Moving from one household to another is one of life's drearier chores and nothing is going to make it fun. But there are precautions you can take to make it relatively hassle-free.
Unless you have lined up friends to help you move your possessions in a rented van, find a reputable moving company. Get several estimates.
Moving across town may be more difficult than moving across the country. Companies making interstate moves are heavily regulated by federal law but local movers are not, which could mean that unless you yourself take steps to protect your belongings, such as getting a written contract, it would be hard to press a claim if your goods are damaged or lost.
Generally speaking, D.C. residents moving anywhere within 15 miles of the city's boundaries are making a local move, but always check to see if your destination falls within a commercial or local zone.
Short haulers tend to charge by the hour and their rates can fluctuate heavily, usually between $25 and $60 an hour for the services, say, of two men and a truck. District law does not require local movers to be licensed or bonded.
Interstate carriers charge according to weight and distance. The Household Goods Carriers Bureau says a typical move, for example, from Washington to New York would $765 for 3,900 pounds of household goods. About $150 of that is for packing and $41 is a fuel surcharge.
Jane Downey, consumer affairs director for the American Movers Conference, the industry trade association, advised people moving long distances to make arrangements at least four weeks ahead.
"We still have a backlog and some delays because of the gas shortage and the truckers' strike earlier this summer," Downey said.
On interstate moves, your contract will note the pre-loading weight of the van. Once your belongings have been picked up, the mover is obligated to tell you where the loaded van will be weighed so you can check this procedure yourself.
Once you've lined up the moving company, here's a checklist of things to do:
Make an inventory of your household goods. Get rid of those white elephants, extra clothes and furniture that won't fit in your next home. Give them to a charity and you'll get a tax break, to say nothing of savings on shipping charges.
Either pack your belongings yourself or watch as the movers do it. Mark each item or box with a different color designating the room it will go in. Keep a list of what is in each container and its condition.
Move small valuables-jewelry, documents, silverware, cameras and so on-yourself. Valuables like antiques, works of art or pianos should be professionally appraised before the move.
Plan to move pets and house plants yourself.
Don't pack perishable foods or combustibles such as paint or floor wax.
On moving day, you and the mover should inventory each separate item and count all the packing cartons. Both of you should be in agreement as to the condition of the goods. On interstate moves, this will be noted on your bill of lading, a key document that outlines your contract with the moving company.
The bill of lading serves as the receipt for your goods, it states the terms of payment and the carrier's liability for damaged or lost goods and the places of pick-up and delivery.
On delivery day, federal interstate law says you must pay the driver before he can unload the truck. But if the charges are more than 10 percent higher than estimated, you get an additional 15 days to pay. If the charges are less, the moving company has 90 days to give you a refund.
Whether you're moving down the block or across the country, do not sign a receipt for the goods until you have checked them and are satisfied that they are in good condition. If you do not want to unpack your boxes yet, at least check for exterior damage, and make note of it. Report any claims of damage or loss to the moving company immediately by telephone and again by certified mail.
If you and the carrier cannot resolve your complaint you can get help from your local consumer office.In the District, the Office of Consumer Protection (727-1158) enforces and administers laws regulating moving companies based in Washington.
The American Movers Conference has established a consumer hotline (call toll free 800-336-3094, but Virginia residents should call 703- 524-7659 collect). Downey said they will take your complaint to the head of the moving company in question if necessary.
The Interstate Commerce Commission also operates a national complaint center (toll free numbers are 800-424-9312 or 424-9313) and publishes a booklet called "Summary of Information for Shippers of Household Goods" that tells you everything you need to know to safely move your belongings. Interstate carriers are obligated by law to give you this booklet.
Hang on to all the papers-receipts, inventories, appraisals-associated with your move. It's very difficult to place liability on the carrier for a lost or damaged article unless you have supporting evidence.
On interstate moves, your household goods will be automatically covered for loss or damage at the rate of 60 cents a pound. Small local firms don't have to honor this, so check to see what their liability is.
Sixty cents a pound in today's market will do little to help you recover the value of your belongings, so for an extra charge, you can ask the mover for maximum liability. Some people get temporary riders on their home owners insurance to cover their belongings during a move.
Federal law states that the moving company is responsible for stored household goods for a period no longer than 180 days. After that, responsibility falls to the warehouse.
Presently, storage facilities in the District are not required to have liability insurance, but the Consumer Protection Office has requested that the City Council pass legislation to make this mandatory.