Moving your possessions to France was once the preserve of a few specialist international removals firms. Not any more. There are over 20 firms listed in the FrenchEntrée.com Directory alone. With so many people on the move the market has expanded a lot and there are operators catering for every budget, region and type of consignment: from “one man and his van” to the big well-known removals firms.
In general this situtation should make your forthcoming move a little easier:
– there’s more choice
– you may find a firm local to you
– pricing will be more competive
But in some other ways you will need to take care:
– firms with little overseas experience may be tempted to try the market
– a low price may be matched by a poor service
– some times it can be hard to choose (choice is the enemy of decision!)
If you’re really stretched on your budget and you don’t have too many things to move you might be tempted to do a self-drive van hire. There’s nothing wrong with this and lots of people have moved to France this way in the past. But do make sure you are well-prepared. There’s a lot more to French removals than just packing up some cardboard boxes and stuffing them in the back of a van – that’s why many people prefer to use a firm to do the job for them.
So how do you choose a removals firm? Here are some key questions you should be asking either on the phone before they visit or when they come to do an estimate for you:
1. How long have they been in business?
2. How long have they been doing removals to France?
3. How many trips do they make to France each month?
4. How many lorries and crews do they have?
5. How new are their lorries and equipment?
6. Are they members of BAR (British Association of Removers)
7. Can they provide recent references?
8. What insurance cover do they provide?
As regards estimates, in general the larger firms and local companies will be willing to send a representative to your house to discuss your move and take details in order to give you a quotation. This is an excellent opportunity not just for the firm to take all your details but also for you to ask some more important questions and to form a general impression about them. At this point it is worth reminding yourself who you are dealing with: unless it is a smaller firm it’s unlikely that the person you are talking to will be around when the men come in to pack, move and drive your possessions to France. You may be impressed with the salesman or Managing Director but you won’t like it if you get an over-worked, underpaid, grumpy or inexperienced team on the day of your move!
Some firms may not make an initial visit but will be willing to give you an estimate after you have completed a postal questionnaire listing all the items you intend to move, your destination etc. For a smaller firm, or one based in a region that’s some distance from you, this is a sensible economy. They can’t afford to have people tied up on the road giving personalised estimates, especially when clients may still be at the stage of getting “ball-park” figures. There’s nothing wrong with this approach provided you still ask the questions above and make sure that if you make a provisional arrangement to go ahead with the firm in question that they come and visit your house to do a full-site inspection and to check the size of the load themselves.
If, like most people, you are working to a budget, then you may think that the decision of large vs small firm is already made. But this may not be the case. Of course there will always be a big difference between the service-level provided and the prices quoted by the well-known international removals firms and the one man and lorry business. But, in-between you will find some healthy competition on prices between smaller-scale national firms and regional firms.
As regards price, once you have a rough idea what it is going to cost you may find you can negotiate with a few firms on your short-list and one may agree to do the job for your budget, simply to get the work and fill-up a spare few days in their calendar. This is more likely to happen if you are able to reserve a date well ahead of time (not always possible given the legalities of buying French property) or if they have a spare slot in their timetable which you can accept. The big costs in removals are the men and lorries so keeping the men working and the lorries on the road is essential.
However, while price is likely to be a determining factor, it is never a good idea to choose a firm simply on price. By asking the key questions above and during your detailed discussions you will also get a sense of the other important factor – service.
Many people make a decision on price alone and hope for the best on the day. But if you have a choice of supplier and a little flexibility in your budget then it’s the quality of service that should be your guide.
In practice, this is quite difficult to evaluate. Why? Because the most critical aspect of service is when the day of the removals come. And when it comes you will be in the hands of the removals crew and the drivers. No amount of efficiency, slickness and courtesy when providing estimates and glossy brochures can compensate for a bad-tempered or uncaring crew turning up on the day of your move. You will already be under a lot of stress so what you want on the day are a friendly and helpful crew who will get on with the job professionally, with good humour and an awareness of your situation.
Unfortunately, this just can’t be 100% guaranteed! For the removals crews it’s a tough job with long, anti-social hours and many unexpected changes of plan along the way. Imagine it yourself: you’re not particularly well-paid, it’s hard manual work and you regularly find yourself working for people with more money and affluence then you can hope for. How long would you last? Fortunately the removals firms who look after their staff employ some very experienced time-served foremen who enjoy their work and know how to keep their customers happy. So the next time you hear or read about a bad removals experience remember that it could well be a one-off event and not a reason to avoid that firm.
So if you can’t meet the crew beforehand how can you judge the level of service you might get?
Ask for several recent references and follow them up. Of course they won’t give you the details of any “problem” moves but at least you could speak to previous customers who have met the crews and drivers.
Beyond this there are quite a few other indicators to look out for:
Initial response to enquiry:
– Was it courteous, helpful and speedy? Was there someone there at all times? Did he/she sound friendly and interested?
– Were you able to deal with the same person? Did the person you were expecting turn up, or someone else? Was the estimator helpful? Did they ask lots of questions/provide advice? Did they ask about valuables or special items? Did they have a thorough look round inside and out?
– Did they leave useful information about the company? About insurance? Hints and tips guides etc? Did they explain about their packing and handling techniques? Did they have good information to hand about their availability? Did they know how long the move would take? Did they talk about the experiences of their crews and drivers? Did they know the region of France you are going to? Did they offer references?
– Did the estimate come in promptly? Did they follow up by phone or letter? How helpful were they when you rang with queries? How keen do they seem to get the job?
Taken together all these indicators should create an impression one way or the other. There’s a good chance that if they have keen, helpful, friendly people working on the estimating team and reception desks then that attitude may extend to the people on the road.
By all means ask people you know for recommendations but bear in mind that one person’s experience is not a very scientific measure! They may have a tale of a difficult move (or enjoy having a go at the removals firm on an internet discussion forum) but who knows whether you are getting the whole story. Many problems encountered during removals are outside the control of the removals firms. For example: self-packing, some elements of insurance, property sale and purchase completion dates, getting vacant possession, bad weather, poor directions, poor explanation of access, traffic delays – all these could contribute to a frustrating experience for the customer while not actually being caused directly by the removals firm. You would be better to ask the firm for several recent customer references and follow them up.
One last thought…have you seen their lorries on the road? Are they fairly new, tidy, reasonably clean? Or are they tired-looking old work-horses? If you should happen to see one of the lorries it may tell you more about that company’s pride and financial standing than any other indicator!