Moving companies tend to offer similar services under either a full- or self-service model. There is, however, an often-missed consideration that is critical to making an informed decision when hiring a mover: whether it’s a broker or carrier.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and is responsible for regulating the interstate moving and trucking industries. To operate legally, long-distance movers must have authorization through the FMCSA as either a moving broker or carrier.
It’s not always apparent whether a company is a broker or carrier at first glance, but we at the This Old House Reviews Team have written this guide to help you identify each type of mover and understand the differences between them.
Key Differences Between Moving Brokers and Carriers
Below, we’ve compared the key differences between moving brokers and moving carriers. We’ve also provided detailed summaries to further help you distinguish these two types of businesses and shed light on why the differences matter.
|Employ teams of movers||No||Yes|
|Operate fleets of moving trucks||No||Yes|
|Are authorized to transport household goods||No||Yes|
|Are required to offer valuation coverage||No||Yes|
|Must be registered with the FMCSA||Yes||Yes|
|Outsource services to third-party companies||Yes||No*|
*Some carriers have hybrid authorization through the FMCSA to also operate as a moving broker; in these cases, the mover can outsource services under its broker authority.
Moving brokers are not actually moving companies, but they don’t always make this fact clear on their websites. A company operating as a broker employs salespeople that act as middlemen between customers and licensed moving companies. Brokers can have dozens to thousands of professional movers in their networks and can negotiate prices among these partners when bidding out your moving services.
An advantage of using a broker is that you will typically receive lower moving estimates due to competitive bids. Because many brokers have extensive partner networks, you can also expect wide coverage areas and a prompt booking process. But remember that a broker is not authorized to transport household goods with its own trucks or teams.
As evidenced in customer testimonials across the web, a major drawback to using a broker is that not all brokerages properly vet the moving companies in their networks. At best, this results in inconsistent quality of service. At worst, it can lead to customers being scammed by disreputable movers. Another common issue we see is brokers providing low estimates that increase drastically when the moving company that picks up your contract sees your inventory.
Moving carriers are operational van lines that provide interstate moving services with their own trucks, sales teams, and moving staff. A company with authority as an exclusive carrier with the FMCSA will not outsource moving services to third-party providers. This also means that any add-on services offered by the company, such as car shipping or cleaning services, are handled by the company.
A carrier is required by law to offer two types of valuation coverage for consumer protection, including free released value protection. When working with a carrier, you know your estimate is coming from the company that will actually perform your services. Any customer reviews are relevant to the company itself, making it easier to research and understand the pros and cons of individual carriers.
An important consideration is that some professional moving companies have hybrid authorization as carriers and brokers. This may seem confusing, but it simply means that the company conducts some moving services in-house and outsources some of them.
How Do I Know Whether I’m Hiring a Moving Broker or Carrier?
Among the first steps you should take when considering hiring a mover is confirming whether the company is a moving broker or carrier. We’ve outlined the process below.
- Brokers must state that they do not transport household goods in their advertising materials, but many skirt this regulation by burying it in the content. Carefully read through the company’s website to find this language; often, it can be found at the bottom of the page.
- Interstate brokers and carriers must be registered with the FMCSA, and the company must include its DOT number in its marketing material.
- To confirm whether a company is a moving broker or carrier, use the FMCSA’s Company Snapshot tool to look up registration information using the company’s DOT number.
How Do I Stay Protected?
If you choose to go with a moving broker for your relocation needs, there are several ways to avoid having a poor moving experience or being the victim of a scam.
- Search by the company’s name when using the FMCSA’s Company Snapshot tool to see if a purported carrier also has a secondary registration as a broker.
- Request an in-home consultation (also known as a physical survey) for an accurate assessment of your home’s inventory. Make sure the move coordinator takes their time surveying each area of your home.
- Ask the broker for a list of the moving companies with which it has a written agreement to outsource services. Reputable brokers will provide this information in accordance with FMCSA regulations.
- Read through the FMCSA’s “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move” booklet and its “Ready to Move” checklist.
- Check the broker’s complaint history on the FMCSA.
- Read reviews from third-party sources.
- Be wary of large deposit requirements and ask for more details about what your payment covers before booking your move.
Frequently Asked Questions About Moving Brokers vs. Carriers
Here are a few official government resources to consult to learn more about moving brokers versus carriers.
- FMCSA’s Movers vs. Brokers guide
- FMCSA’s Protect Your Move pamphlet
- DOT Inspector General video
- Consumer Protection Regulations for the transportation of household goods in interstate commerce
- FMCSA’s Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move guide
- FMCSA’s Ready to Move checklist