When you’re moving, you’ve got a million things to worry about—and finding a reliable moving company shouldn’t be one of them. Unfortunately, picking the wrong movers can make a challenging time even harder. If you’re like us, you’ve heard numerous moving story nightmares that involve broken and stolen belongings or worse.
You don’t have to leave your moving experience to chance. There are actionable steps you can take now that will almost guarantee that the movers you hire are responsible. So how do you choose a reliable moving company? Keep on reading to find out.
1. Figure out what type of movers you need.
Every moving company has a specialty. Some companies specialize in interstate moves, some focus their efforts locally, and others focus on moving delicate objects like pianos or safes. The first thing you need to do is evaluate the scope of your move.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself (and then verify with a moving company):
- Is my move local, or am I moving across the country? Will I require an interstate moving company? Would a local company be able to complete the job?
- Are there any items that require special equipment or skill to move? Some might include pool tables, pianos, hot tubs, etc.
- Do I require other services like packing, trash removal, or a cleanout?
2. Find potential movers and evaluate their credentials.
A simple Google search might seem ideal for picking a good moving company. However, try to be systematic with your search so you can compare different movers. We suggest creating a blank spreadsheet to organize the results and fill it with as many moving companies as possible before you get sick of the process.
For each moving company, create a column for each of the following:
- Where From. In this section, write down where you found the company. You could write Google or something like “personal reference.” For personal references, note who referred you and what that person had to say. When you look back at your spreadsheet, personal recommendations will tend to hold more weight, and you can opt to call these companies for a quote first.
- Years in Business. New companies might be less expensive, but companies that have been in business for a long time are less likely to be flight risks.
- Areas of Service. Can this company accommodate both where you live now and where you’re moving?
- License and Insurance. Find out if the company has licensing and insurance information on its website. Interstate movers should have the Department of Transportation (DOT) licensing and insurance information listed.
- Accreditations. Are there any specialized accreditations or certificates on their website worth mentioning? Some include the American Moving and Storage Association.
3. Read online reviews for the top 5 companies.
Good, honest reviews are the most important things to look for in a moving company. Don’t choose a moving company without this step, and don’t just trust the testimonials listed on the website because these can easily be faked or fabricated. We suggest narrowing your spreadsheet down to the top five choices.
Search for additional reviews using the following platforms:
4. Request in-person estimates.
Once you have a good sense of the online reviews and presence of your top 5 moving companies, the next step is to get in-person estimates. This means asking the moving company to come to your place, assess what you need to move, and then give you a cost estimate based on that. You should get at least three estimates, and these should be in person and not over the phone or through email. It is challenging to accurately assess a move without seeing the size of the house and belongings. During the estimate, ask for proof of their license and insurance. Later, you can verify interstate movers on Protect Your Move, and you can verify local movers through this database or your Consumer Affairs agency.
There are some red flags to watch out for during the estimate stage that can help safeguard you from moving scams or unreliable movers.
Be on the lookout for some of the following signs.
- Low bids. Toss out any estimate that is significantly lower than the others. This low cost might be appealing, but it can be a sign that the movers don’t understand the project’s scope and will cut corners. It could also indicate a scam.
- Large deposits. Should you pay movers upfront? Technically, a reliable mover should not request more than 20% of the estimate upfront. We recommend never paying more than 20% down, and it’s better when the company does not require payment until after the move. If you must make a large deposit for a more complicated relocation, put it on a credit card. Never pay with cash. If something goes wrong, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company.
- Rented moving vans. Some smaller companies might need to rent moving vans to build up their business. However, these rentals are more common for small moves, such as one or two pieces of furniture. They are less common for whole-house movers. Reliable companies will have their own moving vans and equipment.
- Unprofessionalism. Other unacceptable behavior includes showing up for the estimate late, unprofessional demeanor, and any condescending actions. Also, be wary of companies without an answering service. Finally, check the company address and see if it’s listed under a residential or commercial address. Commercial addresses are more legitimate.
5. Trust your gut and pick your favorite.
Two people could have the same set of moving circumstances and still come to a different decision when choosing a moving company. Factors that matter a lot to you, such as pricing, might not matter as much to someone else. Ultimately, you should trust your gut and make a decision that feels right for YOU.
6. Get everything in writing.
Before the move, solidify the terms of your contract and get everything in writing. There are different types of moving contracts, and you want to be sure you understand the terms completely. For example, make sure you know the answers to the following questions. Is the price firm? How are overages handled? When is payment due?
Also, make sure you go over their insurance policy. What does it cover? How much does it cover? Learn the difference between full replacement value and other no-cost options that may not include replacement value. Pick the insurance you’re comfortable with and pay more for extra protection if you own valuable items.
During and after the move, protect yourself if things go wrong. You can file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, the American Moving & Storage Association, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to help warn future consumers.
How to Choose a Moving Company: FAQs
How do I find the best local movers?
The great thing about finding the best local movers is that you can ask your neighbors, friends, and family who live nearby. Someone you know in the area has likely had to hire a local mover before, and a personal reference is always preferred over a review from a stranger you read online.
We also recommend looking up any local mover you’re considering on the Better Business Bureau website to read customer reviews and check for any formal complaints lodged against that company.
What questions should I ask a moving company?
To ensure you’re picking a reliable moving company, ask them questions like:
- What’s your policy if one of your movers damages my belongings?
- Describe your communication between me and the movers. How will I be notified when they’re on their way and when they’ve completed the move?
- Do you expect payment upfront?
- What’s your tipping policy?
- What kind of insurance do you have?
What is the cheapest day to hire movers?
Keep in mind that most people tend to move:
- During the summer
- On weekends
- At the beginning or the end of the month (when leases tend to begin and end)
Therefore, it’s in your best interest to schedule a move on a weekday that is not during the summer, preferably in the middle of the month. Why? Moving companies might have lower demand on a random weekday mid-month, and because of that, you might get their services at a lower price. Shop for quotes and adjust your dates/days to see if that affects the pricing.
How far in advance should you schedule local movers?
As soon as you can! All My Sons Moving & Storage recommends scheduling movers at least two weeks before the actual date of your move. If you’re moving during peak season (summer), you need to schedule as soon as possible because movers will likely be booked out for weeks or even months in advance. Schedule your move during the low season for the best booking availability and pricing.
How much do you tip movers?
Pretty much everyone you ask will say that tipping your movers is not required, but it is appreciated. In other words: If you don’t tip your movers, you’re likely sending the message that something went wrong and you’re unhappy with their service.
While tipping your movers is customary, unfortunately, there’s no hard-and-fast rule.
- Rachael Lyons of Olympia Moving & Storage tells Apartment Therapy: “Daily tips usually range from $20 per mover for smaller moves to $40-$60 per mover for larger and more complex moves. For cross-country and multi-day moves, we recommend similar daily amounts.”
- Vermont moving company Todd Transportation recommends tipping 5% as a reasonable industry standard and adds: “Moving is hard – offer a cold bottle of water, soda or a sports drink. Some customers prefer to buy the crew lunch in lieu of a monetary tip. This is perfectly fine, some do both.”
- Virginia-based Georgetown Moving and Storage Company recommends tipping 10-20% or $20-40 per mover.
As you can see, there’s a wide range of what’s “customary” for tips. At the end of the day, if you’re pleased with the service, it’s better to tip something than nothing at all.
Still unsure? Ask your moving company! You can ask, “Hey, do your movers accept tips? How much is customary? What’s the best way to tip them (cash, check, etc.)?” That will clarify for you based on the individual moving company’s expectations.
We hope this helped you choose a reliable moving company with more confidence. If you want to see some of our interstate moving recommendations, check out this interstate moving company guide.
Update: This post was originally published on July 27, 2020. It was revised on July 17, 2023 with more information.