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If you have decided to conduct your relocation using a professional mover, good for you. Naturally, you want the move done right, but you don’t want to spend more than you must. How can you choose a good, reliable mover who will get the job done correctly, but not pay too much? Remember, there is a difference between cheap moving companies and affordable.

A cheap mover may appear to have the lowest price, but ultimately may be more costly by the end of the process. We will look at ways to save money while still getting good value and finding the support you need for your move. Make sure that you are comparing similar proposals and not overlooking hidden fees. To do that, you need to understand the elements of the moving estimate.

It’s important to know that moves across state lines (interstate movers) are regulated by the Department of Transportation, in a specialized sub unit called the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), because they are considered interstate commerce. Local moves, and even long distance moves within one state, called intrastate moves, are subject only to the regulations of that state, which may not be as stringent. We will focus on interstate rules, and you will want to make sure you check with your state to see how local companies are governed if you are not engaging in a move that is subject to the FMSCA jurisdiction.

Rear view at kids playing with boxes on moving day, small brother and sister running holding belongings packing unpacking in new home, happy playful children having fun together enjoying relocation

Those rules stipulate that the mover must provide an estimate based on a visual inspection of the household goods to be moved, as long as they have an office, broker, agent, or another representative within fifty miles of the origin location. You can waive that right, but you shouldn’t. The estimate should also have an inventory, listing everything that is to be moved. This requirement is for your protection so that an unscrupulous mover can’t claim that additions have been made and increase the price.

Should I get a binding estimate? There are several types of estimates, and you can choose the best one for your circumstances.  A mover can charge you for a binding estimate, but then it is a ceiling for what you will pay, with certain exceptions. In a typical scenario, the moving company will come out in advance of the move day, conduct the walk-thru, go through the house, examine the contents, and create an inventory of what is to move. The customer will indicate items that are moving and perhaps things that are to be left behind. You will agree to services, such as any packing of boxes, and discuss the need for shuttling due to parking restrictions at either origin or destination, and other obstacles such as stairs.

The mover can provide a binding estimate, a non-binding estimate, or a binding not-to-exceed estimate. With a binding estimate, another walk through will take place on the day of the move itself, and the mover will confirm that nothing has been added and will agree to conduct the move. Once the moving company agrees on that day to move your belongings, they must then abide by the binding estimate, or negotiate a revised binding estimate listing the additional household goods or services. At the destination, the customer pays 100% of the agreed-upon estimate (minus any deposit) when the shipment is delivered.

Because movers are permitted to charge a fee for a binding estimate, consumers may prefer to choose a non-binding estimate. As with the binding option, the non-binding estimate must be based on a visual review of the items to be moved. An inventory should accompany it, sometimes referred to as a cube sheet or table of measurements. But in the case of the non-binding estimate, the final price will be determined by the actual weight of the shipment, so you need to be wary of a price that sounds too low. The mover could be low-balling the weight estimate in order to win the job. The mover may point out that at most, you will pay 110% of the total estimate at the time of delivery, which sounds great, and is technically accurate. However, that is only to receive your shipment, which the mover must surrender to you if you pay 100% of a binding estimate or up to 110% of a non-binding estimate, as long as you did not add items or services and no impracticable operations (more on that in a moment) were encountered. But in reality you will still receive a bill for the balance beyond what you pay at time of delivery. If your estimate is off by 40%, you will get a bill for the rest, and you will be responsible for paying it.

Binding estimate not-to-exceed. Sometimes referred to as the best option (for the customer), the binding estimate is a maximum amount, but the final cost can be lower if the weight is lower. Again, you may have to pay for a binding estimate, but it may be worth it. Make sure you get the inventory list, make sure it is accurate, and ask to see the final weight.

Compare apples and apples. Make sure that the estimates you are evaluating use the same variables. If one estimate is for 10,000 pounds, one for 12,000 and one for 14,000, as the first two to provide additional cost estimates using the higher weights as well and review the individual cube sheets to make sure that they have the same number of items. If the movers have differing quantities of boxes in their estimates, ask them for an explanation.  Also, ensure that services are not charged differently. Is one company charging for a long carry, while another is not? Make sure you verify that equivalent service is provided.

Any services not anticipated in advance (sometimes called impracticable operations) like an unforeseen inability to park in front of the destination can be charged to you whether you agree to them or not. These charges are also due at the time of delivery of the shipment, as long as they do not exceed 15% of the total fees. Any amount over that percentage can still be collected, but not until 30 days after the move has been completed. Impracticable operations should be detailed on your move contract (tariff) and usually includes obstacles that prevent the mover from using regular equipment to unload at the destination, necessitating the use of a shuttle. Long carries and undisclosed stairs can also be included in these charges.

Can I save by moving off season?

You will save money by moving when demand is lower, usually during the winter and fall. Families prefer to move during the summer, when children are out of school, so demand for moving services is higher and more expensive during the summer months. Being flexible about your schedule can help you save money. If you are able to wait for your possessions, that can save you money as well, since the carrier may benefit by combining loads. Always ask the moving company when you get estimates what you can do to lower your cost.

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