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What to know about moving quotes

Understand how much your moving company will really charge

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by Sandi Pope ConsumerAffairs Research Team
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Hiring professional moving companies can cost anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the company you hire, how far you’re going and what packing and moving services you select. To avoid a surprising bill, get a quote before hiring a professional mover so you know exactly what to expect on your moving day.

The point of a moving quote is to give you an accurate idea of what your move will cost before it happens. A mover can give you a general quote over the phone or online, but moving companies are legally bound only by the information on your written estimate.

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How to get a moving company quote

To get a moving estimate, find movers near you. Many companies can get you an instant moving quote after you fill out some preliminary information online, but most companies prefer to review your needs over the phone or in person to give you an estimate.

Although you can easily get virtual or online moving quotes, you’ll receive the most accurate moving quote from movers who inspect your home in person. If you’re moving across state lines, your mover must follow rules established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. These rules say if you are moving from within 50 miles of the mover’s location, it has to base the estimate on a physical survey of your belongings unless you waive the requirement in writing.

Although you can easily get virtual or online moving quotes, you’ll receive the most accurate moving quote from movers who inspect your home in person.”

Find the best price by gathering quotes from at least three different moving companies in your area.

Types of moving estimates

You may hear a few different terms thrown around when talking about quotes and estimates. It’s important to understand which type of estimate a company is referring to and which type of estimate you want.

  • Binding moving estimate: If the mover gives you a binding quote, the company is required to honor the price it provides 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.
  • Nonbinding moving estimate: A nonbinding moving quote is merely a document with the mover’s best guess of your moving expenses. The moving company determines the final price by the weight of your shipment and the services provided. Although the actual bill may go much higher than the nonbinding moving estimate, your mover can only require you to pay up to 110% of the written quote at the time of delivery. You’ll be billed for any remaining charges later.
  • Binding-not-to-exceed moving estimate: A binding-not-to-exceed estimate is the same as a binding estimate except that you'll pay less than the quoted price if your items weigh less than what's estimated.

How do movers calculate cost?

Many factors play into the total cost you’ll pay for a move. Moving costs are largely calculated based on the type of move.

  • Local moving: If you’re moving within 50 miles of your previous address, local movers typically charge by the hour, depending on the number of movers. Additional services and specialized needs in the moving process add to the cost, but you can still expect to get a per-hour estimate. Ask for an estimate of how many hours your move will take to get a full cost quote.
  • Long-distance moves: If you’re moving across the country, you’ll receive a quote based on the weight of your items, the distance between your old address and your new home and any labor costs.
staircase in home

Moving fees and additional costs

In addition to the most common factors that affect moving costs, moving companies charge for extra services or certain conditions that make moving more difficult. Talk to your mover about all the services it charges extra for, and ensure the mover includes everything you need in the quote and on your written estimate.

Stairs
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.
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.
Shuttle service
If a large moving truck or semitruck 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 its pickup and delivery trucks. If power lines or lack of 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 it uses a smaller truck to pick up and deliver shipments.
Packing
Most moving companies offer packing services. You’ll pay a premium for this option, but it may be worth the price if you 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 the moving company box everything or only specific items. Some moving companies charge per item, while others charge per hour.
Large items
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. These items should be listed on your moving inventory with a special note if there will be an extra charge for moving them.
Last-minute changes
If you have to change the date of your move or you decide to take more items than you originally planned, you might incur additional fees. Though most companies can accommodate last-minute changes, these adjustments might mean a company has to replan or provide more staff.
Gratuity
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 provided and the time 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.

Quick tips on getting moving quotes

Keep the following in mind as you review quotes and choose a moving company:

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 it you need to reschedule and then use a different moving company. A mover 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 the volume of your cargo, measured in cubic feet, but it’s much easier for a moving company to overcharge you this way. Your best bet is to ask how the company figures its rates and to only get complete quotes from ones that charge per pound.

Get an accurate inventory list

When it gives you the written estimate, the moving company should also provide a full inventory list of everything it will 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.

Limited-value vs. full-value protection moving insurance

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. Your written moving estimate should specify the type of insurance coverage the mover will provide.

  • Full-value protection moving insurance: With full-value protection moving insurance, movers are typically required to pay for a damaged item or replace it. The exact cost will vary by mover.
  • Limited-value moving insurance: 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. For example, if the movers drop a new 42-inch TV that weighs 30 pounds, the company will only reimburse you $18. Talk to your mover and read the fine print on your written estimate and other moving paperwork to understand the protection plan.
  • Third-party insurance: Several third-party companies offer moving insurance. 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 to choose a company with a good reputation.

Remember, different laws and regulations come into play with long-distance moves across state lines. For local moves or moves within one state, contact your state attorney general’s office for specific information on liability and insurance. For information about interstate moves, visit the U.S. Department of Transportation FMCSA website on moving.

woman signing paperwork

How to avoid an inaccurate quote

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 its trustworthiness.

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Profile picture of Sandi Pope
by Sandi Pope ConsumerAffairs Research Team

Sandi Pope previously worked in the nonprofit sector as an advocate for environmental and social change and believes information access is a human right. As a member of the ConsumerAffairs Research Team, she seeks to provide consumers with the necessary information needed in making life-altering decisions.