Originally created 06/16/04

Family move turns into unlucky waiting game



Susan Lawrence thought her concerns about her family's recent move to Augusta would center on her husband's new job and the school her two young children would attend.

Instead, she's had to make do without much of the family furniture that took weeks rather than the promised days to deliver.

"My husband had to work on a cardboard box and sit on a small footstool," Ms. Lawrence said from her Columbia County home. "Eventually, he had to go out and buy a desk and fax machine and some other office supplies."

The belongings finally arrived Monday, long after the scheduled May 20 due date.

Of the 43 million Americans who relocate each year, roughly half do it between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, Census figures show.

Moving woes regularly rank high on the Better Business Bureau's top 10 list of consumer complaints, even though most people move themselves.

When hiring professionals, the American Moving and Storage Association recommends soliciting three estimates. The Lawrences solicited seven.

The family settled on Illinois-based Bekins Co., a major national mover, rather than a local company. And the family insured their entire 13,000-pound load for full value in case anything was damaged or lost.

The first warning signs surfaced when the truck pulled up next to their former home in a Washington suburb. The Bekins agent told the Lawrences they would have their own truck and direct travel to Augusta. But the truck that arrived was already half full and making a stop in Savannah.

The split-second decision to separate their stuff into two trucks is one they would later regret.

The first truck with most of their belongings left May 17 and went AWOL along the way. "They said all we can tell you is it's delayed and we don't know where it is," Ms. Lawrence recalls.

It turns out the driver quit and left the truck unlocked in a vacant lot in Raleigh, N.C. While only some exercise weights were discovered stolen by the time it was found, the truck made it to Augusta two days late with many items nicked and chipped, and a table in pieces.

But that was the lucky load.

The second batch of belongings went straight to a warehouse in Virginia, where it sat waiting for a ride south. Bekins labeled it "overflow" and subject to changes in the timetable, but it was bicycles, a cooking grill and the top of the dining room table waiting to be reunited with its base.

After about a dozen date delays, the second truck eventually made it to town. The Lawrences are negotiating with Bekins to work out how much of the $3,500 bill they should pay.

Kimberly Warren, a Bekins spokeswoman, said in a statement that "when situations like this do arise, we have a corporate policy that states that we will reimburse the homeowners ... the customer was sent the necessary paperwork to begin this process."

Nyles Ellefson, a United Van Lines agent on Marvin Griffin Road, says movers can promise to transport belongings on a single truck, but if it's not written in the contract, anything goes. That includes dates of delivery and "what-if" clauses spelling out how to deal with breaches of the contract.

"One of the first questions people should ask is if the same driver and same crew will work the job from start to finish," Mr. Ellefson said. "Many times they'll farm it out to smaller outfits without you knowing." This was the case for the Lawrences.

Mr. Ellefson also warns against companies that offer low-ball bid estimates to win business, but never guarantee that price on paper.

"They'll tell you one thing and then say, whoops, 'It's going to cost you a little bit more,'" he said. "Once the stuff is on the truck there's nothing you can do about it. They can charge $1,000 a day for it to sit there, so you have no choice. You become a hostage and have to pay."

Reach Matthew Mogul at (706) 823-3352 or matthew.mogul@augustachronicle.com.Getting Moved

Average cost: $2,500

  • Pick up a pamphlet from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to know your rights, such as being present each time your shipment is weighed.

  • Get at least three estimates.

  • Movers must give written estimates, but these aren't always binding. Get a guarantee in writing.

  • Movers must have a dispute settlement program. Ask them for details.

  • See if your homeowners insurance will cover your belongings. If not, buy added coverage. The standard coverage accounts only for 6 cents a pound.

    Moving yourself

    Average cost: $750

  • Consider extra costs for boxes and bubble wrap; pads generally come $10 a dozen, and hand dolly rentals cost $5-$10.

  • Rental agreements don't factor in state taxes.

  • Towing a car could cost hundreds more in equipment and a deposit.

  • Most car insurance doesn't cover truck rentals. Typical insurance will cost $20 a day.

  • Moving season - late May through late September - costs more; as do weekends and the last 10 days of the month.

  • One-way truck rentals cost more.

    WHO TO CONTACT

  • Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, (888) 368-7238 or www.fmcsa.dot.gov. The regulatory group has the power to fine rogue movers.

  • American Moving and Storage Association, (703) 683-7410 or www.moving.org. The industry trade group has 3,500 members and offers to mediate disputes between its movers and their clients for up to $5,000.