As the busy moving season starts to ramp up, a group of Winnipeggers is warning those looking to hire a mover to be careful after they lost hundreds of dollars to a moving company that didn’t show up.
CBC News has heard from eight customers of Buff Moving and Storage who say they scheduled the company to help them move, paid a deposit but received no services.
“It was just a horrible, horrible situation,” said Kelly Pereux, who lost $1,000 when the company backed out of moving him at the last minute.
Pereux says he hired Buff Moving, which is owned by Jeffrey Watson, to move him to Calgary from Winnipeg earlier this year.
He had used the company in the past for small jobs and Watson had offered him a for the move that would have saved him thousands.
The move. scheduled for late January, was supposed to cost $4,800, and Watson asked Pereux for a $300 deposit to cover upfront expenses.
Pereux says Watson later asked for a further $300 to cover additional expenses and then another $400, saying he wanted to make it “a nice round number.”
Pereux hesitated, but gave him the money — $1,000 in total as a deposit — because he said he wanted to give Watson a chance to do a larger move.
When it got closer to moving day, Pereux says he stopped hearing from Watson. Eventually, he says, Watson told him the move wasn’t “going to work.”
“And I am just like, ‘What the hell?’ Then give me my money back and then I’m going to rebook somewhere else,” he said of his reaction to Watson’s response.
Pereux says he went into panic mode and was forced to hire new movers — at a much higher cost — at the last minute.
Pereux is among several people CBC contacted who hired Buff Moving based on their own prior positive outcomes using the company or friends and family who had good experiences.
The moves of the eight customers who spoke with CBC News were scheduled to happen between November 2021 and March of this year.
Only one says she had her deposit refunded.
The customers say they primarily spoke with Watson through text or emails, and no formal contract was ever signed.
Four people told CBC they filed complaints to police about Buff Moving after the company didn’t do the agreed work and didn’t refund the deposit made for the job.
Winnipeg police confirmed it is investigating complaints about Buff Moving.
‘Things fell apart’: Buff Moving owner
When contacted by CBC News earlier in April, Watson said he owes money to 10 people and plans to repay their deposits within two months.
He says Buff Moving is no longer operating and he stopped taking any new business as of the last week of March.
The pandemic hit his business hard, he told CBC News.
“I just fell into rough times. Things fell apart because of COVID,” he said. “I just started losing money because people weren’t moving.”
When asked why he didn’t already refund the deposits when the work wasn’t done, he said he had used the money to catch up on bills.
Watson says his truck broke down in January but he successfully moved five or six people this year by renting a truck from U-Haul. He added that his workers quit because he couldn’t get consistent work.
Customer out $150 deposit
After seeing positive online reviews about Buff Moving, Miranda Sawatzky put down a $150 deposit to have the company move her from an apartment to her boyfriend’s house in Winnipeg.
“It has not been a good experience at all,” Sawatzky told CBC News. “Simply put, I would say terrible.”
On the Saturday last November when moving day arrived, she got a text message from Watson just before 8 a.m. telling her one of the workers had called in sick so the move that morning would be rescheduled for the afternoon.
She says she offered that she and her boyfriend could help with the move if the company would just show up with the truck.
When she didn’t get an answer on that, she searched Buff Moving online again and found a negative review from a customer who said the company didn’t show up on moving day, so she became concerned.
She asked Buff Moving for her $150 deposit back, and when she didn’t get it, she filed complaints with the police, the Better Business Bureau and the provincial Consumer Protection Office (CPO).
“It was so disappointing and so frustrating,” she said.
In hindsight, she says, one thing she should have done was sign a contract with the moving company ahead of time, rather than making arrangements by email.
She says that became apparent through her contact with the CPO.
“Their basic response was that because I didn’t have a written contract, they couldn’t do anything,” she said.
Always sign a contract: movers association
The president of the Canadian Association of Movers says there are some key things you should look for when hiring movers.
“It’s absolutely critical that you know who your mover is, because if you don’t, they’re taking off with everything you own and you may never see it again,” Nancy Irvine told CBC News.
“Do they actually have a business that you can drive up to and see that there’s trucks, an office and all of that?”
Buff Moving is not a member of the association, which certifies moving companies in Canada and posts consumer alerts about problems that come up. There are 13 active members in Manitoba.
Irvine says a customer should get at least three quotes on the cost of the move, and it’s “really, really important to get a written quote.”
“Look at the fine print — you want to look and see if they’ve got a tax line in there because they might not even be paying taxes, but they’re collecting them on your behalf,” she said.
She says arranging a move by text messages or verbal agreements doesn’t protect the customer.
“You really, really need to have that piece of paper that has all the conditions on it that lays out the price, that lays out how the price could change because that’s really important,” Irvine said.
Large deposit is red flag
Irvine says it’s a red flag for a moving company to ask for a large deposit.
“Professional moving companies don’t ask for deposits, or if they do, it might just be like a minor one, like $50 or something like that,” Irvine said. “And then you need to check on the paperwork if it says non-refundable.”
The CPO says it has received five complaints related to movers in 2021/22.
In addition to searching online for reviews and asking friends and family for a recommendation, the CPO offers other tips for consumers:
Contact the Manitoba Better Business Bureau site to check for reports and complaints on specific moving companies.
Ask whether the company has insurance and is bonded.
Review the contract in detail to ensure they understand the contract, ask any questions that they have and ensure understanding of any extra costs that may apply in different situations. (i.e. storage costs, over the border costs).
Get at least three estimates from moving companies.
Purchase personal moving insurance.
Sawatzky says she has learned her lesson and will always sign a contract and look for multiple quotes before giving anyone her money.
“And if all else fails, you know there’s always, hopefully friends and a U-Haul,” she said.