Next week marks the five-year anniversary of our moving into our 1927 Craftsman two-story house.
I love my house. The original part contains just enough hardwood and architectural nuances to please without being fussy. The rear addition came in the mid-1990s and features a huge kitchen, family room, and master suite. Every night I lay in bed and look out over a bank of windows to a tangle of oak branches decorated with the intermittent flash of fireflies and think, “God, I love this bedroom! God, I love this house!”
The last thing we wanted was to buy a house at the time we bought this one. Think riding the crest of the real estate wave in 2004 just before the bubble burst, and I am ashamed to say we paid far more for the house than what we can sell it for in today’s depressed market.
I happened upon it during a brokers’ open house and dispatched my dispassionate husband to have a look-see. We had a perfectly serviceable house just a mile away and were in the process of remodeling the kitchen. I figured he wouldn’t even look, and even if he did would put the kibosh on it in no time.
I was wrong. He was more enchanted with the house than I was.
Before a sign was planted on the lawn, before it hit the MLS, before evening, we put in an offer. Even though both of us vowed to never move again.
One can accumulate a lot of junk in six years with two kids, two birds, two cats and the accoutrements of a four-bedroom house. Even with the close proximity and a Tahoe in the driveway, we were going to need some serious help getting all of our belongings from Point A to Point B. When moving into the old house, the van line we used dispatched a full semi and an additional large truck. Moving out was definitely going exceed those vehicles.
Being the savvy consumer I like to think I am, I called around to various moving companies. Phone estimates were approximately the same. I’m a small business person, so I like to use local small businesses whenever I can. I chose a local company, franchise of a larger one based in Lansing, Michigan. The fact that they are Michigan-based swayed me away from the Big Dogs, plus their company motto of “Movers Who Care.”
I should have known something was up when no one came out in advance to survey our belongings and tally up an estimate.
Moving day was set for the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. The new house was vacant for two weeks before and we boxed and moved most of the smaller items ourselves. The kitchen in the old place was still in the process of being reconstructed and it was nice to be able to eat a home cooked meal after a month of takeout and restaurants.
I should have known something was up when the “movers” arrived two hours late on moving day.
The three guys who eventually showed up with a single truck came in reeking of alcohol and body odor. From their conversation, I gleaned that they had been partying at a club just hours before. I’m pretty laid back and friendly and didn’t really care what they looked like or how they smelled as long as the job was complete before dinnertime. Besides, these were movers who “cared.”
That was before we found out we were sent three dimwits with a truck.
Lackadaisical would be a polite term to describe the work ethic of these movers. If my husband and teenage son hadn’t helped by loading the truck, it might have taken three days to move.
One item they were scheduled to take was my upright piano. This required an extra fee I was more than willing to pay. I had purchased the piano brand new in Minnesota when I thought I would take it up as a hobby, but quickly realized both my son and husband were much better at it than I could ever hope to be. The three movers took a look at the piano and the stairway and shared dubious expressions. I told them to leave it if it was too much and I’d have a piano mover take care of it later, but the head mover assured me they could handle it.
I then left for the new house to let the satellite TV guys in.
Much, much later in the afternoon, the moving truck arrived with my husband and son not far behind. One of the first things to be unloaded was the piano. My husband, who was shaking his head the entire time after spending most of the day with these knuckleheads, implored them to use the front steps of which there are only four tiny ones, instead of the back steps which has a steep wooden deck. They didn’t listen. All three of them struggled with the piano, gouging the deck steps with it along the way. However, that wasn’t the worst of it.
They also moved the piano upside down.
When the shrink wrap was removed, my piano literally fell to pieces. My heart could be heard dropping as I collected screws that were stripped clean from the lid. My husband was apoplectic, but wanted the rest of our belongings out of the truck before he said anything. The last thing he wanted was for our stuff to be held hostage in a warehouse on a holiday weekend. He paid the bill (including the extra charge for the piano) even though there was no apology for the damage and the three boneheads and the truck faded into the horizon.
Further inspection revealed slight scuffs to other pieces of furniture but nothing hurt as much as knowing my prized piano had taken a one mile truck trip upside down.
In the meantime, I called the moving company office and left heated messages that went unreturned. The next day I called nearby franchises of the same company and left similarly tense messages that were returned, but sadly since each franchise was independently owned and operated, they couldn’t help.
Tuesday morning arrived, and I called early to file a claim. The office manager was unaware of our little moving mishap, but promised to help me. I faxed over the original invoice of the piano. I had purchased it for $3,000 and a replacement would be around $4,000. Two independent piano reconstruction companies came out and declared my piano totaled. Not only was the case trashed, the soundboard likely incurred damage from being jarred. After faxing this information over to the moving company, a curious thing happened.
Finally after a few weeks, the moving company told me to file a claim with our homeowner’s insurance. Unfortunately, our homeowner’s rider on the piano didn’t cover it while it was in transit.
Certified letters to the franchise and the parent company in Lansing brought no results at all.
With no satisfaction from the “movers who cared” on the horizon, I decided to file a suit in small claims court. In addition to being heartsick, I was now angry. Very angry. It took a while, but about three months later, we got our court date. I was armed to the teeth with documents, photographs, a Ziploc baggie full of screws, and messages from the moving company.
The opposition was ready with the office manager and the head mover. When he appeared, the judge had to recuse himself and set another court date. It seemed that he himself had his own unsavory experience with the “movers who cared” and was therefore biased.
Several months later we approached the new court date with a new judge with a fair amount of trepidation. Small claims court is a crap shoot and we could just as easily lose as win. This time the owner of the franchise was in attendance. He attempted to cut a deal with us while the judge deliberated. I refused to back down on principle. After all, I’d spent the previous six months wanting to mow down every moving truck I saw with their stupid company logo on it.
We won (handily), but even armed with a legal decision, getting $3,000 from the moving company was not easy. They had 28 days to pay up, or I could file another document and have a process server on the case. They elected not to pay.
My process server was a nice guy, a fellow parent from my kids’ school. He explained he could go after cash or assets. I informed him in lieu of cash, I would take one of those big moving vans, preferably the one used in my move.
A week later I had my money, plus expenses. Two weeks later, a brand new piano came to the house.
In the years since my moving misadventure, I’ve mellowed a bit. You'd be wrong to assume I can laugh at the situation — I'm never going that far. Oh, I still steer people far, far away from this particular company with the litany of my mishap. However, I no longer aim my car toward passing moving vans. I don’t throw things at the TV when I see their inane commercials, especially the one where gentle handsome movers who probably smell like Axe deodorant expertly take a little girl’s treasured dollhouse and install it in her new abode. I’ve also vowed never to use the “movers who care” even if they’re the last movers on the planet.
Of course, I’ve also taken the solemn oath never to move again.