What to know about moving quotes
Understand how much your moving company will really charge
by Jami Barnett, Ph.D.
ConsumerAffairs Research Team
Imagine your mover showing up, loading your belongings into their truck and then changing the price. They say you have more stuff than is included in your quote and tell you it will actually cost two or three times more than the original estimate. Unfortunately, this is a common practice among unscrupulous movers. A written estimate, and the company’s willingness to provide one, is the best way to protect yourself from this type of fraud.
The entire point of a mover’s quote is to give you an accurate idea of what your move will cost, before it actually happens. A mover can give you a general quote over the phone or online, but moving companies are only legally bound by the information on your written estimate. Remember, a moving quote is just an approximate price, a written estimate is a legal document. We've compiled our best tips on how to get an accurate estimate and what it all means, so you can make the most of your moving budget and avoid moving scams.
Quick tips on getting quotes
Do not sign blank documents.
Don’t sign blank or incomplete estimates, and do not use any moving company that asks you to do so. If the mover asks you to sign incomplete documents the day of the move, tell them you need to reschedule and then use a different company. A company can scam you by having you sign an incomplete estimate and then adding charges you never agreed to.
Choose companies that charge based on weight.
Most legitimate movers charge based on the shipment’s weight. A few moving companies charge based on volume of your cargo, measured in cubic feet. It’s much easier for a moving company to overcharge you if they calculate based on cubic feet, which is why this practice is illegal in many states. Your best bet is to ask how the company figures its rates, and only get complete quotes from ones that charge per pound.
Get an estimate based on an in-home walkthrough or inspection.
Although you can easily get quotes over the phone or online, you’ll receive the most accurate quote from movers who inspect your home in person. If you’re moving across state lines, your mover must follow rules established by the U.S. DOT Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. These rules say if you live within 50 miles of the mover’s location, they have to base the estimate on a physical evaluation of your belongings, unless you expressly waive that right.
Get an accurate inventory list.
When they give you the written estimate, the moving company should also provide a full inventory list of everything they’ll move. The inventory is sometimes called a cube sheet or table of measurements. Get a copy and check it carefully for accuracy. Make sure each piece of furniture is on the list, including smaller items like end tables. It should also include an approximate number of boxes.
Consider your moving date.
The time of year significantly affects moving costs, with higher charges during the summer. When you get your quote, ask whether the price would change if you adjusted the date by a few days or weeks. Also ask how long the quote is good for. If you wait too long to book the move, you may need to get a new quote.
Types of estimates
There are two types of moving estimates, and it’s important to understand which kind you’ve been given.
Binding: If the mover gives you a binding estimate, they’re required to honor the price they provide you as long as nothing changes. If you only move the items listed on the inventory sheet, the final price should match what appears on the binding estimate.
If you decide to move additional items, the moving company can increase the price on the day of the move. However, they’re required to give you a new estimate or make your existing estimate non-binding before they load your items.
Nonbinding: A non-binding estimate is merely a document with the mover’s best guess of your moving cost. The final price is determined by the weight of your shipment and the services provided. Although the actual bill may go much higher than the non-binding estimate, your mover can only require you to pay 110 percent of the written estimate at the time of delivery. You’ll be billed for any remaining charges later.
A binding estimate gives you a better sense of the final cost of your move, but your mover might charge you to provide one. Neither option is preferable to the other if you’re working with a trustworthy company, and selecting the type you want is a matter of personal preference.
Additional fees and costs
In addition to the moving rate per pound, moving companies may charge for many services. Make sure to talk to your mover about all the services they’ll charge extra for, and ensure the mover includes anything you’ll need in their quote and on your written estimate.
If a large moving truck or semi-truck can’t park close to your house, the moving company will need to use a smaller truck or van to shuttle items from the house to the truck or vice versa. Ask the moving company about the size of their pickup and delivery trucks. If power lines or parking will prevent the truck from getting to your home, ask about the fee for a shuttle service, and factor that into your final cost. A company with a slightly higher rate per pound might be cheaper in the long run if they use a smaller truck to pick up and deliver shipments.
Long carry service
If movers have to carry furniture and boxes a long way from your house to the truck, they’ll charge a long carry, or long haul, fee. The written estimate should specify the maximum distance the movers will carry things before this fee applies. If it doesn’t, ask the movers to specify that distance in writing.
If movers have to carry items up or down stairs, they’ll likely charge an additional fee. One flight is often included, but that isn’t always the case. If either your old or new house has stairs, ask if the company charges a stair fee, and make sure that fee is included in the written estimate.
Most moving companies offer packing services. You’ll pay a premium for this option, but it may be worth the price if have mobility issues or you’re looking for a low-stress move. All fees for packing services and packing materials should be clearly listed on the written estimate. You can choose to have them box everything or only specific items. Some moving companies charge per item while others charge per hour. In all cases, you’ll pay for packing supplies.
Discuss pianos, large safes or any other especially heavy items with the moving company in advance. Not all companies are capable of handling these items, and those that are will likely charge an additional fee to do so. These items should be listed on your moving inventory with a special note if there will be an extra charge for moving them.
It is often appropriate to tip the moving crew. A standard tip is $20 to $40 per day, per mover. Adjust that amount based on the quality of the service they provided and the time they spent at your house. If the moving company says not to tip the moving crew, honor that request. Tipping the movers anyway could cause problems for them with their supervisors.
Your written moving estimate should specify the type of insurance coverage the mover will provide. Movers must accept liability for your items while they have the shipment, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be reimbursed the cost of replacing an item if it’s damaged during the move.
Remember, different laws and regulations come into play when you’re moving across state lines. For a local move or a move within one state, contact your Attorney General’s office for specific information on liability and insurance. For information about interstate moves, visit the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier’s (FMCSA) website on moving.
Whether you decide to pay for full replacement value from your moving company or use a third-party insurer is totally up to you. If you’ll feel better knowing you’re protected, spend a few hundred dollars to buy moving insurance.
Full-value protection offers the most protection but also costs the most. With full-value protection, movers are typically required to pay for a damaged item or replace it. The cost of this coverage varies based on the value of your items, and different companies may determine that in different ways. Talk to your mover and read the fine print on your written estimate and other moving paperwork to understand their full-value protection plan.
Limited-value coverage is based solely on the weight of your items. For interstate moves, the moving company must legally accept liability at 60 cents per pound per item. This means if an item is damaged, the company must pay 60 cents multiplied by the item’s weight. If the movers drop a new 42 inch TV that weighs 30 pounds, the company will only reimburse you $18. Read all moving paperwork so you know whether the company only provides limited-value coverage.
Several third-party companies offer moving insurance, and you can find your options with a simple internet search. Like purchasing full-value coverage from your mover, this option will cost extra, but it might be worth it in the long run. For these policies, you typically declare an overall value and select a deductible amount. Read the policies carefully, and read online reviews first to choose a company with a good reputation.
It is essential to read all your moving paperwork carefully, including your estimate. You need to read all the fine print to avoid a moving scam or unexpected expense. If anything on your estimate seems unclear, ask the moving company to provide specific details in writing. If charges seem unreasonable to you, get a quote from another company. Only sign an estimate and officially hire the mover if you feel confident in their trustworthiness.
- 7/26/17 Last Updated
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