What to Look for on Moving Estimates

When it comes to boring reading, mysterious terms, and mind-numbing legalities, there’s really no beating a good old-fashioned moving estimate.Though most consumers take what their move consultant tells them at face value, ignoring the fine print isn’t a good idea.

As we’ve touched on in previous articles, even well-planned moves are subject to unexpected twists and turns.

Add a lack of understanding of the industry; an otherwise pleasant experience can quickly turn into a disastrous one.

The best way to avoid this scenario is by educating yourself before screening prospective movers.

It won’t happen overnight, but with a little diligence and determination, you’ll be positioned as a savvy consumer ready to meet the moving world head-on.

Below we’ll take a look at the components of local and interstate moving estimates.

Local Moving Estimates

It varies from state to state and company to company, but local moves are generally ones in which the customer’s old and new homes aren’t more than 100 miles apart.

The threshold may be 60 miles in some instances or more than 100 in others, but most moving companies charge an hourly rate for labor on local moves.

Assuming there aren’t any additional services required (like the ones we’ll cover shortly), the labor charges may look something like this—

3 men & 1 van @ $95.00 per hour x 7 hours = $665.00

Labor usually makes up the bulk of the cost on local moves, but it’s just one of many line items.

It’s a good idea to think of an estimate as a list of services, that when added together make up the approximate cost of your move.

By looking at them in this manner it’ll be easier to understand and manage them, and to avoid getting scammed.

Moving estimates usually include some or all of the following:

  • the estimated weight of your household goods
  • the approximate number of items to be moved (includes boxes, furniture, and everything in between)
  • your origin and destination addresses, and the distance between them
  • crew size, number of trucks, and hourly rate multiplied by the estimated total move time
  • your move date and delivery date (or delivery window if you’re moving out of state)
  • fuel surcharge
  • travel time (on local moves this accounts for the drive between the company’s warehouse and your home at the beginning of the day, and back again when the move is finished)
  • packing materials and labor (if the company will be doing some or all of the packing for you)
  • if you’ll be packing yourself but want boxes delivered, there will be box charges and maybe even a delivery fee
  • optional services like crating and uncrating, appliance servicing, and items that require special handling like hot tubs, pianos, pool tables and home entertainment systems
  • short or long-term storage
  • insurance (it’s commonly called valuation in the moving and storage industry)
  • acceptable methods of payment
  • payment terms

On local moves, the actual weight of your household goods isn’t as important as it is on interstate ones, but the consultant should still take a detailed inventory.

Moving companies use time-tested formulas to determine the optimum crew size for each move, but you’ll usually pay for the actual time—even if it’s more than the original estimate.

It’s also important to discuss seasonal pricing differences with each company’s representative.

Move dates often change, but swapping a weekday for a weekend or a non-peak month like December for a peak ones like June or July may increase your hourly rate considerably.

Travel time charges and fuel surcharges are pretty standard these days, but many companies wave them on local moves—especially if you’ll be moving during the winter when customers are scarce.

Paying extra for fuel and travel time tends to make customers see red, but they may be negotiable items.

If your move requires a four-man crew and you’re paying $125 per hour, a 2-hour travel time charge will cost you $250—and that’s before the crew even lifts a finger.


Postponing your move until fall or winter puts you in a great negotiating position, and may save you big money.

If you’ll need professional packing service, your estimate should also include an itemized list of boxes all the way from the smallest 1.5 cubic foot book carton, to the largest dish-packs, wardrobes and mirror cartons.

Packing may be priced in a number of ways depending on the company.

In addition to material charges, you may be charged an hourly rate for packing labor, or a per-box flat rate which will vary by container size.

Make sure the company’s charges for materials and labor are clearly listed on the estimate, and that you understand them.

Many companies offer customers free used boxes, so if you’ll be doing your own packing but would rather not root through grocery store dumpsters looking for cartons, this may be another point of negotiation.

It’s also important to note that even though you may only moving across town, some fragile items will need the same attention they would if you were moving cross-country.

In other words, your priceless artwork, marble tabletops, and massive crystal chandeliers will still need to be crated just as if you were moving to another state, and the cost for each should be listed separately on the estimate.

Insurance should also have its own line item on the estimate, and it’s important that you understand exactly what you’re getting.

You’ll likely get a free option that’ll cover your items up to between .30 and .60 cents per pound.

In real-world terms, if a brand new, 100-pound flat-screen television is damaged during your move, you’d only be reimbursed between $30 and $60.

Yes, you read that correctly.

It’s peanuts, but you’ll have the option of upgrading to full-value replacement coverage whether you’re moving locally or out of state.

It can be pricy, and the more your household goods weigh the more expensive it’ll be, but in the case of the damaged flat-screen, you’d be reimbursed what it would cost to buy a similar or identical television brand new.

You’ll need to do a cost-benefit analysis to determine which option is best for you.

Though many customers know they’ll need storage before booking their moves, for others, it’s a last-minute necessity brought on by unforeseen issues.

Storage is expensive, so even if you don’t think you’ll need it, it’s a good idea to ask for a quote and have it written on the estimate.

In some states like Pennsylvania and California, government agencies regulate moving companies that offer in-state moving services, and they often dictate how much they charge for their services.

In these states movers may be prohibited from offering their customers special deals or discounts, so if you live in one you’ll probably be charged the same as everyone else—regardless of your negotiation skills.

Moves over the 60 or 100-mile limit may be priced based on weight and mileage like interstate moves.

These long-distance in-state moves are called intrastate moves, and they can be very expensive.

Spend a little time checking to see if your state is regulated before scheduling your in-home estimates.

Also, now is a good time to get free moving quotes from top interstate moving companies using our moving cost calculator.

Interstate Moving Estimates

For interstate moves, the company’s in-home estimator may take more time calculating the weight of your items than they would if you were moving locally.

Interstate estimates are usually more complicated and harder to understand than local ones, because pricing is based is on complex calculations of weight and mileage.

So it’s important that both are clearly marked on your estimate.

Thankfully some items like storage and insurance are similar for local and interstate moves, so we’ll brush past those and focus on the differences.

Before loading a shipment bound for another state, the driver will (or should) weigh the truck on a certified scale.

Then after he’s loaded your items, he’ll reweigh it.

The difference between the two is called net weight, and it’s used to determine move cost along with mileage, packing, insurance, and other services.

But before going any further, let’s look at the three types of interstate estimates:

    • non-binding— the customer pays for the actual cost of the move regardless if it’s more or less than the estimated cost
    • binding— the customer pays the exact amount of the estimate (unless items or services that weren’t originally included are added, in which case the cost could increase)
    • not-to-exceed— the customer won’t pay more than the estimate but could pay less if the actual weight is lower than the estimated weight (but again, he may pay more for adding last-minute items or services)

Whichever type you’re given should be clearly marked on your estimate to avoid issues down the road.

The packing charges on interstate moves are almost always calculated based on a price per-container, plus a flat rate for the labor to pack it.

Large, heavy-duty boxes like dish-packs that take a long time to pack cost more, small boxes for books and linens that can be packed quickly cost much less.

You shouldn’t be charged by the hour for packing on an interstate move, so if you’re asked to it may be a red flag.

On hourly packing you’ll pay more if the crew is inexperienced or just plain lazy.

When paying on a per-carton basis, you pay a flat rate whether it takes 5 or 30 minutes to pack a box, so the crew has the incentive to work efficiently.

Fuel surcharges aren’t generally negotiable on interstate moves, and there should never be travel time charges when moving from one state to another.

Your interstate move estimate should also include information on the 110% rule.

This rule states that even though the actual cost of your move may exceed the estimated cost, the mover can only collect the estimated cost plus 10% (or 110% total) at the time of delivery.

They cannot legally hold your items hostage while demanding more, but if you agree to pay they’ll bill you for the remainder after delivery.

Other common situations that can unexpectedly increase move cost are things like long and elevator carries, and shuttles.

Shuttles are necessary when moving vans can’t get close enough to a home for loading or unloading due to obstructions like low or weight-restricted bridges, narrow driveways, and tight turns.

In cases like these, a smaller truck will be used to ‘shuttle’ your household goods between your home and the truck.

Shuttles are expensive, time-consuming, and increase the likelihood of your items getting damaged.

They’re more likely when moving into apartment complexes and gated communities, but sometimes single-family homes have accessibility issues as well.

Ask your consultant how much a shuttle would cost based on the estimated weight of your items, and make sure it’s written on the estimate.

Ask about their policies regarding long carries, stair carries and elevators too.

If you think they may apply on your move, have them included in the estimate.

Remember, if they’re not required, you won’t be charged.

Things to remember:

Generally, the more ‘stuff’ you have and the farther you’re moving, the more your move will cost.

Moving is all about planning, vetting, and getting the most bang for your hard-earned dollar.

Use the moving cost calculator to get a good idea of what your move will cost.

If you’ve got items like pool tables and hot tubs that rarely get used and require expensive servicing before they’re moved, it may be wise to sell them or negotiate to leave them for the new homeowner.

And finally, unless you’re seriously pressed for time, it’s almost never a good idea to sign an estimate on the spot.

Wait a day or two.

Read it carefully.

Circle items that require additional clarification, and think of questions you may have forgotten to ask.

Then when you understand the estimate and all its components like a pro, you’ll be in a much better position to make an informed decision on which company is right for you.

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