Getting three estimates has been the standard operating procedure for families on the move since the beginning of time.
To some, it seems like a failsafe method for getting the best deal.
But the truth is, those estimates may raise more questions than they answer.
Especially when they’re hundreds or thousands of dollars apart.
You may be tempted to pounce on the lowest bid like a hungry hyena on a sleeping gazelle, but that may lead to big problems down the road.
Let’s take a closer look at why moving estimates are often so different, and what you can do to level the playing field.
Are the Estimated Weights the Same?
On interstate moves, charges are largely based on weight and miles.
When wide discrepancies exist between estimates, weight is almost always the culprit.
This is particularly true if you’re getting quick phone estimates or using online moving calculators.
Though both can be helpful pre-move tools, as your move date draws near you’ll probably want to have in-home estimates.
When you schedule an appointment with a move consultant they will do a walk-through of your home (it can be virtual, but it should always be detailed).
The aim is to compile a detailed inventory of the items you want to be packed and moved.
Your estimate will be based on the inventory, so accuracy is important.
Smartphones and tablets are commonly used during the inventory process, and the representative should print you a copy before leaving.
Inventories are usually multiple pages, each of which will include:
- separate sections for each room or area of your home
- furniture and other items in each
- estimated boxes, and who’ll be packing them (you or the company)
- weight and cubic feet subtotal
Then, in the end, everything will be tallied together.
Though no estimator can determine the exact weight of your items, each should be able to get relatively close—say within 10 or 15% under ideal conditions.
If your estimates come in at 8,200, 11,400, and 14,200 pounds, you have problems that need to be addressed.
Consider the following—
- At least two (and maybe all three) estimators came up with the incorrect weight
- Who did a thorough job and asked relevant questions?
- Who rushed through the process?
- Who provided helpful tips and suggested ways to save money?
- What kinds of estimates were provided? Binding, non-binding, not-to-exceed?
- Who seemed the least and most experienced?
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Are the Estimated Hours the Same?
On local moves, charges are usually based on an hourly labor rate in addition to other services like packing.
Your representative will likely give you an estimate that includes crew size, number of trucks, and the estimated hours to complete your move.
The first line on local moving estimates usually look something like this—
4 men & 1 tractor-trailer for 8 hours @ $120 per hour = $960
There may also be line items for things like:
- fuel surcharges
- travel time charges
- packing and unpacking
- additional insurance
- packing material and delivery charges (if you’re packing but are buying material from the company)
- storage, appliance service, crating, etc.
If your estimates have wildly different bottom lines, it’s wise to set them side by side and compare each line item individually.
By doing this you’ll have a good chance of identifying the differences.
For example, one representative may estimate that 3 men can do your job in 7 hours.
Using the above rates and excluding additional items, it’d cost about $630.
Another 4 men in 11 hours, or $1,320.
Assuming their crews are similarly experienced, one or more of them is off—way off.
Also, one may have included packing and insurance, while the others may have omitted them altogether.
Sadly, it’s usually the estimators who do the most thorough job that end up looking like the bad guys.
By doing a careful comparison however, you might find that the opposite is true.
Have You Been Up-Front with the Move Consultants?
This is a tricky topic.
Because it points the finger squarely at the customer when things go wrong.
For moving consultants it’s common to walk into a prospective customer’s home only to discover that they have no idea:
- what they’ll be taking
- what they’ll leave behind
- what they will or won’t pack
- when they’re moving
- whether they’ll need storage
For conscientious estimators looking to give their customers accurate estimates, it’s a hopeless situation.
In short, if you don’t know the answers to these vital questions, you really can’t expect your estimator to.
Of course in some instances like last-minute moves caused by a death in the family or unforeseen financial troubles, it may be unavoidable.
That’s OK, but if possible you’ll want to give your moving company representative a relatively clear idea of the services you’ll need and what you want moved.
If you tell them one thing on the day of the estimate, but end up moving more and adding other services, your move cost will increase—maybe significantly.
Insider’s Tip: Be sure to tell each move estimator the same thing. It’s no problem if some items are up in the air. Just make a list of them and be consistent. Remember… there’s nothing wrong with fruit salad, but for moving estimates it’s always best to compare apples to apples.
Some Movers are More Expensive than Others
Moving is a competitive industry, and the abundance of options tends to keep prices relatively low.
But in some instances, there can be drastic differences in what movers charge, even if their estimates are based on similar weights, hours, and services.
Some moving companies bill themselves as ‘premium service providers’ and therefore charge more.
Others go the ‘discount mover’ route.
Regardless of which you choose, it’s still important to compare estimates carefully.
If one is significantly higher or lower than the others, ask yourself…
- Do they hire inexperienced labor and pay them peanuts?
- Do they use old trucks prone to breakdowns?
- Do they have a history of luring customers in with low estimates, only to increase the cost at the end of the move?
- Do they have a track record of paying legitimate claims or avoiding them?
- Are they actually a moving company, or an online broker masquerading as one?
- Is there concrete evidence that their service is any more premium than their competitors?
We have taken all of these into consideration and struck the right balance with these interstate moving companies.
Q: Why are some movers cheap and others really expensive?
A: Some moving companies have top-notch warehouses, nice trucks, experienced crews, and excellent ratings with the Better Business Bureau and American Moving and Storage Association.
Price differences among moving companies are common, but they’re usually negligible.
They often appear larger than they really are because of disparities in their estimates.
Why are moving company prices so different?
Moving company prices typically differ because estimators calculate weight and time inaccurately, and omit items like packing, insurance, and storage.
These miscalculations and omissions may be intentional, the result of limited experience, or poor communication between the customer and consultant.
Why do my moving company estimates differ by thousands of dollars?
It’s common for move estimates to vary by hundreds of dollars.
On the biggest interstate moves, a thousand dollars isn’t unheard of.
However, big differences like these are red flags.
Scrutinizing estimates and comparing them carefully is a great way to avoid moving scams and other pitfalls.
Bar none, the best way to have a smooth move is to use a company you can trust.
1. Review, compare, repeat…
Always give yourself ample time to review estimates and inventories before choosing a mover.
- Is anything missing?
- Did they forget to inventory the basement, attic, or garage?
- Does their estimate include things like packing and unpacking, storage, and additional insurance?
- Is their estimate binding, non-binding, or not-to-exceed?
One company’s quote may look better than the others only because they’ve cleverly left out services to make it seem lower.
If so, you’re being low-balled.
It’s the oldest trick in the moving industry, and one you don’t need to fall for.
The packing charges on moving estimates should always be detailed—NOT just a lump sum.
Boxes come in multiple sizes.
The smallest are just a few bucks.
Large, heavy-duty ones like dish and lamp cartons are much more expensive.
Each carton type should be itemized.
The estimate should show approximately how many of each the crew will need, the price per box, and the estimated time or per-unit cost to pack each.
If one estimate calls for 50 boxes and another 100, the disparity is worth looking into.
Don’t just assume that 50 is sufficient, because it may not be.
3. Compare Apples to Apples
It’s definitely not a good idea to compare a full-service moving company’s in-home estimate with one provided by an online broker.
They’re two entirely different animals.
Likewise, many customers consider other options like container moves.
Though they’re popular with the cost-conscious DIY crowd, they’re not the same as what you’ll get with a true moving company.
Remember, with container moves you’ll need to do all the packing and provide labor for loading and unloading.
Consider these factors when comparing alternate service options.
4. Primary Service Area
Here’s a good rule to remember…
It’s probably not a great idea to use a company called East Coast Relocation Specialists for a move on the West Coast.
Makes sense, right?
Some small and mid-size moving companies operate in limited service areas.
Many for example only handle moves between New York and Florida.
It’s their preferred ‘lane,’ and since they probably operate very efficiently there, they may offer more reasonably priced service than competitors.