By Kathryn Mora
The moving industry knows that relocation is probably one of the most unsettling and emotionally turbulent times in our lives under the best of circumstances. They depend upon it.
Reasons for moving often are motivated by dramatic life changes, such as marriage, divorce, birth or death. In my case, my mother’s death was my impetus to move to upstate New York. As a girl I lived with my family in Ticonderoga and looked forward to returning some day. I still remembered the vivid reds, oranges, yellows and purples of autumn, the daffodils poking through the snow as spring showed its sweet face.
As care taker of my mother before she died and trustee of her estate, I had had a lot on my shoulders for the last six months and since her death. Her death was hard, especially as I emptied her house of memories where had she lived for 40 years. My state of mind was fragile and I was emotionally spent. I needed a change, a big change.
I made plans to move to upstate New York by myself, 3,500 miles across the United States in winter. The thought was daunting. The last time I drove in winter was 30 years ago. My six year-old son and I were caught in a blizzard in northern California on a one lane road with blind curves and shear drops. John hung his head out the window into the frigid black night to tell me if we were too close to the edge. I struggled to stay awake as the snow crashed against the windshield over and over and over again, beckoning me to go into a deep sleep. After that, nothing ever seemed too big or too hard.
In the past, whenever my sons and I moved, I rented a truck. We crammed everything we owned into the truck. When we moved from northern California back to Los Angeles, I rented a 48-foot truck and towed our car. We crept over the Grapevine, a treacherous stretch of road outside the Mohave Desert, with our entire life crammed in the back. As I edged over to the right lane with the other slow trucks, I struggled frantically to find second gear. I imagined we looked like a herd of lethargic elephants heading for the water hole.
This time I hired professional movers through the Internet. I was too worn-out emotionally and physically to even think about driving from California to New York in the winter. Sure, I’d heard the horror stories about movers, but I didn’t think it could happen to me. I checked the Internet for names and telephone numbers of movers.
The first number I spoke to a gracious responsive woman. “Is this Coast to Coast Moving Company?” I said to her. I changed the name of the company to protect the innocent-me. (I know now, NEVER look for movers through the Internet).
“Well, actually, it isn’t, but can I help you-what is it you want?” The syrupy voice on the other end of the telephone cooed. I explained my mother had just died and it was my first time using a moving company. I told her I wanted to relocate to upstate New York and recited the dimensions of my moving crates. She treated me like an old friend and gave me a quote.
“We move people from Los Angeles to New York all the time,” she said in an upbeat professional manner. And we don’t contract out to other companies, either. Your furniture starts out in our truck and it ends up in our truck.” I began to relax. My boxes of antique glassware and furniture, photo albums, prized book collection and dozens of unfinished writing projects would be safe. (Always get everything they say in writing because it will haunt you later).
“May I get some references?” I said, almost apologetically.
“Absolutely, and do call the Better Business Bureau, too. Their link is on our web site.”
“Just for my records, what’s your address?” I asked the woman, whose effervescence bubbled through my telephone line.
“Well…umm,” she stammered, “I’d rather not give out our address.”
“You can’t give me your address?”
“No. We’ve had people harassing us on the phone and we’re worried they’ll come to our office.” (That should have alerted me-danger ahead).
The company’s references were glowing and why not? Would anyone give out references that were less than perfect?
The Better Business Bureau report was good, too-well almost-only one negative. But, the BBB representative assured me the problem had been resolved and all parties were happy.
“I thought you didn’t have any negative reports with Better Business Bureau?” I gently nudged, when I called her back. “And also, you said you had a direct link to BBB on your web site-I couldn’t find it.”
“Oh, it’s not working now,” she cooed. “And that lady, she wanted everything for free. She was picky, picky, picky. You know the type? Can you imagine someone wanting everything for free-trying to take advantage? But we resolved the problem and refunded her money.” (Listen to inconsistencies and those who bad-mouth former clients).
Ms. Sugar Voice’s quote was lower than the others I called from the Internet. Exhausted from the last few months, I yearned for the selection of a moving company done. I hired her company to move my life to New York. Relief! Before my belongings left Los Angeles, I regretted the decision.
Not long after I hired the movers, I heard that moving companies often quote low to get the job. They call it “low balling.” When the goods are delivered, they demand thousands of dollars more. If people don’t pay the inflated fee, their possessions are hijacked and held ransom until they do.
I was sure Ms. Sugar Voice’s company wouldn’t do that to me, but just in case I decided to pay the entire bill at the time of pickup.
On a cold November afternoon in Los Angeles, I waited for the movers to meet me where my crates were stored. Four hours later than expected the truck finally arrives. The big red letters on the sides said, BUDGET RENTALS. Three kids jumped out. One spoke English with a strong accent and the other two a language unknown to me.
“You’re four hours late,” I blurted out,” trying to be civil. And why do you have a rental truck?”
“Too many people moving today-ran out of trucks,” said, Angel, the foreman. I’d just met him, but I knew he was no angel. He looked at my two storage crates stuffed with boxes, books, household goods and furniture. His eyes rolled to the back of his head.
“Oh my God…I’m tired-let’s get this done fast,” he said as he glanced over at the two kids. He led me to the back of the rental truck with boxes and furniture already in it and pointed to a flimsy yellow rope.
“This is where the cubic feet mark starts for your furniture.” Angel informed me.
“We’ll tape up all your boxes, put the red stickers on everything and write down the numbers on these papers.” He pointed to the clipboard in his hand piled with lined blank pages. The stickers, tiny flimsy red things, seemed to me would blow off in the first breeze. They were the only mark of identification on my goods. A friend had insisted that I write my name, address and phone number on each box. Did I listen? No. I trusted the system. Now I worried.
After I looked at his haphazard method of measuring and aware I agreed to pay by cubic feet and not by weight, I quickly reviewed to myself, the two wooden crates could not be more than 500 cubic feet combined, even if they were professionally packed, which they weren’t. Angel assured me that the extra boxes I brought in a borrowed pick-up truck were no more than a few cubic feet and wouldn’t even make any difference, although I didn’t get that in writing. He offered me a deal on packing several pictures, but I didn’t get that in writing, either.
It’s now 8:30 P.M., dark and a lot colder than it was five and a half hours ago. The storage company had closed hours before. Just the three kids and I were in the parking lot. My belongings were almost loaded, although I couldn’t really tell since the parking lot was black. No moon tonight.
Angel walked toward me. “We’re just about done,” he said in a friendly voice. “Let’s get out of the cold into your truck.” I nodded and climb into the driver’s side and he hopped into the passenger side.
I knew the bomb was about to fall. I rehearsed my lines, silently, “The two storage crates combined only hold 500 cubic feet…” In the darkened cab, before her aims for my jugular, we talk about life and other warm fuzzy things. I played along in hopes it would delay the inevitable and give me a chance to alter the outcome.
We treat each other like old friends. I asked him how long he’d been in the United States, what his plans were for the future-his age. He told me he moved to the United States 1-1/2 years ago from Israel, he was 25 and had big plans to own a moving company in the United States. He said he was getting good training and experience from this company. Yes, I saw that he had. What are your plans he asked? What did I write and where was I moving. I tried to extend the conversation as long as possible because I knew the script would soon turn ugly. I strained to see the total on the clipboard sitting on his lap as he continued to sweeten me up for the kill. But, I couldn’t make it out-too dark. No moon.
We continued to talk for a few minutes more as I silently rehearsed my script, “My two wooden crates cannot hold more than 500 cubic feet combined, even if they were professionally packed, which they weren’t…”
Abruptly, the virtual foreplay ended and we moved into the main event.
“According to my calculations,” he said, face expressionless. “The total is $3,500.”
“That can’t be right. My original quote was $1795. With the two boxes of pictures at $20-”
“Lady, you have 700 cubic feet worth of stuff. Also, I had to add another $150 for the tape we used to wrap your boxes and the extra 80 cubic feet for the items you brought on the pick up truck, $150 more for the pictures-”
“Impossible,” I said. “The two storage units combined only hold 500 cubic feet if they were stuffed full with no airspace-which they aren’t and you said the few extra boxes I brought wouldn’t even count.”
I leaped out of the truck. He followed… “Look lady, I’m just going by the measurement marks in the truck-and I told you 80 cubic feet on the stuff you brought in the pick-up truck and altogether it’s 700 cubic feet.
“Right guys?” He looks at the two young men slinking near the side of the rental truck. They shook their heads obediently up and down in agreement with expressionless faces.
Temperatures dropped even lower. Nine thirty now. I’m hungry, cold, tired and determined.
“I want to speak to Renee (Ms. Sugar Voice),” I said.
“Oh, you don’t want to speak to her. She’s just a secretary,” he screamed at me. “She knows nothing.”
“Call her.” I insisted. Renee and Angel spoke to each other on his cell phone for several minutes in a foreign language.
“Here, she wants to talk to you.” He pushed the cell phone in my face.
“So what’s the problem,” said Renee, her voice no longer sweet.
“It can’t be much more than 500 cubic feet,” I say, “Because the storage units combined are 500 cubic feet…and I just brought a few boxes more.” We went back and forth until she passed the phone to someone Joe. He was charming-for a minute. Assured me Angel had worked for him over 10 years and was very trust worthy.
“I guess he was 15 when he started because he’s 25 now,” I said. “And he’s only been in the United States for 1-1/2 years.” Silence.
“Well, then,” Joe screamed, “Have them take everything out of the truck. We don’t need your business.”
My mind flashed ahead to loading all the boxes of books and furniture back into the storage crates, alone, in the cold, dark parking lot. And if I were able to load the boxes and furniture, which was doubtful, I would have to leave the units standing in the parking lot all night with flimsy padlocks securing my life’s belongings. How would I find another moving company on such short notice? I already had my airplane ticket and paid for a storage unit in New York.
“No,” I cried. “We can work it out, I’m sure.”
“Give me Angel,” he said. Words passed rapidly between them. Angel hung up. We battled for the next half hour. I was cold, hungry, disillusioned, but even more determined. I ended up paying only $280 over the original quote, a lot less than he wanted to charge me.
Relieved, sickened and shaky, I watched my life’s possessions move away as their truck pulled out of the parking lot. Out of my control now, at least until the middle of December when my belongings were scheduled to arrive in Saratoga Springs-or wouldn’t.
On December 10th I received a call at my new apartment in New York from a man with a heavy Russian accent who told me my belongings would arrive in Saratoga Springs, December 13. We arranged to meet at my new storage unit just outside of town.
Snow covered the ground the morning my belongings arrived and the temperature was 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Two men in jeans and tee shirts jumped out of the 18 wheeler and started unloading my boxes and furniture.
“Were you subcontracted?” I blurted out.
“Yes,” the thinner man said as he continued to pull boxes out of the truck. Some of the boxes had broken apart. Few were tapped, only the ones I taped, even though I emailed Sugar Voice that I wanted all the boxes taped. She emailed me back that they would be taped before leaving Los Angeles.
The men finished unloading the truck. I signed the papers that stated I had received everything. (Big mistake. Do not sign anything until you are assured that nothing is missing or damaged. In that case you’re supposed to make a record of it on the inventory form).
In spring, when the snow melted, and I could get to my storage unit to check everything, over two dozen boxes had not been delivered. Tape recorders, radios, a television and other electrical appliances were missing. I heard that moving companies steal small electrical appliances and sell them and add to their profits. My radio and CD player were smashed. Dishes, wine glasses, vases, antique cake platter and cups stacked in a pile of broken glass. Antique rosewood table and desk chipped and gouged. The computer desk scratched, pieces missing and my ukulele was dented-two strings broken.
The good news, my VCR arrived safely, probably because the movers already had too many VCR’s in their stockpile. And thinking back, Angel did warn me about the possibility that my antique furniture might be damaged.
“Don’t bother ever sending antique furniture because by the time it gets to its destination, it’ll be broken and fall apart, anyway.” Angel spoke the truth. Maybe he was an angel after all.
If I had known how this story ended, I would have spent the night guarding my life’s possessions and figured out what to do in the morning.
- How to Find a Reputable Moving Company
- Watch out for Red Flags when Moving
- A Note About Posting Moving Company Reviews