Here's why the difference between moving brokers and moving companies matters

By Adrianna Iwasinski - Investigative Reporter

Moving across town, or across the country, takes a lot of work and a lot of research, however, using the internet may end up costing people thousands more, especially if they use a moving broker.

Debbie Rensvold, of Poinciana, said that's what happened to her during her search for a move from Florida to Minnesota.

“I wouldn’t wish this entire experience on anybody,” Rensvold said. 

Rensvold said after her divorce, she went online to get an estimate of how much it was going to cost her to move all her stuff. She filled out a couple of moving cost questionnaires and then got flooded with phone calls from companies offering to do the job.

What she didn't realize is the company she picked was a broker not an actual mover.

“I didn't think I was paying one agency and still had to pay another agency,” Rensvold said. “I thought they all worked together.”

Rensvold said when she originally planned her cross-country move, she was told it would cost her $3,463.34. That quote was given over the phone, based on what she told them she needed moved without anyone ever coming out to do a physical inventory of her belongings.

Once the movers showed up, she says the price more than tripled. 

“I've spent $8,000, and my things are two miles from the home I moved out of,” said Rensvold.

The movers claim Rensvold had more stuff than she had indicated and kept it in a storage unit until she could pay the extra cost. After weeks of calling and negotiating, Rensvold said the mover finally gave her stuff back to her.

“You do not have to use a broker, you can contact a moving company yourself,” said Holly Salmons, the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Florida. 

Salmons said underestimating the weight and amount of stuff needing to be moved can greatly affect the price.

“A legitimate moving company should come to your home and help you with the physical inventory of what is to be moved,” Salmons said.

When Rensvold chose to use a broker, Salmons said things got more expensive, more complicated and more confusing. 

Here's what consumers need to know before selecting a mover:

Salmons said brokers are essentially skilled sales teams that acquire a move and then sell it to moving company. They are not the actual movers and do not own the trucks, moving equipment or have the moving staff. However, they do charge a fee for their service.

Brokers must also be registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and provide customers with a list of the moving companies they use.

“Certainly it can be done legitimately,” said Salmons. “But for consumers, it more often than not is problematic.”

Salmons said some red flags to watch out for include:

1. The company calls you after getting your information off an internet lead list.
2. They only do an estimate over the phone.
3. You got several estimates and they are wildly different price points.
4. The company does not send someone out to do a physical inventory of what is to be moved.
5. Movers show up in a truck without any valid markings or Department of Transportation number.

The Better Business Bureau can provide people with a list of reputable movers in their area.

One of the movers on that list is 1776 Moving and Storage. Their president Michael Haase, is a board member of the Professional Movers Association of Florida. 
He said consumers should not believe all the reviews they see online, since some of them are paid reviews. Haase also encourages consumers to ask if the person they are talking to is a broker or a mover.

“If something sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true,” Haase said.

Haase recommends checking on how long a moving company has been in business, and if they have a valid DOT number posted on their trucks and their paperwork. Also, he said to check to see if they have any complaints on file with the Florida Department of Agriculture or U.S. Department of Transportation.
Haase said movers with lots of complaints often close up shop in one location, only to pop up somewhere else under a different name.

“If they've been in business for three months (or) six months, that's a red flag,” Haase said.

Rensvold just hopes others can learn from her costly experience.

“You have to be careful,” Rensvold said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has an online database where you can enter a company's name and see if it has any complaints on file. The database will also reveal whether the company is a broker or carrier, and whether the company is currently insured.

To learn more about the moving process, including gathering resources to help you select a mover, spot the "red flags" of moving fraud and file a complaint, visit www.protectyourmove.gov or call 1-888-DOT-SAFT (368-7238) to file a moving fraud complaint. FMCSA also has a National Consumer Complaint Database where consumers can file interstate moving fraud complaints.

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