Understanding Moving Estimates

Understanding Moving Estimates

It’s time for the big move—or the not-so-big move, but you are moving, and you have no idea how much your relocation is going to cost. What do all these words mean? Binding, non-binding, not-to-exceed? It feels like one of those games where you try to keep your eye on the hidden object as it shifts from one point to another. And it seems like we all know someone with a scary story about a moving estimate that ballooned out of control before delivery. No one wants that to happen. You want to understand the options, choose the right mover, and get through the process with your peace of mind intact and some money left for redecorating. The first step toward that goal is understanding the estimates.

What are the different types of moving estimates?

While there are three types of estimate, all share standard components. All should be prepared with a goal of coming as close as possible to an accurate representation of what is going to be loaded on a truck and moved from origin to destination.  No matter which category of quote you select, if your moving company is reputable and registered with the FMCSA (do not engage a mover that does not register), the estimate reflects a visual inspection of the household goods. Simply put, the moving company will conduct a physical walkthrough of the residence, business, or storage unit to determine what will be in the shipment. 

The first type is a binding estimate, which means that the mover and the shipper (customer) agree on an exact price for transportation, based on the forecast that the mover provides. The price will not go up or down, even if the actual weight of the goods is different. The final charge can change if additional services are requested or required. That is an important distinction; some services are requested, while some are performed if required to complete the move. That sounds a little confusing, but it is usually based on conditions at the destination of which the moving company was unaware. Movers call these conditions impracticable operations. Examples include things like a long, steep driveway at the destination residence that requires extra labor, or a shuttle needed due to an inability to park the standard moving truck outside the home. These charges appear in the mover’s tariff, along with any other fees that may come up.

Another common situation is unanticipated storage. If you are building the new home, and there is a delay which continues long enough that your shipment arrives before you can take delivery, you will need to have your household goods placed into storage. The moving company will charge you for the warehouse time and the labor to move the items out of the truck, into storage, and back out when you can accept the delivery.

The second type of estimate is a binding not-to-exceed estimate, which is the most popular way for customers to make significant moves. The reason is that this provides a ceiling beyond which the price will not go but allows for a reduction in case the weight is lower than the estimate provided. As an example, if the mover estimates your household weight at 10,000 pounds, and provides a price for the move of $6000, your cost will still be $6000 if the weight is actually 12,000 pounds, as long as everything loaded on the truck was included on the inventory that comprised the estimate. It doesn’t mean you can add to the shipment without increasing costs. On the other hand, if the actual weight turns out to be 8,000 pounds when the truck is weighed after loading, your price will be reduced.  Again, this is for the line-haul charges, or transportation portion of the bill, and doesn’t include accessorial fees.

Finally, there is a non-binding estimate, which leaves the consumer with the most risk. The estimate is just that, and the final price for transportation will be based on the actual weight. With a non-binding estimate, you rely on the accuracy of your moving company’s assessment, so if you choose to go this route, make sure you get several estimates and compare them carefully. If you have one that is much lower than the others, consider it suspicious. Evaluate the cost from that vendor if the actual weight ultimately turns out to be closer to what the others are predicting. A moving company may give you a low estimate to win the business, knowing that once the truck is loaded, and they present you with a higher price, you are stuck. 

What do I pay on delivery day?

FMCSA regulations limit what movers can add to a moving invoice on top of the agreed-on estimate in exchange for delivery. This protection is another reason to check that you are using a mover registered with the FMCSA. If you have a binding estimate, you will not be required to pay more than 15% of the total in those impracticable operations charges on delivery day. The mover can bill you later, but they are obligated to relinquish your possessions if you pay the estimated amount plus additional fees subject to that ceiling. For a non-binding estimate, the maximum is 110% of the estimate plus the same 15 % on moving day. Be careful, though, since a disreputable mover may not be registered or abiding by the rules.

Why do I need a visual inspection?

You need a visual survey of your belongings so that the mover can see how much stuff you have.  It is one thing to say “I am moving two shelves of books and a sofa” but quite another when the mover can see that the two shelves each hold over 100 encyclopedia-sized tomes and the sofa is a sectional the size of a patio. Similarly, one person may have 25 suits carefully hung in a closet, while another might stuff the same space with hundreds of clothing items. We all decorate and store differently, and what seems minimalist to one person is overdone to another. A professional mover can examine the contents of the residence and assess the weight, based on their experience.

Also, federal regulations require that the mover conduct the visual inspection before preparing the estimate. An exception is allowed if the home is outside a 50-mile radius of the mover’s office or agent, or if the customer waives the requirement, but be wary of a moving company which asks you to disregard your right. A reputable company will want to see what it is moving and is motivated to create an accurate estimate. The mover will assemble an inventory, sometimes called a cube sheet or table of measurements, a detailed list of everything going on the moving truck. This inventory is the basis for the moving quote, and it must be accurate, no matter which type of estimate you are getting.