Kayla Coco-Stotts
March 31, 2021
Article type:
Understanding Bailey's Moving
Applies to:
All Moving

Brokers vs Movers: Not All Moving Companies Are the Same

You want to have a good experience when you use a moving company. Getting that experience depends a lot on who you choose, and the truth is not all moving companies are the same.  

As someone looking to move, it’s essential to understand the differences between movers and their services. This way, you can select the moving company that best services your needs while also ensuring the company you choose is reputable. In this article, we’ll touch on how moving companies differ from each other and which moving company may best serve you during your next move.

The Big Difference: Mover vs. Broker

Most reputable movers accomplish your move with two objectives in mind:  

  • To keep their crews and vehicles safe.
  • To keep your belongings safe.

Whether it be local, interstate, or international, two types of movers typically handle your move: moving companies and brokers. Though quite different in how they operate, there are pros and cons to both.

Which Is Best for You?

The answer depends on your situation.  

Consider a moving broker like you might a travel agent. Travel agents are great if you don’t want to shop for all your travel arrangements, but know that if you need any help, the airline, the hotel, and the car rental companies will always refer you back to the agent instead of dealing with you directly. There are pros and cons to arranging travel this way. On the pro, it’s easy to know who to call. With the con, even when the customer service agent is right in front of you, you must make a call to the travel agent to resolve issues.

It can be challenging to give up control over selecting where you stay, what flights you get on, and getting immediate help if something goes wrong. But for others, it's a welcome sacrifice if it means they don’t have to shop every part of travel by themselves. Move brokers work much the same. You will give up the ability to control the quality of the moving company and the ability to work directly with the moving company. So addressing typical concerns (like where’s the moving truck?) is sacrificed for the convenience of not shopping each company yourself.

In the end, you’ll be the one shopping for multiple moving companies if you choose to forego a broker. If that doesn't feel like a terrible prospect to you, the benefit of selecting your own moving company is that you control the quality. You can go with the company that makes you feel most comfortable, supplies the price that works for you, and provides immediate support if anything goes wrong.

If you decide a broker isn’t for you, be aware that many move brokers advertise themselves as moving companies, even when they’re not. The easiest way to tell is if they own their own trucks (just ask them!). If they don’t, they’re a broker.

Want more detail on each type of mover and how they work? We cover that below:  

Move Brokers

To put it simply, brokers are salespeople that manage your move by hiring a moving company to accomplish the job. Brokers don’t have moving trucks and they don't hire staff; their job is to act as a go-between between you and a moving company. They make money by keeping the difference between what they charge you and what the moving company they choose charges them to complete the move. As a result, brokers don’t assume responsibility for the items the moving company transports.  

Most brokers work from nationwide call centers and must utilize Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)-registered moving companies when booking interstate moves. The way brokers typically work is as follows:  

  • After you submit your information, the broker takes it and offers a rough estimate via phone or email of what they believe the job will cost.
  • Brokers typically offer you a low price and then it slowly increases as you provide them with more details.
  • Then, they negotiate the deal with moving companies around your move’s origin.
  • On the day of your move, the moving company selected by the broker will arrive and perform the job. Make sure you are aware of who the moving company is so you can identify and communicate with them upon arrival.

The Benefits of Using a Broker

Accomplishing your move through a broker has its benefits.  

  • Since moving brokers have access to an extensive network of moving companies, they allow more flexibility in your moving timeline and the route taken to deliver your belongings by working with many potential moving companies. They shop for many different moving companies so you don’t have to.
  • Additionally, brokers can access lower rates by selecting a moving company that offers lower rates. While you might find the same deal on your own, you also might not. A broker can shop moving companies faster than you can, typically.

The Drawbacks of Using a Broker

However, working with a broker is not without its downsides.

  • Since brokers typically offer low, over-the-phone or online-only estimates, they’re often not accurate and frequently increase after you've signed the contract.
    • Factors like home characteristics, additional furniture, weather delays, access to your home, supplemental packing materials, etc., can affect the cost of your move.
    • Those are hard to account for before move day without an in-home estimate. Brokers typically provide their estimates online.
  • The broker is not your mover and that means the mover is ultimately in control. Whatever the moving company charges on the day of your move is what you must pay. Even if that’s not what the broker told you upfront.
  • A broker has the incentive to hire the cheapest mover in order to retain the maximum difference between what you paid them and what they pay the mover.
    • As a middleman, that’s how they make money.
    • Many brokers inadvertently hire underinsured or underperforming movers because they are “cheaper”.
  • Costs with a broker can feel very “nickel and dime”.
    • If moving companies feel the broker underestimated the true cost of the move, they will point out all the missed items to the broker. The broker will then submit you a new, higher bill even after you’ve already paid them. You won’t be able to get your belongings delivered until you pay, per the Federal Government (Rights and Responsibilities, page 15).
    • This might happen several times, depending on what the moving company reports back.
  • It’s also more challenging to file a claim for damaged goods if you work through a broker.
    • A broker acts as a middleman and your contact with the actual moving company is limited, so resolving damage disputes will take longer.

Since the broker doesn't control the moving company, they have no control over the quality of your move. If you’ve heard a moving horror story, the following probably happened: The broker thinks they hired a good company, but they instead dispatched poorly trained movers or (sometimes) scam artists to cut extraneous costs.

Overall, working with a broker is ideal for someone looking to keep costs low during a short-term move and who doesn’t mind giving up control over quality and damages. Working with a broker adds risk, so you trade their benefit of shopping many different moving companies for the final decision on who will actually move you. This typically means lower prices at the expense of quality handling.  

To avoid as many downsides of brokers as possible, make sure the broker you select is reputable and abides by FMCSA standards. You can check if your interstate broker correctly registered with the U.S. Department of Transportation through the FMCSA search tool.  

Moving Companies

Though brokers and moving companies share similar goals (to move your stuff from point A to point B), the way they go about accomplishing those goals differs. Moving companies own trucks, staff professional movers, and have a personal stake in your move. They will typically send estimators either by in-person or virtual appointment to your home to give accurate pricing. There, the estimator evaluates costs according to the weight, size, and total distance of your move.

Since going down this route involves working with the moving company directly, the company can be held liable for any issues that may occur during your move. There is a direct line of communication between you and your mover. Any issues arise, and your coordinator will contact you. Vice versa, you can reach out to your assigned coordinator with any questions or concerns you have.

Moving companies serve a variety of needs. These companies can either entirely or partially address the conditions listed below, depending on their network scale. Van lines, for example, are comprised of moving companies across the globe. Check out this article to learn more about local movers and global van lines.

  • Local moves: These involve relocations within the same state, typically within a 50-100 miles radius. These moves function under the authority of the state. The price is often calculated at an hourly rate.
  • Interstate moves: This applies to moves that cross state lines. Movers must have a USDOT number from the FMCSA to process the move. Interstate moves are calculated based on the size and weight of items and distanced traveled.  
  • International moves: As the name implies, international moves occur when a customer moves to another country. Household goods typically travel via sea to save cost, but items can also ship by air. The three most significant cost impact factors are shipment volume, the form of transport, and distance to your new location.  
  • Commercial moves: This type of move is a bit more complex and often requires extensive planning from both the customer and moving company. Moving offices involves proper handling of specialized equipment and sensitive documents. Commercial moves are priced by the complexity of the task, total weight of the office goods, and the requirement of any technical services.
  • Car transportation: Just like with household items, you can hire a moving company to ship your vehicle to your new home. The distance sent, the car’s weight and size, the season transported in, the route the shipment takes, and the way of shipping (including truck, train, or ship) can all determine the cost.

The Benefits of Using a Moving Company

Using a moving company offers a variety of benefits.  

  • It provides an experience catered specifically to your needs.
    • Working with moving companies assures your move is customized. Brokers don't customize as much; they make their money mainly based on volume. You can talk directly with the estimator or coordinator on any specifics you want to address on moving day.
  • When the same company controls both the pricing and the quality, you're more likely to get vetted and trained movers who work to protect your belongings.
  • The process is very personal to you, and you’re aware of everything happening every step of the way.
  • Working directly with the moving company means you get valuation coverage and can submit a claim if anything is damaged.

The Drawbacks of Using a Moving Company

However, with benefits come challenges.  

  • Moving companies aren't as agile as brokers.
    • Brokers need less information and offer more menu-like pricing. Since they don't assume responsibility if valuables are damaged in transit, they can operate faster.
  • Moving companies typically take longer to get you pricing because they want to discern the challenges of the move before they arise. Brokers typically prefer to deal with that on move day.
  • Increased control over your move can come with a price.
    • Additional charges from larger moving companies can include higher service costs due to better-trained staff, valuation coverage for belongings, other services (such as with commercial moves or delicate furnishings), extra charges for expedited services or long-hauls, and seasonal charges (like weekend rates and seasonal rate hikes).

Utilizing a moving company means that you know the who, what, where, when, and why of your moving day. Moving companies are ideal for people looking to ensure their move happens on their terms and for especially people with belongings they greatly value and need to be protected.  

Unreputable Alternatives

We’ve touched on the topic of “reputable” movers, but what exactly makes movers reputable, and what does it mean to work with one who isn’t? There exist outliers within this industry that don’t follow the community standards set by the FMCSA or the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA).

Most people who request moving services are unfamiliar with the processes and, therefore, are vulnerable to moving scams or mishandling by poorly trained movers. Before making your decision, you need to make sure your mover registered with the FMCSA so that specific rules and regulations govern your move. This step ensures that your belongings are transported safely and securely, regardless of the type of moving experience you choose.  

A common sign you may be choosing an unreputable mover is if their price seems just too good to be true. Most times, there’s an unspecified catch that could result in increased costs and headaches. Take a look at this article to get more insight into moving scams and how you can avoid them.  

The Historical Perspective

Since President Reagan’s 1980s legislation on deregulation, the trucking and moving industries have shifted tremendously. No longer are moving companies required to carry or transport certain materials in specific ways, nor are they required to keep specific prices.  

After the 1980s, moving companies could function under less restrained business models, and as a result, people across the country began launching their own moving companies. From small, local moving companies to nationwide servicers, these modern movers have sought to provide various services catered to their customer base.

Do some research on your chosen broker or moving company. Will they address all the services you need to make your local, interstate, or international move? If you’re planning on moving offices, does your moving company offer commercial moving services? You’re going to be selecting a broker or mover to take your things and get them where you need to go. Make sure you find a service you can trust.