How to Read a Moving Quote

When it comes to long-distance moving, we’re always emphasizing the importance of –

In fact, being a diligent and informed consumer is more important than ever.

That said, moving contracts are crucial pieces of the puzzle that often get overlooked.

In this post, we’ll delve into the confusing world of moving contracts, but first, take a moment to check out these helpful resources –

  • Moving cost calculator – Talk about a great budgeting tool. Just enter your move dates, origin and destination cities, and the estimated size of your move, and the magic algorithms will do the rest
  • Best interstate movers – The moving industry is full of shady players. With so much at stake, hiring a top-rated long-distance mover with verified customer reviews is imperative
  • Best moving container companies – It’s simple. You load and unload, they drive, and you save big bucks

A moving contract by any other name…

When dealing with moving companies, you may find that the following terms are used interchangeably –

  • Estimate
  • Order for service
  • Moving contract

It may seem counterintuitive, but they’re actually just different names for the same document.

Generally, estimates, orders for service, and moving contracts are referred to by different names at different stages in the moving process.

For example, after your representatives do virtual or in-home surveys, they’ll provide you with written estimates.

Once you’ve chosen a moving company, you’ll sign the estimate, after which it’ll become the order for service and moving contract.

While the former acts as official authorization for the company to perform your move, the latter is a legally binding contract between you and the moving company.

What to look for in your moving contract

Moving documents vary from company to company, but they almost always contain –

1. Contact information and service dates

The top portions of most moving contracts are usually reserved for –

  • Customer’s name
  • Contact information (phone numbers and email address)
  • Origin and destination addresses
  • Dates for all services, including packing, loading, accessorials, and delivery

Before signing an estimate, make sure that this information is complete, accurate, and up to date.

2. Description of services and the charges for each

In some respects, professional mover’s services are like menu items.

Once you’re familiar with what they are and how much they cost, you can choose the ones you want and can afford.

Services (line items) typically include –

  • Linehaul – the transportation charge on interstate moves
  • Fuel surcharge – a percentage of the linehaul based on the national average cost of diesel fuel as reported by the Department of Energy (DOE)
  • Packing and unpacking
  • Crating and uncrating
  • Third-party services like appliance disconnects/reconnects
  • Bulky articles like pianos, hot tubs, and ATVs
  • Accessorial charges like shuttles, long carries, and extra labor
  • Automobile transportation
  • Storage

It’s essential to check that each service you requested is listed along with its cost.

But remember, estimates aren’t carved in stone.

You can add and delete services up until, and even during your move.

If changes are necessary, give your moving company as much notice as possible.

Expect to pay more if you’ll need help with things you originally planned on doing yourself.

3. The estimated weight and cubic feet of your shipment

Interstate move charges are typically based on –

  • The distance between your old and new residences
  • The weight of your household goods
  • Additional services like packing, storage, and automobile transportation

Mileage should be calculated using your origin and destination zip codes.

Whether your driver takes the most direct route or makes a detour to spend the weekend in Vegas, it shouldn’t affect your move cost.

Did you know?

Moving documents may also include the estimated space (cubic feet) that your items will occupy on the moving van, but this shouldn’t be used to calculate the cost.

4. Scope of services and special instructions

Since no two moves are alike, getting the services you need usually boils down to effective communication.

Scope of services is generally straightforward, but detailed special instructions are often the difference between a positive moving experience and a negative one.

For example, the moving company representative may note that you agreed to do the packing yourself.

If you don’t, the company will use this documentation to justify the extra costs associated with the additional packing.

Likewise, you may request that the movers arrive after 10 AM on move day.

If they show up early and you’re not there, they can’t technically charge you for waiting time because this request was listed under special instructions.

5. Type of estimate

Few things are more important than knowing what type of moving estimate you have.

When relocating from one state to another, you’ll get one of the following types –

  • Non-binding
  • Guaranteed price (binding)
  • Not-to-exceed

With non-binding estimates, final charges may be more or less than quoted, based on your shipment’s actual weight and the services the company performed for you.

In other words, your representative may have estimated that –

  • Your household goods weighed 12,000 pounds
  • It would take 100 cartons to pack your loose items

On move day however, if your items weigh 14,300 pounds and the packers use 137 cartons, your costs will go up.

Conversely, your costs would decrease if the weight and packing were lower than estimated.

With binding estimates, customers pay the estimated charges, while with not-to-exceed estimates, costs can go down but not up.

But even with these latter two estimate types, actual costs can exceed estimated costs if the moving company can prove that you added items or required services that weren’t listed on the estimate.

6. Valuation options

You should already be familiar with valuation before signing a moving contract.

Valuation sets the moving company’s level of liability if items are lost or damaged while in their possession.

Valuation is often referred to as “moving insurance,” but it’s not technically insurance.

On interstate moves, you’ll be able to choose from the following valuation options –

  • Released-value coverage of .60 cents per pound per item
  • Full-value replacement coverage (usually with zero, $250, and $500 deductible options)

Interstate move customers automatically get released-value coverage at no extra cost.

With released-value covered, if your movers destroy your 300-pound refrigerator you’d only be reimbursed .60 cents for each pound of its weight.

As in $180.

After all, 300 pounds x .60 cents = $180.

However, if you’d had the foresight to purchase full-value replacement coverage, you’d be reimbursed what it would cost to replace it with a similar or identical refrigerator, minus any deductible.

7. Acceptable methods of payment

Payment is another topic to address long before signing a moving contract.

You should know how and when you can pay for your move, but don’t rely on what you’re told.

Make sure that payment options and terms are included in the moving contract.

Most moving companies don’t require deposits, and unless other written arrangements have been made, customers can generally pay via –

  • Cash
  • Credit card
  • Certified check, cashier’s check, or money order

It’s perfectly legal for moving companies to postpone delivery until you’ve paid them, but consumers are protected by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA’s) 100% Rule.

It states that movers must deliver customers’ items after they’ve paid 110% of non-binding estimate costs or 100% of binding estimate costs.

Of course, they can and will bill you for the difference later.

Did you know?

Movers should never demand cash at delivery, and you can’t refuse to pay them just because some of your items got damaged.

8. Terms and conditions

Whether buying a car or hiring movers, reading the fine print is up to you.

On moving contracts, terms and conditions generally include –

  • Penalties for late deliveries
  • Loss and damage due to floods, hurricanes, and other “acts of God”
  • How the claims process works
  • When your items can be placed into storage (even without your consent)

When reading over each moving company’s estimate, note the terms and conditions you don’t understand and ask your representative to explain them.

9. Explanation of terms

Learning transportation-related vocabulary isn’t fun, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

Thankfully, some moving contracts contain sections (like glossaries) that define terms that many customers aren’t familiar with.

If so, pay special attention to these commonly confused terms –

  • Shipper (you, the customer)
  • Carrier (the moving company)
  • Receiver (someone who receives goods on the shipper’s behalf)

Frequently asked questions (faqs)

What’s a bill of lading?

Bills of lading are documents issued by transportation companies acknowledging the receipt of goods to be shipped.

What is a tariff?

Moving tariffs are publicly published documents that detail what services movers offer and how much they charge for each.

Do movers offer discounts on interstate moves?

Yes, on most interstate relocations movers offer significant discounts off their standard tariff rates.

Why are my three moving estimates so different?

It’s a great question that can’t be answered in a few short sentences. Thankfully, we’ve covered it in great detail in this post.

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