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4 steps to hiring the best movers

If you're planning on buying a home, you must do your homework before hiring a mover.

According to the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA), the average cost of an out-of-state move is $5,630, and $1,170 in state. Your actual cost will likely depend on the weight of your belongings, travel distance and how much packing help is needed, says John Bisney, AMSA's director of public relations.

It's also important that you hire a reputable moving company well before moving day. "Take some time to make sure the company you're dealing with is legitimate," he says. If not, you could waste time, money and risk damaging your valuables.

Here are four steps to finding a reputable, affordable mover:

No.1: Verify licenses, certifications and insurance

A company moving you out of state must be licensed by the Department of Transportation's (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), says Bisney. "Make sure they give you their (DOT) number when you contact them for an estimate," he says. Take that number and check the FMCSA database to verify the mover and check for complaints, says Bisney.

If you're moving in-state, the moving company may still need to be licensed or certified by the state. When you contact them, ask which certifications they have, says Rebecca Chanin, marketing director for JK Moving Services in Sterling, Va.

In addition, ask how they select and hire their individual movers, and what qualifications those movers will have. You want to make sure they've been background checked and drug screened. "These are people coming into your home and they'll be handling your most precious belongings," she explains.

Another option is to check the AMSA consumer site. The site lists movers that have received a ProMover certification after undergoing a criminal background check and agreeing to adhere to AMSA's code of ethics, Bisney says.

Also, ask about insurance and how your belongings will be protected, says Leslie Piper, a consumer housing specialist with Realtor.com. "If the mover is uninsured, your property is not covered if damaged," she says.

No. 2: Ask about contingency plans

When interviewing movers, ask how they would handle a situation if something went wrong -- such as the closing date getting pushed back. It occurs often, Piper says. In fact, homeowners should probably plan for it. If you are moving out on Friday, Piper suggests checking to see if the movers would be able to accommodate a delay that goes until Monday or Tuesday. "I always tell my clients to build in a few days of extra cushion in case any last minute changes come up," she says.

A company that owns its own trucks may be more likely to handle a surprise schedule change or vehicle breakdown than a company that leases trucks, Chanin says.

If your new home isn't ready immediately after the move, find out if the company will be able to securely store your belongings, she says.

No. 3: Get a written estimate

A potential mover should walk through your home to see what needs to be moved, and then provide a free written estimate on the spot or by email within a day or two, Chanin says.

"It's ideal to have three movers come to your home and give you in-home estimates," she says. Having a written quote allows you to make fair comparisons of different companies, such as if each quote includes packing services, and if price is figured by weight or some other factor, Chanin says.

Without a written estimate, a company could possibly charge you more on the day of the move and you wouldn't have any evidence to refute those charges, Bisney says. "It could cost you another thousand dollars or more," he says.

No. 4: Don't pay upfront

Once you decide on a mover, they may ask for a small deposit of $100 or less to secure the date, but never pay a large amount of money -- such as half of the bill -- upfront, Bisney says. When you sign the contract, make sure it's fully filled in with what was included in the estimate.

Moving can be stressful, but it's important to take the time and do your research to find a reputable moving company. The right mover can reduce your stress by making sure your belongings are handled by reliable professionals at a fair price.

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