How to get a good moving estimate

Binding estimates gives you price certainty during a move. (Photo courtesy of Patricia Seeley)

Binding estimates gives you price certainty during a move. (Photo courtesy of Patricia Seeley)

Local and relatively short-distance intrastate moves are usually priced by the hourly cost of labor. For moves across state lines, the moving industry tariff specifies that rates must be based on the certified weight and distance shipped, plus the amount of special services such as packing, long carries and third-party appliance work.

Interstate movers also offer at least two different kinds of estimates that affect price: binding and non-binding. Many of them also offer a third option called guaranteed not-to-exceed (also referred to as "guaranteed price" or "price protection").

Binding estimates are written agreements that guarantee the cost based on a survey of the items to be moved and the services listed on the estimate sheet. Anything that is added later will result in increased charges. "A binding estimate gives you price certainty," says Joe Harrison, president of the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA). "But the mover may try to protect himself and plug in a little more than normal to make sure he doesn't get cut short on price himself."

Non-binding estimates, on the other hand, aren't guaranteed. Instead, they are an approximation of the cost based on a survey of the items to be moved. The final determination, however, isn't made until after the goods are on the truck and weighed on a certified scale. With this kind of estimate, too, movers are allowed to collect 110 percent of the estimate at delivery. "You're required to pay the [remaining] balance in 30 days," Harrison explains, "but nevertheless, you'd get your goods."

According to FMCSA regulations, consumers are also entitled to witness the weighing of their shipment. This is not a bad idea, sources say, as some movers have been known to "bump" the weight in an effort to pad their paychecks. Divide the total weight by the total number of items in your shipment, advises Terry Judd, owner of Mr. Mover in Columbus, Ohio. It's worth raising an objection if the average amount per item is more than 35 to 40 pounds.

Harrison says that the last option, guaranteed not-to-exceed, actually gives the consumer the best of both worlds. It's a written estimate based on a binding estimate or on actual cost, whichever one ends up being lower. When discussing the estimate, be sure to also ask about payment options to avoid last-minute surprises. Many moving companies will not accept personal checks and not all of them accept credit cards. In fact, it is not unusual for them to require that the bill be paid in cash, by certified check or money order.

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