As research, anecdotal evidence and even a quick Google searchdemonstrate, moving house ranks as one of the more stressful experiences a person can go through. Considering the disruption, upheaval, and all those tedious logistics associated with leaving home, it’s hardly surprising that many dread the moving process.
When an unpleasant experience with removalists is added to the mix, stress levels can rise to boiling point.
Marketing manager Clarissa Campitelli and her husband, Tom, learnt this the hard way during a relocation from Melbourne to Sydney. The couple had belongings that needed collection from two locations – a few things from Tom’s parents’ house and big-ticket items at a storage facility – as well as interstate delivery.
With the expenses of a big move skyrocketing, they settled on a budget removals company they found online. The price was right, but Campitelli now describes it as “probably the worst decision” they could have made.
“They were going to go to my in-laws’ house at 11am, pick up our stuff from there, and then we had a 1pm appointment at the storage facility to pick stuff up … The day was just an absolute shemozzle.”
First the truck ran late, then a call came through several hours later to explain that it had broken down in the middle of Melbourne’s CBD. The removalists finally made it to Campitelli’s in-laws by 11 o’clock that night, but had missed the window to visit the storage facility. The couple had to wait another week for the second pick-up to be rescheduled.
“Instead of having a fridge, we had to go and buy packets of ice for our laundry sink to try and keep our food cool,” Campitelli says.
Worse than the inconvenience was the poor customer service, she adds. No refund was offered, head office had to be chased, and no guarantee of when they would get their possessions was given. When the second delivery was eventually made, one box was missing and never found.
“They had no phone number, so we couldn’t actually call them, it was all just email … We just felt like they didn’t really care about us.”
Campitelli says the number one lesson she learnt from the experience is to check reviews, something she overlooked at the time.
“Going forward, I would use a bigger, more reputable company that has lots of reviews, and not just pick something because it’s cheap.”
Podcast host Kaity Griffin has also been burnt by removalists. Griffin was pregnant with her second child when she and husband Matt moved house. Having sold their property quickly and with a short settlement, they had a month in limbo before moving into their new home.
So, they found a storage and removals company, packed their belongings into mobile storage boxes and arranged for them to be delivered to their new address when it was ready.
“Matt got a call, three days before we were due to move to our new place … and they said, we can’t deliver it to your new house so you’re going to have to come and pick it up again and deal with it yourself,” Griffin says.
The issue was their new home’s steep driveway, something Matt had alerted the company to at the time of booking. The couple were told that delivering to a new address or even the bottom of the driveway wasn’t an option.
“We hired two more moving trucks, had to go to the depot, unpack everything, pack it back into the trucks, then drive to the new house and unpack them all again,” says Griffin, adding that they considered taking the case to VCAT but, already highly stressed, decided not to go to the effort.
“We didn’t get any price reduction or any apology,” she says, pointing out that the poor handling was a missed opportunity for the business.
“Often with a negative situation, you have the opportunity to turn an unhappy customer into a loyal customer. I guess with the moving industry they think, oh, they probably won’t move for a while or use us again, so it doesn’t really matter if we have one unhappy client.”
According to industry expert Peter Borain, complaints such as Griffin’s and Campitelli’s aren’t isolated. He says the transient nature of the removals business lends itself to unreliable operators.
“Unfortunately, there are rogue removalists out there. What’s happened with technology and websites and Google advertising is, it’s really easy for anybody to set up a website, start doing some pay-for-click advertising and make a company look like it’s reputable.”
Borain says many of these reliable-looking companies actually sub-contract workers and underpay them for what is difficult manual labour. In response to this, Borain launched Movepal; a kind of Uber for removalists that allows drivers to determine their own hours and locations, and users to find a vetted, peer-reviewed mover.
He has a few tips when it comes to avoiding a negative moving experience. Number one is to check out a company’s reviews.
“And you’ve got to check using a reputable review platform, as well,” he says. “Choose something like Trustpilot or Womo, where reviews have been vetted properly.”
Rather than avoiding companies that have the odd negative review, Borain says to instead look at how that business handled poor feedback. Did they engage with the customer?
“It’s not bad to have a customer who was unhappy because something was damaged, because things do get damaged in this business. But you want to see how the company’s responded to that.”
Recommendations from friends and family can be helpful as well.
“The other thing you’ve got to look for is insurance,” Borain advises. “A lot of companies will say they have insurance and they’re covered but they’re actually not. So, you want to ask them to prove that they’ve got cover, email through some details, make sure they have public liability.”
All terms and conditions, insurance documents and pricing charges should be made transparent by the company prior to booking. Borain says dodgy operators can hit customers with extra costs on the day of the move, so make sure to find out the minimum charge and whether there are additional fees prior to booking.
And avoid choosing someone who requests cash rather than card payment – “this is a red flag,” says Borain. “The industry is rife with underpaid and unskilled workers paid cash by these dodgy moving companies.”