New York Guide to help the over 200,000 people who move to NYC each year.
November 29, 2013 Updated: February 7, 2014

There are many shady moving companies out there—knowing how to pick one that won’t try and cheat you is essential to keeping your items safe, your move within budget, and protecting yourself from legal liabilities in case of injury.

This guide will show you how to pick a moving company that is on the up and up, and give you tips on how to find the moving company that offers the best service for the best price.

Book in Advance

Don’t risk that all the moving companies in your area will be booked when you need them. You should book your move at least a month in advance, especially in the summer months when moving activity is at its peak.

Understand How Moving Costs Are Calculated

Moving companies will calculate the cost of your move in one of two ways: cost by weight or cost per hour. 

Understanding how these costs are being calculated is important to understanding whether or not you are getting a fair deal, or if a company is trying to add unmentioned costs at the last minute.

Did the moving company provide you with a binding quote or a nonbinding quote? A binding quote limits the maximum amount that you can be charged, whereas you may incur a fee in addition to the nonbinding quote. 

Typically, a moving company will only give you a binding quote if it is able to thoroughly inspect the freight. Do not trust binding quotes from companies that do not first send a quote estimator to meet with you and assess the situation. 

If you are given a nonbinding quote, then pay special attention to how the quote was estimated. Moving companies are legally allowed to charge you more than the estimate by a certain percentage for jobs that turn out to be more work than expected. 

The maximum additional amount that they can charge you is determined by which cost method they are using. Jobs that use the cost per weight method are limited to a maximum expense of 10 percent over the nonbinding quote. Jobs that use the cost per hour method are limited to a maximum expense of 25 percent over the nonbinding quote. 

Typically, moving companies will charge extra if they must move items up or down stairs, or over a long distance. Make sure you understand how these extra items are calculated and which ones are being applied, or might possibly apply in your situation.

Most movers assume that you will pack your own items, unless specified otherwise. Make sure you understand whether or not this service is included in the price of your quote.

Damaged or Lost Items

By law, moving companies are required to assume a minimum amount of liability for damaged or lost items. 

The terms of this liability, however, are limited. For instance, a moving company is not liable for any items you pack yourself, nor is it liable for any item not on the inventory list. So make sure all of your items are on the inventory list! 

Make sure you understand what the estimated value of your items is and how much the moving company may be liable for. Also have both of these figures listed in the bill of lading and that you agree with them. 

Additional insurance can typically be purchased through the moving company or through a third party. If you are worried about damage to your items, consider purchasing additional insurance and be sure to factor this additional expense into the overall cost of your move.

Get Several Quotes

Getting multiple quotes for your move helps you to assess whether or not you are being charged a fair price and it can also save you from dealing with an unscrupulous moving company. You should be skeptical of moving companies that provide quotes that are too low (more on this later), or are overly vague about what services they include.

Be sure to ask about any additional fees that might apply such as fees for moving up or down stairs, or moving across long distances.

Make sure to ask each moving company to provide you with a contract for you to review, as there may be important differences in liability or services offered that should be factored in to your decision. 

Reviewing the contract is also a good way to be certain of what services are, or are not provided in the price of your move, so make sure that everything you have discussed is stated in the contract in writing.

Avoid New Operators

Take extra caution when dealing with a company that does not have a long track record of operation. You should inquire with the company how long they have been in business and also check that they have an upstanding record with the Better Business Bureau.

Beware of Low Quotes

Some moving companies quote customers very low bids, only to charge additional fees at the last minute when there is little choice but to pay them. You should be very suspicious of a quote that is significantly below other offers. 

In order to avoid being taken for a ride, you should ask about any potential extra fees that could possibly be applied. Make sure that you have a clear understanding, in writing and well in advance of your moving day, of what services the company is quoting you for.

Common extra fees include:

  • Fees per flight of stairs
  • Fees if items must be carried a long distance
  • Fees if items must be shuttled to and from the moving truck
  • Check for licenses and insurance

Insurance

You must make sure that the moving company you use is properly insured for any injury that one of its workers incurs during your move. 

If your mover is not insured, you can be left on the hook for huge medical and disability costs in the event that someone is injured while on your property. 

You can check if your mover has liability and worker’s compensation insurance at New York’s Department of Transportation (DOT) website (or through the DOT of your current state of residence).

You also must be sure to make sure that the mover is licensed. Working with a licensed mover protects you from certain legal liabilities. Licensing information must be included in the contract. 

Check the following licenses:

  • U.S. Department of Transportation number 
  • A motor carrier number which allows the carrier to cross state lines 
  • Any licenses specific to your state 

BBB Reputation

You will want to make sure that the moving company you select does not have too many complaints against it by checking with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). 

You may contact the BBB at (212) 533-6200 in the NYC area or (800) 828-5000 elsewhere in the state of New York. For movers coming from elsewhere, you will need to track down the appropriate branch of the BBB for your location.

Review the Bill of Lading

The bill of a lading is a legal document between you and the moving company. It specifies the type, quantity, and destination of the goods being transported, as well as information about costs and liability and other important details of the move. A mover is legally required to present you with a bill of lading before any work can begin.

Keep in mind that if any dispute arises between you and the movers, the bill of lading is the only proof of your agreement with the moving company, so pay extra attention while reviewing it.

What to look for on the bill of lading:

Estimated cost of move or binding quote: Make sure the bill of lading specifies the estimated cost of the move. The maximum fee that you can be charged is limited by the initial estimate. In the case of a binding quote, the cost of the move cannot exceed the quoted amount. In the case of a nonbinding estimate the cost may be increased by a maximum of 25 percent for hourly rate moves, or 10 percent for weight based moves. 

Precious items: Any item that is particularly valuable must be individually declared in the inventory list, otherwise the carrier won’t be liable for damaged or lost items.

Additional fees: Movers commonly charge additional fees if they must carry items a long distance, or up and down stairs. Make sure how these additional fees are calculated, and which are being applied, is specified clearly in the contract. 

Carrier Liability: Carriers are required to offer you either full value or released value protection. Released value protection is offered at no additional charge, but the carrier’s liability is limited to $0.60 per pound per item. Under fair value protection, the carrier is required to repair, replace, or make a cash settlement for the cost of repair.

Make sure that the bill of lading clearly states the value of the shipment and the maximum amount of carrier liability and that you agree with these figures.

Inventory list: It should list all the items that the mover is responsible for.

Peter Vijeh is the editor of Movingtonewyorkguide.com, a resource for people relocating to New York City.

Peter Vijeh
Peter Vijeh
Peter Vijeh created Moving to New York Guide to help the over 200,000 people who move to NYC each year.