Now that our move has been completed, I wanted to update this thread to reflect on what happened during the move and my final impressions. It's a bit long but I tried to be thorough.
On July 13, Prager called to say that the packers would arrive on the 14th between 8 and 9 am. Lisa, Bob, and Jimmy, all Prager employees, arrived right on time (about 8:15) and had finished packing by about 11:45. They were very friendly and worked hard and did a great job. We had a few large pictures and a 32" LCD TV (which was specifically listed on the cube sheet) but the packers didn't have any large mirror cartons with them in their truck, so for these large things they had to make their own boxes out of what they had available. The packing they did of the TV was especially strange, but everything made it to our new place in good condition, so even though they were a bit improvised they did the job. The one minor problem was that, while bringing up the empty boxes, one of the packers broke a light bulb in the stairwell of the apartment building. This wasn't a big deal, and as I'll mention later they weren't the only ones that had problems with light bulbs in the stairwell.
On the evening of July 14, Prager called to let me know that our driver, Jared, would be arriving on the 15th to load between 8 and 9 am. On the 15th Jared and his crew arrived at about 9:30. He said he was late because the route Prager had given them ended up being partially under construction, and since he was driving the semi truck and not a shuttle it was pretty difficult for them to maneuver through the detour streets and under the many viaducts and elevated train lines in my neighborhood. This explanation seems perfectly reasonable and it wasn't a problem for us that they were a little late. Once they arrived, they ran into another problem. The street we live on has metered parking, and though Prager had requested a parking permit from the city (which the driver had), the city had not come out and placed "No Parking" signs on the meters, so there were cars parked along the street in front of our apartment. The truck had to double park while the driver communicated with Prager about what to do. After about an hour of calls, etc. I guess the people that were parked where the semi wanted to park came to their cars and moved them so they weren't in the way, so by about 10:30 the semi was finally parked along the curb and they could start loading. As far as I can tell the city really dropped the ball on this one, and I'm not sure there was much else that could have been done, but thankfully the cars parked in the way weren't there for too long.
The driver Jared and his brother Kyle (one of the loaders) were both from University Moving and Storage (an NAVL agent) based in Indianapolis, IN. We had been told that Prager would be doing the move, and so was surprised to learn that they were not (more about this later). Another loader, JP, was from Prager. It took until about 2:30 for them to load the truck. It was clear to me that JP really knew what he was doing, and he was also a very hard worker. He was big and very strong and could load an unbelievable amount of weight on his back and carry it down 3 flights of stairs on his own. I believe he was the one that did pretty much all of the wrapping of our furniture, and he used many layers of plastic wrap so that it didn't get damaged and stayed clean. He was also a really nice guy and a pleasure to talk to. Jared and Kyle also were hard workers and did a good job, but since they were both pretty young I don't think either of them had a lot of experience in the moving industry. The loading went pretty smoothly after they got the issues with the parking worked out. While carrying one of my couches downstairs, they broke a glass cover to a different light bulb in the stairwell. These lights are placed on the wall right at the corners, and the stairwell is quite steep, so I'm not really surprised that both the packers and loaders took these lights out. Given the fact that most of the lights don't have covers on them any more, I don't think this is the first time that this has happened. In any case it wasn't a problem and light bulbs are easy to replace. Also, I was a little surprised that, even though my apartment had hardwood floors throughout, they didn't use any kind of floor or wall protection. But as far as I can tell there wasn't any damage to the floors or walls so I guess it didn't matter.
Our load was the last load to go on the truck, and as it turns out the truck was almost completely full after our stuff had been loaded. The day before the movers came, but after the estimators had come, we decided to donate 2 large desks, 2 dining room tables with 4 chairs each, a wooden rolling kitchen cart, a wooden chair, a glass patio table, and a few other smaller pieces. Our final weight ended up being about 550 pounds lower than estimated, but I'm pretty sure that there is no way that all of these pieces of furniture would have fit on the truck if we hadn't donated them, so I guess it's good that we did. The estimate from NAVL was as much as 1100 pounds lighter than other estimates we got, and given the amount of additional stuff we threw out and donated after the estimator came, I suspect it was low. But ultimately it didn't really matter since all the stuff we had did fit and since we came in under the estimated weight we will be getting a partial refund.
My wife and I drove our car from Chicago to Portland, and when we booked the move our delivery date window was given as July 22 to July 31. On the day of the load the driver told us to expect delivery on July 22, which was the date they actually delivered the goods. The day after loading I called Prager and asked to get the final weight of the shipment. The coordinator called me back and said that someone else would call me to give me the weight. That never happened, and I still don't know what the official weight or final cost is, even though our stuff was delivered almost a week ago. I also tried tracking the shipment on the NAVL web site in the middle of the transit time. The web site itself gave no useful information. It suggested I call NAVL and I left a message asking for tracking information. A NAVL representative called me back and gave me a scare by saying that delivery would be July 21 (the day before it was scheduled). When I told her that I wouldn't be able to make it to Portland by then since that was a day before we were told to suspect delivery, she called Prager and/or the driver and later called me back to confirm that delivery would be July 22, as expected.
The day before delivery Jared called me and said he would probably arrive between 9 and 10am, but because he had to rent a U-Haul truck to use as the shuttle it might be a little later. He called around 9:45 and said he was leaving the local agent, and he got here at about 10:30. The two people who were supposed to assist him with unloading didn't show up for work that day, but thankfully another employee of the local agent (Jason) was able to assist him. So it was just the two of them unloading down 3 flights of stairs and along a somewhat long path to our condo, but it still only took about 4 hours. This time Jared had floor runners to put on the hardwood floors and carpet to protect everything, and as far as I can tell they didn't damage anything while unloading. They were very happy to take certain things downstairs to the rooms down there and did a good job of not stacking heavy boxes on top of another when unloading so that we could more easily see what was in the boxes and get to them to unpack stuff.
Ultimately, I think the move was very successful. I'm disappointed that Prager didn't do the move themselves, since the sales person told me that they would. But I do see that University Moving and Storage gets pretty good reviews here, so at least they chose a good company. I'm also disappointed with the customer service I've gotten since the move started. The moving coordinator at Prager usually calls me back the same day, but it took over 2 weeks from the load date and several calls for me to get the final weight and cost. On the other hand all of the other Prager employees (packers, the one loader from Prager, and the salesman) were all very friendly and seemed very knowledgeable and did a great job.
Knowing what I know now I'm not sure if I would choose Prager again for the simple reason that they told me they would be doing the move themselves and ultimately did not. Both of the other companies I got quotes from (Corrigan and Graebel), which were admittedly more expensive, also stated that they would do the move themselves. On the other hand the move turned out well in the end and the price was reasonable, so that's a strong reason to go with them again.
One last thing: when they packers left, they left all the paperwork for the driver the next day. One of the pieces of paper was a print out of information regarding the move. In the special info section was this note: "This customer is posting a report to Movingscam.com of his move process. Please be aware that this website is used by many people in Chicagoland to choose a mover@!". After I had started this thread, the Prager salesperson mentioned that he had seen this posting, so I knew already that Prager knew I was posting on this site. The fact that they note this in their internal records suggests that this site is having some effect on moving companies, which I think is great. The downside is that even with this knowledge the customer service lacked in a few key places, though again the move went quite well.