I could've just bought new furniture instead
January 27, 2021 8:31 PM   Subscribe

My movers took 5.5 hours and charged $1k to move *only the furniture* from my small 1-bedroom apartment, and didn't wear masks despite multiple requests to put them back on. This amount was reduced from $1100 after I made 4 complaint calls. I'm exhausted and so so stressed and need help deciding what more is worth doing at this point.

I moved from a 625 square foot second floor 1BR apartment to a first floor duplex, a 15 min drive away. My apartment has 2 infrequently-used elevators close to my unit that past movers have used with no problem.

I requested a bid from a local moving company that had good ratings on a non-Yelp site, and the owner called me personally to give me a bid. He said that he charged $159 an hour plus $159 flat for travel time. I told him that money was tight and so asked for an estimate given that I was on the second floor and in a 1BR. He told me to expect about 2 hours of work, given that he usually estimates 1 hour per furnished room, and I had 2 (living room and bedroom). He assured me that his staff were salaried so were disincentivized to take longer than necessary. I also asked him about COVID precautions given that I had read about movers not wearing masks on AskMe. He ran down a detailed list of COVID precautions and assured me that the movers would be wearing masks.

I confirmed with friends that this bid was a standard cost for the area. Because I didn't want to go above his estimate, I moved all of the boxes and non-furniture items myself this past weekend. So the movers were only moving furniture- a full-size bed/mattress, a very small couch, 2 small tables, 3 light/small chairs, a bookshelf, a dresser, a stereo, a file cabinet, and 4 small/medium-sized antiques. All of these items have been previously moved into and out of multiple other apartments and houses by professional movers, including the apartment I moved out of today, with no trouble.

Two movers arrived at 8:30am today and were able to park on the street right in front of the elevator lobby doors. When I showed them what would need to be moved, they said the bed would be a lot of work. I was surprised, given that no previous movers have had trouble with it or had to disassemble it, but I said they could take off the headboard if they wanted. At this point, one of the movers had pulled down his mask, and held a clipboard out to me to sign. We are under a statewide mask mandate and cannot gather indoors with people from outside of our household, so I asked him to pull his mask up. He pulled it up, and propped the clipboard up on his arm so I could sign, but had to come close to him to do so. The mask immediately drooped back down, and I started to get frustrated, and skimmed/signed the paperwork more quickly than I would have otherwise because I did not feel comfortable being that close to someone without a mask. I noticed that most sections were blank, but had to be out of my house that day so felt like I had to sign. I then left to go to my new house and wait for them.

After a couple of check-ins with the company (in which I told the foreman about the issue with the mask and he said he would remind the mover to keep his mask on), they called me at 12:10 to say that they were on their way to my new house. They said that it had taken a long time because the bed and elevator had slowed them down. They arrived at 12:30, fully 4 hours after they had started, and one walked in without a mask on again. I told him to put it back on for a second time. I discovered that they had fully disassembled my bed and couch. They said that it had taken a long time because they had to take each piece of furniture one by one down the elevator, then lock the truck to prevent theft, then come back for another piece. It took them another 1.5 hours to re-assemble the furniture and bring everything in, during which point one mover had his mask on about 10% of the time despite a third reminder.

They initiated the payment process while they were unloading, and tried to charge me $1100. I got on the phone with a manager twice to complain about the difference in the projected time/cost from the actual time/cost, that it seemed egregious for a 1BR without furniture to take 5.5 hours, and for a second time about the masks. He said that it was a fair price for the time they had worked and that sometimes moves take longer than expected, especially when elevators are involved. I said that the owner knew about the elevator when he gave me the bid, and given that I had no boxes the move should have been under his estimate if anything. The manager said that all he could give me was $100 off and his hands were tied otherwise. I kept pressing but he refused to budge. He said he would discipline the mover for the mask issue but reassured me that his temperature was fine this morning, as if that means anything.

After they left, I found some damage to my belongings, and I called the company back and again complained and asked for a reduction. The paperwork had specified that they could not charge more than 125% of the non-binding bid, so I pointed this out. The manager said that because the owner had not given me the bid in writing it didn't count as a bid. He said that they don't do onsite/written bids these days because of COVID. This makes no sense to me because they had asked me to sign the section referring to the existence of a non-binding bid (although, of course, the bid amount had not been filled in on the paperwork). Again, the manager refused to reduce the cost more than it had already been reduced. He said I can file a claim about the damage.

I told a friend about this situation and she sent me this link about moving fraud, which includes a lot of elements of what happened (rental truck, phone bid, blank forms), except that this is definitely an established local company.

My options as I see them are:
*Consider this a lesson learned about getting bids in writing, eat this massive cost, and move on with my life.
*Call them a fifth time and complain again, maybe with some additional talking points this time? I almost never complain about service or ask for refunds and I find this intensely draining but will do it again if I need to.
*Complain on Yelp or to the BBB

Is there another option I'm not considering here? If I complain again, how can I do it to make it more likely that it'll actually get me somewhere this time?
posted by quiet coyote to Work & Money (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The supposed amount of time it took is utterly ridiculous. With the available elevator, this 46-year-old guy could move that paltry amount of stuff with a dolly by myself in less time.

Bitch, and bitch some more. Completely out of line.
posted by notsnot at 8:51 PM on January 27, 2021 [11 favorites]

I guess the real question is, how much total are you out over what you expected and do you have the determination to take it to small claims court/ your local media or elsewhere to recoup? Only you can answer that.

You can certainly leave bad reviews and report them to the BBB.

They sound extremely scammy. I've moved a lot too and it sounds off. I am surprised you didn't stay to supervise them...I guess I would suggest doing that in future.
posted by emjaybee at 8:58 PM on January 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

This sounds egregious to me. I've had movers move an entire two bedroom apartment, with maybe 40% more stuff than average people, in 4 hours. No elevators, but a 1/2 hour drive between locations in city traffic. Scammy scam scam.

Do some research and see if you can reasonably confirm that it's a scam. If so, get the police involved. Else, lawyer up and see how they respond.
posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 9:01 PM on January 27, 2021

Response by poster: I didn’t stay to supervise only because they were clearly not masking or following COVID guidelines and I didn’t want to be in an enclosed space with them.

I was hoping to pay $500 worst case, so I’m out at least $500.

The manager said that in addition to the issue with the bed and elevator, it takes a while to wrap everything in plastic (everything was, indeed, wrapped in plastic when they got to me). Again, they had all of this information when they gave me the bid so I don’t understand how they couldn’t have at least given me something more realistic.
posted by quiet coyote at 9:15 PM on January 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

This definitely sounds like a scammy, unprofessional company that did not provide good service. However, I think it’s not realistic to think that you’ll get anything but frustration and aggravation from taking them to court. There’s no legal standard defining how much time it should take to move an xx square foot apartment, and you weren’t there to see if they were deliberately slow-rolling the job. Yeah, if they claimed it took three days to move a bed and a dresser across town you’d have a case, but two hours vs five hours isn’t something a court is going to adjudicate. I think it’s important to recognize that a lot of your frustration (at least based on how you wrote the question) is about their unacceptable COVID precautions, but that’s going to have zero weight in a civil case regarding what you should pay.

On seeing your update - yes, everything you say is very reasonable, but think of how inevitable it is that every home renovation project seems to come in hugely over the estimate, yet there doesn’t seem to be a community of attorneys serving dissatisfied clients trying to sue their contractors - it’s not a fruitful line of effort.

Definitely complain on Yelp and Angies List and any other relevant resources, but beyond that I would recommend option one: considering this a lesson learned and getting on with your life.
posted by exutima at 9:32 PM on January 27, 2021 [6 favorites]

Well, this is infuriating. If you want to pursue this, stop speaking with the manager. Call back tomorrow morning, and insist on speaking with the owner. Be polite, and say specifically it's the last time you'll be calling -- if the owner doesn't get back to you by close of business Friday to make this right, the company will be hearing from your lawyer next. Flouting the mandate and risking your health (and yeah, driving you from the apartment), taking twice the time necessary, damaging your belongings, expecting you to pay twice what you were quoted and only after you had to argue about it... this is terrible, and terribly unprofessional. I'm so sorry.

The manager said that because the owner had not given me the bid in writing it didn't count as a bid. Not your lawyer, not giving you legal advice. Review the elements of a contract, and check your state law. Recording phone calls depends on location. Take pictures of the damage, if you haven't already.
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:42 PM on January 27, 2021 [7 favorites]

This is incredibly scammy and I'm sorry that it happened to you. I've had to battle unscrupulous contractors before and I found that what works best is paying only the agreed-upon amount and firmly stating that you won't be paying a penny more. In your situation I would send them payment for $596.25 (the $159 flat fee + 2 hours at $159 each for the move plus an additional 25% of the total to cover whatever extra they seem to think they're entitled to). Along with the payment send a letter or email such as the following "Enclosed is payment in keeping with our written agreement for the $159 flat fee, 2 hours move fee at $159 each, and as a courtesy I have included an additional 25% to cover incidentals. I consider this transaction complete and the matter closed."

If they push back, stand firm. If you receive any further correspondence just repeat "I consider this matter closed". Many contractors, especially the scammy ones, are lazy and want to avoid legal drama. You're in a more advantageous position than they are. It's unlikely that they'd be willing to file the necessary paperwork and then take a half day off of work to go to small claims court and argue that somehow they forgot to include wrapping the furniture in plastic (which takes just minutes!) when they initially bid the job. No judge will find it reasonable that a small one-bedroom apartment should take a professional moving company 5.5 hours.

And then absolutely rate them poorly on any public forum that you can find. Good luck!
posted by mezzanayne at 10:27 PM on January 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: The amount has already been paid. They insisted on payment while my belongings were still on the truck.
posted by quiet coyote at 10:47 PM on January 27, 2021

Did you pay with a credit card? Holding the load hostage is a common scam maneuver; see FMCSA's national consumer complaint database & Move Rescue.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:17 PM on January 27, 2021 [14 favorites]

The owner is the one who gave you estimate - I would definitely insist on talking with him. I think it is worth the aggravation of one more call. Tell him what happened, tell him you chose him because he had a good reputation and since he gave you the quote personally you want to give him a chance to make it right - and that if you doesn't you will be sure to let others know about the experience including the rating site where you found him and on yelp.
posted by metahawk at 11:28 PM on January 27, 2021 [11 favorites]

What city/state are you in? I think Illinois, for example, has a department/process for handling this kind of thing. Maybe. That's what my movers told me. Long story.
posted by amtho at 11:54 PM on January 27, 2021

Seconding metahawk on informing the owner that this is his chance to make it right and if he doesn’t you will make it your full time job to get the word out about his unethical business practises plus you have a family member whose a lawyer and it will cost you nothing to take him to court and keep dragging it out. It doesn’t matter if any of this is true, you want to make him dropping the excess costs seem like the easier option. Once he knows you’re not going to roll over and pay and it will actually cost him business and money, hopefully he’ll back off. He does this because most of the time it works. Show him this time it won’t.
posted by Jubey at 1:49 AM on January 28, 2021 [10 favorites]

Write a shorter version of this on Yelp.
posted by kingdead at 4:54 AM on January 28, 2021

Wow, that is an awful experience that is well out of normal range. I’m so sorry that happened to you. I agree you should condense the story down to a shorter bulleted list of things that did not go according to what he promised you during the estimate and speak only with the owner from now on.
posted by anderjen at 5:11 AM on January 28, 2021

Id consider calling your State's Attorney Generals office or DOT. There are definitely regulations (laws, even) governing the business of moving, and id doesnt feel like these guys are following them.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 5:17 AM on January 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you don't get anywhere with the owner, try calling your credit card company and attempting a chargeback for the amount you think you were overcharged. I would record the call with the owner (if that's legal where you are) and get him to acknowledge the original estimate so you have proof of that.
posted by pinochiette at 5:22 AM on January 28, 2021 [5 favorites]

IANYL but agree tell your credit card company not to pay. This is outrageous, scammy (we had the same thing happen and it was awful) and it is frankly unlikely the owner will try to reocup costs after you had such a terrible time. If you want to protect yourself somewhat, write a narrative of what happened and have it notarized in the next day or two then just wait and see what happens.
posted by luckdragon at 7:51 AM on January 28, 2021

Have you paid this bill? There are tons of totally scammy movers. Deduct what you think is fair, write to them saying so, and pay that amount. If they have your credit card, contest it.
posted by theora55 at 8:00 AM on January 28, 2021

Best answer: Ok so the 125% of the written bid bit is exactly the regulation type is was thinking about. That law exists to keep scammy movers from doing this to people and the guys excuse that COVID means he cant offer bids that bind him to a price cap is just . . . a straight up scam.

You could probably file a small claims case if you were motivated enough. . . it might not go anywhere and could waste a lot of your time, but if you thought of the stress or costs the business owner might incur responding to it as a form of retribution it could be worth it.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:15 AM on January 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Everyone bitches about Yelp, but this is exactly the type of thing Yelp can help prevent. Whatever else you do, please leave a review on Yelp to save other people from going through this. I'm sorry this happened to you.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:31 PM on January 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

In addition to pursuing this through your credit card company (hopefully you paid by card), I would leave detailed reviews on Yelp, Google, BBB, Next Door, and Facebook. Once they see that this could impact their future business, they may be willing to refund you in exchange for amending your review.
posted by quince at 1:27 PM on January 28, 2021

Response by poster: Well. After people pointed out regulations I looked up the WA state laws about this, and turns out movers here are required to give *every customer* a written estimate that then caps the maximum amount the customer can be charged. I'm furious. I called the company back and demanded to speak to the owner, whom they said would call me back. I then called my credit card company to initiate a chargeback. I'll be telling the owner that I will need a full refund given that they have now wasted hours of my time trying to hide their illegal practices, and I will be reporting them to the state (plus leaving reviews online). They can either go through the chargeback process or give me my money back themselves, but I will be doing it either way.
posted by quiet coyote at 1:33 PM on January 28, 2021 [17 favorites]

The law you posted could just apply to interstate moves - they are highly regulated. For a local move you can call a guy with a pickup truck from Craigslist. It's not clear from the document linked who it applies to, but the term "carrier" and references to tarrifs in it suggest that it may not apply to local moves. IIRC, a local move in VA was 50 miles or less, WA of course could be different.
posted by COD at 4:09 PM on January 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission; In-State Move; Consumer Help Line 1-888-333-WUTC (9882)
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:45 PM on January 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It is definitely not just for interstate moves.

The owner said that they don’t need to give me a final cost estimate in writing per se but acknowledged that they do need to give me at least time estimate in writing with an hourly rate pre move in writing. Not only did they not give me one, (1) his staff had been telling me I had no grounds to complain about the cost because I had nothing in writing, and (2) the movers wrote in the final cost on the blank bill of lading to make it look like that was the initial estimate that I had signed for, which I hadn’t noticed had been added to the final copy they gave me until he tried to claim that it was my pre-move written estimate. Lol. He said he’d call me back with his decision about whether he’d agree to issue me a full refund tomorrow.
posted by quiet coyote at 10:19 PM on January 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

Please tell them you will call the Attorney General's consumer protection division. This usually clears things up pretty quickly. Also--don't forget your state legislators district offices can be extremely helpful in navigating state agencies if needed. Also--good on you for standing up to this.
posted by fyrebelley at 10:48 PM on January 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Just wanted to update that the first owner never called me back. So I went nuclear: I wrote a bad review on Yelp, submitted a credit card chargeback request, and filed a complaint with their licensing body. Long story short, I got my refund. Thanks, all!
posted by quiet coyote at 11:13 PM on February 18, 2021 [5 favorites]

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