The arrival of summer means it’s peak moving season, with an estimated 45% of moves taking place between May and August. And while plenty of professional movers perform their job with the skill and honesty you’d expect, the moving industry also has its share of bad actors eager to take advantage of you.
Here’s how I moved my belongings from Texas to Washington state, losing $2,500 and six weeks’ worth of sleep in the process — and what I’d have done differently if I’d had to move again.
Why I finally broke down and hired movers
I’ve moved a lot in my life and in the past 10 years, I’ve changed a dozen addresses. Almost every time, I did it myself or with help from friends. But when the time came for my second cross-country move in June 2022, I decided to ditch that DIY moving life. I was now in my thirties and just wanted to pay people to pack and ship my things for me. Plus, for a 100-pound person with no truck-driving skills whatsoever, renting a U-Haul was never a realistic option.
It was a decision driven by comfort rather than good financial sense. I estimated that all of the furniture and other belongings I needed to haul to Washington were worth less than $4,000, which was about what I was expecting to spend on the move. While it may have been easier to avoid moving my modestly-priced possessions by selling or donating them, I just couldn’t stand the thought of having to replace everything. That would mean living in an empty apartment for a long while.
Looking for the best and settling for just “okay”
By December 2021, I had the money saved for my move and began calling moving companies I found by googling “best moving companies. After receiving quotes north of $8,000, I discovered the best wasn’t in my budget. So I left my information on a broker website that had glowing reviews and let movers fight for my business.
And fight they did, bombarding me with calls and emails. In January last year, I decided to go with a moving company that gave me a quote of around $4,100 and seemed to have decent customer service, as opposed to most other movers I’d talked to. I put down a $1,700 deposit and felt reassured that they allowed me to pay with a credit card. If anything was to go wrong, I could always dispute the transaction.
Little did I know a large deposit was a red flag.
Things start to come apart
Fast forward almost five months. It was late May and just two days before my scheduled pickup. The moving company called to tell me the move would now be more expensive because gas prices were up. I didn’t like that but agreed and paid another $250 to keep my move. I knew I had no time to look for another company.
A few days before the pickup date, I began calling for details like when the movers would arrive and their contact information. The customer service agents could answer none of my questions, telling me to wait and sounding annoyed. Finally, on the day of the pickup, the moving truck showed up. I was surprised to see that it wasn’t from the company I hired, but from a different set of movers completely (I later discovered the original company was just a broker for other moving companies).
The two movers looked at my furniture and belongings and told me the person I spoke with on the phone underestimated how much room my things would take on the truck. They then gave me a new quote of $6,200, $2,000 more than the original price quoted to me in January.
My heart dropped straight to my stomach. My flight to Seattle was in two days so I needed my things out of my rental apartment. I didn’t even have enough money in my checking account to pay the portion required at the pickup ($2,160) and the movers would only take a check or wire transfer.
Feeling miserable and broke, I convinced the movers to take two checks: one for $1,800 to cash that day and another one for $360 to cash a couple of weeks later when it wouldn’t bounce. They told me the move would take a week or two.
I tried to take comfort in the fact that even though I blew straight through my budget, I’d soon have all my belongings back with me in Seattle.
How very naive of me.
How I lost another $400 but gained a big oil stain
The movers cashed the $1,800 check the day of pickup and, as promised, the second check for $360 two weeks later.
Then they cashed the $1,800 check again by messing with the check number.
I called the company that actually picked up my belongings but never got through. I called the broker (that I originally thought was the moving company) and was given an email address. I used it to try and reach out to the movers again. Tired of waiting for a response and frustrated, I called my bank Chase and explained what had happened. After a 10-minute conversation, the bank’s representative had the charge reversed.
The movers called back soon after and acted very confused but apologized profusely. I asked where my things were since the two-week time frame had already passed — and found out they hadn’t even found a truck to assign to my move.
As it turned out, when movers loaded my things at my old apartment, they only moved them to a storage facility. Now, I was supposed to wait for an actual pick-up where a truck would load my belongings and haul them to the Evergreen State.
Grinding my teeth, I reread the moving contract, remembering that all in all, the carrier had 30 days to deliver. That was true, with one caveat: it was 30 business days, which put the latest delivery date close to mid-July.
For over five weeks, I slept on an air mattress and ate sitting on the floor. I kept calling the moving company without much success. I read reviews of them online and saw horror stories like my own. People couldn’t get in touch with the carrier, waited for their things for weeks, and were overcharged by over a third of the original price. People had items broken and missing when their belongings finally showed up.
Despite my worst fears, on the 29th business day, the truck finally showed up. I was so relieved I felt like crying. Yet when the driver reached my area, he called to shout at me, letting me know that his truck couldn’t make it into my street. Irritated as I’d never been before, I informed him that I wasn’t aware it was my responsibility to know what kind of truck he had and create a route for him. He proceeded to shout a little more and then told me he could reload my things onto a smaller truck — for another $400.
I wasn’t surprised anymore. I paid the money, including the new extra charge, and let the man unload my things. My dining table had a big oily stain. My bookcase looked as though it was ready to snap in two. My TV stand arrived so wobbly it was apparent no TV would ever sit on it safely again. Later, as I was unpacking boxes, I also discovered things that didn’t even belong to me.
My damaged furniture was too inexpensive to try and get any reimbursement, so I simply let it go. I was emotionally exhausted and ready to leave the entire experience behind. The lesson was learned: Unless you have a house full of investment furniture pieces and the money for a reputable company, dealing with movers isn’t worth it when you’re moving across the country.
What I should have done instead
Although I was dead set against selling my inexpensive furniture before the move, that would’ve been a smarter decision.
My move ended up costing me much more than my belongings are worth. As a personal finance writer, I’m still mad at myself for that even a year later.
If I could go back in time, I’d still save up the same amount of money and ship my car to Seattle (that process, thankfully, was painless and quick). Then I’d mail my valuables to my new address, get rid of everything else and apply for a new credit card.
I’d already done something similar before. When I moved to Texas from California, everything I owned fit in the back of my car. I had to buy everything, from a bed to a paper towel holder to utensils. So I applied for the Discover it® Cash Back which comes with a decent 0% intro APR period for 15 months on purchases (16.99% to 27.99% variable thereafter). I used the card to furnish my apartment, mostly spending on Amazon where it offered 5% cash back that fall after activation (up to $1,500 in purchases per quarter, then 1%). I earned some cash back and paid the balance off in a few months.
On Discover’s secure site
Earn 5% cash back on everyday purchases at different places each quarter like Amazon.com, grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations, up to the quarterly maximum when you activate. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
Discover will match all the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first year.
0% for 15 months on purchases
16.99% to 27.99% Variable
Balance transfer fee
3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*
Foreign transaction fee
If I had abandoned the idea of hiring movers, I could have spent some of the money I had saved on earning card rewards. Spending a large sum of money that you can pay off right away is a good way to earn a welcome bonus. For example, as of writing, you can get 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. That’s $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
$50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining, 3X points on select streaming services and online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs), 2X points on all other travel purchases, and 1X points on all other purchases
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
21.24% – 28.24% variable on purchases and balance transfers
Balance transfer fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
Foreign transaction fee
Since I already had the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, I wasn’t eligible for its welcome bonus. But I could have put all my Amazon spending on my Affinity Cash Rewards Visa® Signature credit card, which earns 5% back at Amazon (on up to $3,500 in purchases each month). If I spent $3,000 on furnishing my place in Seattle, I’d earn $150 in cash back — and save $2,500 from being spent on a horrifying move.
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Using a (relatively) cheap mover was a bad financial move I’ll regret for a while. I realize that I also went into it without much knowledge of the moving industry, which might have protected me better. I also know that my experience could have been worse and that some people have had their possessions held hostage by movers who demand outrageous sums of money.
If you’re planning a big move, estimate how much your furniture and other items are worth and if it makes sense to pay for a mover. You might hate selling everything just to buy it all over again, but I think that annoyance is worth the potential thousands of dollars and sleepless nights you’ll save yourself.
For rates and fees of the Discover it® Cash Back, click here.
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.