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What’s the Math on Moving Brokers? Zero Accountability

The moving-broker process seems straightforward enough. A middleman gives consumers cost estimates, then finds movers to fill the jobs. Quick, simple, done.

Not so fast. One vital word is missing from that three-word sentence: accountability.

A moving broker has no trailers in his parking lot nor does he visit your home during the estimating process. Probably the biggest error individuals make is erroneously believing the broker has more oversight regarding the move than he does. In fact, a broker holds virtually no accountability over the physical moving process itself.

When all is said and done, the process eventually comes down to just two parties: the mover and the moved. The broker isn’t a concerned party to possible disputes, for example.

Consistent concerns

The Better Business Bureau addressed brokers in its study released June 2020 that focused on moving scams, stating:

“Consumers may assume—or are told—that the operation which provided the estimate will actually perform the move. When moving scammers are involved, they very often operate as “brokers, collecting deposits and arranging the moves but not picking up or delivering the goods themselves. Instead, they “sell” the job to someone else and usually receive a portion of the money squeezed out of victims by those who do the loading and unloading. While being a broker is not illegal, it is very important to know if you are involved with one. Contracts used by shady movers typically contain language stating that they will not “handle, or otherwise participate in a move as a carrier.”

BBB leaders advise those in the market for a mover visit and/or the official Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s website to review complaints lodged against moving companies.


Guidelines developed by the American Moving & Storage Association (the pro moving industry’s national trade association) are skeptical of the frequent broker method of offering phone-only estimates. “If a mover insists that he can provide a ‘final’ estimate over the phone without ever seeing your home and your furniture—choose another mover,” AMSA officials say.

Instead, a quality-based estimate should include either an in-home survey, a virtual survey (via a phone app providing a virtual tour of your home), or an extensive Q&A in which the surveyor creates a shipping list you review and approve.

Also keep in mind a broker frequently either will demand cash up-front or a 50% down payment prior to loading your items on a moving truck. National Van Lines instead recommends payment 24 hours prior to unloading your items. This permits sufficient time to inform your bank a substantial transaction will occur and to accept the payment as valid.

Legal move

Federal officials thought the broker practice important enough to issue guidelines governing the practice that have been law since 2011. Authorities remind consumers: “A Broker does not assume responsibility for the household goods and never takes possession of the goods.” The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s “Brokers of Household Goods Transportation by Motor Vehicle” rule requires brokers provide:

• U.S. Department of Transportation number on ads and websites
• estimates of expected moving charges and brokerage fees
• FMCSA pamphlets containing tips for successful moves and the consumer’s rights and responsibilities
• the broker’s deposit, cancellation and refund policies

FMCSA insists it monitors broker websites to determine whether they’re providing “misleading information.” The agency states it also conducts compliance reviews and initiates enforcement action when appropriate.

“An interstate household goods moving broker is not a moving company and is not held to the same legal standards as a moving company,” states Michael Garcia, a San Diego-based attorney specializing in transportation law. “Generally interstate brokers of household goods are not liable for the acts or omissions of the motor carrier.”

Know who your mover is

Your National Van Lines mover is responsible for the whole process. His accountability doesn’t end once the trailer leaves your driveway.

Realize it’s unlikely you’ll meet or even know the identity of the actual mover prior to moving day should you take the broker route. A qualified mover needs to have proper licensing and insurance. This might not exist with a broker-arranged mover or, at best, the mover’s status would be unknown to you. Since brokers operate sight unseen (or should we say “site unseen”?) their estimates often come up incorrectly low. Plus, a simple dollar figure shouldn’t be the deciding factor on what constitutes a conscientious moving team. Several factors should be weighed to gain a complete picture as to which mover is right for you.

“Be prepared for an unpleasant surprise,” AMSA officials warn the public about broker-arranged moves, “when the final charge turns out to be much higher than the original estimate provided over the phone or the Internet.”

Reputable movers always will place a premium on providing accurate information and remaining accountable through the process. A moving professional worth his salt will want to see your home to determine an accurate estimate as well as to provide proper valuation to your prized possessions.

Peace of mind, affordability and quality service are significant considerations when selecting a moving company. Contact us to learn more about our various moving services and to request a free moving quote.

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