Bid for movers

Letting Movers Bid to Haul Your Stuff

Sharone Ben-Harosh, a longtime veteran of the moving industry, has no illusions about his ability to make people actually enjoy the experience of packing their lives into boxes and relocating.

“You have a big headache, and go through this whole process, and that’s when it’s done properly, ” said Mr. Ben-Harosh, the founder of Unpakt. The company, which he started this summer, is one of two young local start-ups looking to use the Internet to upend the moving industry. Their goals may fall short of making moving pleasurable, but their leaders think they can make it less of an ordeal by forcing moving companies to compete openly.

Strangely, this has never quite happened. In order to get a moving company to estimate how much it will charge to take a job, customers have to itemize all of their possessions, often by arranging a face-to-face meeting with an agent from a mover. If the customers want to compare this estimate with another company’s rates, they will have to repeat the process with someone else.

This does not encourage comparison shopping. Kelly Eidson founded Moveline to operate like Kayak, the travel Web site where users see several companies’ rates for airline flights, hotel rooms and other services. Moveline helps customers itemize their possessions one time, and companies bid for their business. Moveline vets movers for quality, and the customer can choose based on price.

Christoph Hitz

But there was one problem, said Ms. Eidson: people are no good at giving a realistic description of all their worldly possessions, which makes it hard for moving companies to provide realistic price quotes.

“You never really know how much stuff you have, ” she said.

The solution is Moveline’s iPhone app, which was released last month. The app coaches customers on how to use the phone to make a video of their possession-filled apartments. Customers can also use FaceTime, the video chat feature, to give a Moveline representative a virtual tour. The company then makes an inventory itself, telling you things like, no, you can’t fit that walk-in closet full of winter coats into a single cardboard box. (The app is for iPhones only; Ms. Eidson said the video chat features on Android phones were not as good.) The process takes three to four minutes per room, Ms. Eidson said. Instead of using estimates, Moveline requires movers to guarantee the price of their bids.

Eliminating the uncertainty of an estimate is also a basic goal of Unpakt. Before Mr. Ben-Harosh started the company, he founded a company called FlatRate Moving, which offered a similar guarantee by breaking each job into dozens of variables and pricing each one. With Unpakt, Mr. Ben-Harosh essentially offers other movers access to this system. Each mover sets its price for various aspects of a move, and when Unpakt gets a detailed inventory from a customer through its Web site, it automatically generates a bid from each of its movers. (There are currently 12 in the New York area.)

FlatRate Moving is one of the companies bidding on the business generated by Unpakt, but Mr. Ben-Harosh said that the automated system did not steer business his way. He acknowledged that other moving companies were initially reluctant to participate. But he argued that the existence of a freely available online standard was incentive enough for small moving companies that did not necessarily want to build their own software platforms.

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