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What to know about moving quotes

Understand how much your moving company will really charge

Profile picture of Jami Barnett, Ph.D.
by Jami Barnett, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team
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Hiring professional movers can cost anywhere from a few hundred to a several thousand dollars depending on who you hire, how far you’re going and what services you elect. To avoid a surprising bill, get a quote or estimate before hiring a mover so you know exactly what to expect on the big day.

The point of a mover’s 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 only legally bound by the information on your written estimate.

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Types of moving estimates

  • Binding moving estimate: 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.
  • Non-binding moving estimate: 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.
  • 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.

Quick tips on getting moving 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.

staircase in home

Moving fees and additional costs

In addition to the moving rate per pound, moving companies may charge for many services. 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 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 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.

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 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.

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 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.

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 their 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 first to choose a company with a good reputation.

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.

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Bottom line: 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.

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    Profile picture of Jami Barnett, Ph.D.
    by Jami Barnett, Ph.D. ConsumerAffairs Research Team

    Jami Barnett, Ph.D., is an experienced researcher, and she believes consumers have a right to clear and honest information about products. In her role at ConsumerAffairs, she thoroughly researches products and companies by interviewing experts, reviewing research studies, reading governmental regulations and investigating customer service responses. Her work gives consumers the information they need to make smart purchasing decisions.