Planning a move? Here’s what you need to know before you hire a broker
Mar 7, 2022, 10:48 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 9:57 pm
SALT LAKE CITY – When you search for a moving company online, how do you know you’re hiring someone you can trust? That was a question Jon Accarrino had last fall, as he prepared to move across the country.
He called several companies for bids, trying to avoid the moving nightmares half a dozen Utahns shared with the KSL Investigators during the past year: Inaccurate estimates. Property held hostage. Items lost or damaged. And deceptive business practices.
The KSL Investigators reported on the rising number of moving scams last November. Since that story aired, we have received email after email after email of similar stories.
The common thread weaving through every single complaint: they hired moving brokers.
Like any other business, there are brokers who are good at their job and there are brokers not so good at their job.
And as Accarrino found, brokers are sometimes your only option. With no national moving company available in his timeframe, like many Utahns, he signed on with a broker.
“I was on a tight deadline,” said Accarrino. “I needed to be in Raleigh, North Carolina before the end of the year and none of the moving companies could really guarantee that was going to happen.”
What is a moving broker?
So, what is a moving broker? And what are the benefits and risks of using one? The KSL Investigators set out on a mission to arm you with the information you need to know before you trust anyone with your belongings.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), “A moving broker is a company that arranges for the transportation of your cargo, utilizing for-hire carriers to provide the actual truck transportation. Moving brokers are sales teams that book your move and sell it to an actual moving company.”
In short, brokers don’t own any moving trucks or hire moving staff. Instead, they coordinate your move with actual moving companies.
As Accarrino searched for a company that could get his belongings from Salt Lake City to North Carolina in time for him to start his new job, he went with New Leaf Moving Group, a moving broker based in Florida.
They’ve got a nice website – smiling faces, glowing reviews. And it says their “number one goal has always been customer satisfaction.”
Again, as a broker, you pay them to find professional movers for you.
But for Accarrino, once the movers showed up, the red flags started flying.
“What showed up at my house was a bunch of random guys with U-Hauls,” he told us from his new home in North Carolina. “I could have packed the van better. All of our wooden furniture has gashes and dents. And the number on the calculator is just going higher and higher and higher.”
Total price for his move: $25,889.
That’s more than double the initial estimate quoted by the broker: $12,284.
According to federal regulators and the Better Business Bureau, discrepancy in price is one of the biggest complaints against New Leaf Moving Group.
In a phone conversation, New Leaf told the KSL Investigators those complaints represent only a fraction of their total move. The company said inaccurate information from customers about the square footage of their belongings is the primary reason for a price discrepancy.
Challenges in the industry
Sean Williams is the owner of American Moving Experts, also out of Florida. He’s been in the moving broker industry for just under a decade.
While New Leaf refused to go on camera to talk about customer complaints, KSL spoke with another broker willing to share his thoughts about challenges in the industry in general.
“You know, you hear about this stuff regularly,” said Williams, “Issues and complaints happen every single day, but we do 300-500 moves a month. We do a substantial amount. They happen everyday but they’re typically minimal.”
Williams says he’s been around long enough to see three kinds of brokers:
- Experienced and trying to do the right thing.
- Inexperienced and trying to do the right thing.
- Deceptive, not trying to do the right thing.
Ask Williams, and he’ll tell you he’s in the “experienced” category, trying to do the right thing.
“We’re competing with these brokers who are telling these customers, I mean, blatant lies. Complete lies and underquoting,” said Williams.
Ask one of Williams’ customers, and you might get a different story.
Tyler Breeding hired Williams and American Moving Experts in November 2021 to coordinate his move from Utah to South Carolina.
He paid Williams, the broker, $1,665.97.
He then paid the mover, Papa Taylor Moving and Storage, an additional $2,049.99.
But nearly three months later, Breeding’s property hadn’t arrived in South Carolina.
“So at that point, we believed that our belongings had disappeared, and we were never going to see them again,” he told the KSL Investigators.
Turns out, his belongings had never even left the state. Rather, there were found stuffed inside a storage unit in Salt Lake City.
“That storage unit they dumped my stuff into was two weeks from going up to, basically a storage wars online auction. And then we never would have seen our stuff again,” said Breeding.
Williams insists situations like this are extremely rare. In this case, he says he hired a moving company they had never worked with before, Papa Taylor Moving and Storage, out of Oklahoma.
In the middle of Breeding’s move, a big red flag popped up on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) website: “Out-Of-Service.”
Yeah, you’re reading that correctly. They went out of business.
This means Breeding paid Papa Taylor Moving and Storage over $2,000 to move his stuff into a storage unit, not tell him where it was, and then vanish.
“You have to prove yourself. I’m constantly vetting them. I have a girl whose sole job is to vet and monitor carriers consistently every day,” said Williams.
Who is liable?
Vetted or not, if the movers damage, lose or pack your stuff in a storage unit, can you count on the broker to make things right?
“Legally speaking,” said Willams, “we’re not liable for any of the acts or omissions of the carrier. So, anything that was paid to them is legally not our responsibility.”
It’s in small print, in the contract: “American Moving Experts is not responsible for any acts or omissions of the moving company.”
That means they legally take zero responsibility for any problems created by the company they vetted and they hired for you.
“He’s claiming they’re one of the good guys,” said Breeding, “And I want to believe him. But at the end of the day, my experience with them has been absolutely horrible.”
Horrible for Breeding.
And horrible, with a different broker, for Accarrino.
Remember his situation from the beginning of our story?
The broker estimate was off by $13,000.
“The broker,” said Accarrino, “The broker actually did nothing.”
The good news: He put GPS trackers on his property before it was loaded onto the moving trucks, making sure it ended up in North Carolina.
The bad news: The movers hired by New Leaf had only been in business a few weeks. They were unsearchable on the FMCSA’s website. And they told him the only way they’d unload his stuff, is if he paid them $20,000, in cash.
“And then all of a sudden, I had to figure out how to come up with $20,000 cash,” said Accarrino.
It took some scrambling, but Accarrino paid the movers in money orders and cash, leaving him to question all those smiling faces, glowing reviews and “number one goal” of “customer satisfaction” on the New Leaf Moving Groups website.
One last note: Accarrino received a refund of $165 for what he claims is more than $9,000 in damaged property.
If you’re planning a move and looking to use a broker instead of a full-scale moving company, the FMCSA has these tips:
- Ask if the broker is registered with FMCSA. All interstate moving brokers must be registered. You can search FMCSA’s database for registered brokers at www.protectyourmove.gov.
- Make sure the broker gives you a copy of FMCSA’s Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move booklet and the Ready to Move brochure. Brokers are required to provide these consumer documents.
- Ask for a list of the moving companies the broker uses. Brokers are required to provide you this information.
- Confirm the moving companies the broker uses are registered with FMCSA. Brokers for interstate moves are required to use only movers that are registered with FMCSA.
- Ask if the broker has a written agreement with the movers it uses. This is required by law.
- Be sure to get a written estimate from the broker that is based on the actual moving company’s tariff. Do not accept a verbal estimate.
- Ask to see the broker’s marketing materials, ads and/or website. Brokers must reference in their marketing materials their physical business location, registered U.S DOT number, and their status as a broker that does not transport household goods but arranges for this service. If an ad is not available, ask for this information directly.
You also should know that sometimes a broker is not able to sell the job to a moving company for various reasons — low estimates, no availability, limited resources, etc. — which could leave you stuck without a mover on the day of your move.
Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at email@example.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.