Understanding the Types of Moving Estimates: Which One Is Best?

When selecting moving services, it’s only natural that you would get quotes from several of the best moving companies available in your area to compare your options. But not all moving quotes are created equal.

There is a significant difference between binding, non-binding, and not-to-exceed estimates. The type of estimate you get means that your final price could be equal to your original quote — or it could be much higher.

In this article, we’ll help you understand how these types of moving estimates differ, and what they mean for you as you compare quotes from different companies.

Types of moving estimates

The three types of moving estimates you need to know are non-binding, binding, and not-to-exceed estimates. Some companies provide multiple types of estimates, while others provide only one. Here’s a breakdown of what these different options mean for your wallet as you plan your move.

Non-binding estimates

For non-binding estimates, the total price you pay is typically based on the final weight of your move.

The moving company weighs the entire truck empty prior to loading. After everything is loaded, they weigh it again. The difference is used to determine the weight of your belongings and the cost of your move.

Movers will typically give a non-binding estimate if they don’t have enough details to guarantee the cost of your move. For example, if nobody will be at the house until moving day or if everything is in a big storage unit where inventorying the items is difficult, a mover may opt to give a non-binding quote.

This is really a ballpark estimate that is usually based on the average cost of similar moves the company has done in the past.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) actually has legal requirements for administering non-binding estimates, such as that movers must provide reasonably accurate estimates and clearly describe all services to be included in your shipment.

To comply with this, good movers will do their best to estimate the weight of the move beforehand to give you an approximate cost and rate per pound. They’ll weigh the truck before and immediately after everything is loaded and provide you with weight tickets certified by the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide a new cost estimate. If they don’t provide a new estimate, it means they are reaffirming the original quote.

Your final bill will then be adjusted up or down based on the actual weight. If your move is overweight, the mover will typically require you to pay 10% of the overage cost at delivery and the rest within 30 days. If the move is underweight, the mover will reduce the overall cost accordingly.

Even with these types of regulations in place, non-binding quotes can be a field day for shady moving companies. Watch out for red flags like an unusually low estimate, which could be used to scam you into agreeing to a move that will end up being much more expensive.

Most reputable movers, like International Van Lines, will offer a non-binding estimate online or over the phone, but then ask to do an in-home assessment to create a binding estimate.

Binding estimates

Binding estimates are a fixed price that doesn’t change, regardless of the final weight of the move. Binding quotes will also account for any fees resulting from add-on services you might want, such as full-value protection for your household goods, moving specialty items like a piano or pool table, or getting packing supplies from your mover.

However, there are still a number of legitimate ways movers increase the final cost, even if you received a binding move estimate. Adding items on move day, adding additional pick-up stops, or not being properly packed are common reasons why binding moving quotes can increase on move day.

So, be sure to plan well and communicate all requirements to your mover ahead of time to avoid these justifiable price increases. In addition, always confirm that all the services you want as part of the move are included in your binding estimate. Working with reputable movers like American Van Lines that include all their services on the binding quote will give you much-needed peace of mind.

Not-to-exceed estimates

Not all moving companies offer binding not-to-exceed estimates, but they are the most customer-friendly moving estimate. Not-to-exceed estimates set a maximum price for your move but also allow for your price to be reduced if the move ends up being underweight.

For example, let’s say you get a moving quote for 8,000 pounds at $1 per pound. Your binding not-to-exceed price is $8,000. If the total weight of your possessions is 10,000 pounds, you’ll still pay $8,000. But if your goods only weigh 7,000 pounds, your price will be reduced by $1,000.

While moving companies don’t always offer not-to-exceed estimates, this is an option with some companies like North American Van Lines, so be sure to ask your mover if they offer this type of quote. Remember that like other binding estimates, last-minute changes that you request could cause your total cost to increase.

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What is included in the different types of moving estimates?

When getting a free quote from a moving company, you should carefully review your estimate to make sure it includes all of the services you need. This is true regardless of the type of estimate.

Generally speaking, all moving estimates from full-service movers should include:

  • Your mover’s name and address
  • Mileage for the move
  • The estimated weight of the move (with the price per pound, when applicable)
  • Fees for any extra services you chose as part of your moving process (such as packing materials or furniture disassembly)

A detailed written estimate should also detail tariff costs, as well as surcharges for fuel, storage, transportation, and insurance.

Binding estimates should clearly state that your total cost will not increase or decrease, regardless of the final weight of your shipment. The estimate should outline potential reasons why your costs could change.

Similarly, not-to-exceed estimates should indicate the not-to-exceed pricing based on the estimated weight of your shipment and outline how your price would decrease if the weight is lower than expected.

Finally, your estimate should clearly state whether it is binding, non-binding, or not-to-exceed. Reputable movers provide all the information you need to make an informed decision.

Which types of moving estimates are best?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for which type of moving estimate is best. It ultimately comes down to your specific moving scenario.

For example, non-binding estimates are generally not recommended if you are trying to move on a strict budget. Costs can increase dramatically when movers aren’t able to do an in-home assessment. However, in situations where you can’t do an in-home or virtual visit (such as moving items from a storage unit when you are already out of state), a non-binding estimate may be your only option.

Binding estimates are a good option when you want to stick to a set budget. With a binding estimate, you won’t have to pay more than what you were quoted — but you also don’t have any chance of paying less if your belongings weigh less than expected. Binding estimates are best when you can obtain multiple quotes and know you won’t be adding services at the last minute.

Not-to-exceed estimates are generally considered the best option when they’re available. You won’t pay above a set maximum price, but if the actual weight of your move is lower than the in-home estimated weight, your price could go down. This is great for budget-minded movers. However, not many moving companies offer this type of estimate, so it may not be available where you live.

How moving estimates can change

While the estimate you receive from a moving company is a good starting point, you need to be mindful of ways that you could rack up additional costs, regardless of the type of estimate you get.

With non-binding estimates, the most common way moving estimates can change is if the actual weight of your belongings is significantly different from the estimated weight. Inaccurate estimates could result in a final price that is thousands of dollars higher than expected — so be sure to work with a reputable company when getting a non-binding estimate.

With all three types of estimates, one of the most common ways your estimate could change is if you need to move additional items that you didn’t list as part of the original estimate. When Suresh used International Van Lines, his original estimate was $3,916. However, after obtaining this quote, Suresh added a large suitcase, additional boxes, and a few specialty items. This resulted in additional charges that brought his final costs up to $4,500.

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Suresh's Move with International Van Lines
Suresh would definitely hire International Van Lines again. He thought they were incredibly professional and a great value for the money. Everything arrived safely and the team was professional through and through. He admits the estimate process confused him, so he recommends future movers familiarize themselves with how the moving estimate process works.
From
OH
To
TX
Cost
$4,500
Size
2 bdrms
Read The Full Story

If you need additional services at the last minute, such as help packing or unpacking, this will also increase the final cost from your original estimate. For example, when Kallie moved with Colonial Van Lines, she ended up paying nearly $500 for a long carry at her new apartment complex — something she hadn’t originally planned for.

An accurate, comprehensive quote will help you avoid these kinds of unpleasant surprises.

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moveBuddha icon
Kallie wasn’t thrilled about unexpected charges during her move with Colonial Van Lines. While her times arrived on time, she felt like she paid too much and that Colonial’s poor communication made her move a bigger headache than it needed to be.
From
NC
To
TX
Cost
$4,500
Size
2 bdrms
Read The Full Story

Tips for estimating costs

Whether you’re planning a long-distance or local move, there are a few best practices you can follow so that estimating the final cost for your move (and choosing a moving company) goes smoothly:

  • Use our moving cost calculator. This will give you a good price range for your move so you can have a better idea of what your costs will be.
  • Be mindful of your moving date. The day of week and time of year can influence your moving costs and the availability of your preferred moving company. If you’re trying to save money, schedule your move for the middle of the week or during the off-season of fall and winter. Choosing flexible dates with your mover can also lower your costs.
  • Be upfront about your needs. Tell the moving company all services you want to use for your move, like packing and furniture disassembly. This will help you get a comprehensive quote and avoid last-minute charges.
  • Get an in-home estimate when possible. Phone surveys may seem more convenient, but an in-home visit (or even a virtual in-home estimate) is typically more accurate.
  • Ask if any fees aren’t included. Even with a trustworthy company, it’s always best to check if there are any potential fees not included in your initial quote.
  • Ask about discounts and price matching. It never hurts to ask which options are available, especially if you’ve found a mover you like.

FAQs about moving estimates

How accurate are moving estimates?

The estimate you get from a moving company is generally based on the estimated amount of items you need to move. In-home moving quotes are the most accurate option, since moving specialists can see everything in person. A quote that is based on you providing a phone or online inventory is much less likely to be accurate since it is based on your own description, instead of what a mover can see themselves.

What is the difference between binding and non-binding moving estimates?

Binding estimates set a fixed price for your move based on the estimated weight of your belongings. The price won’t go up or down, even if the final weight is different than estimated. With non-binding estimates, the final cost for your move can change if the weight is different than expected.

Which type of moving estimate is the best?

A not-to-exceed estimate is generally considered the best type of moving estimate. These estimates set a maximum price for your move based on the estimated weight of your items. If everything weighs more than estimated, your price won’t increase. However, if your goods weigh less than expected, the cost of the move will be adjusted down.

Can you negotiate with moving companies on the estimate?

Yes, negotiating with a moving company is possible, though maybe not in the way that you think. For example, some companies are willing to price match competitors. Others are willing to offer a lower price in exchange for reduced services. Don’t forget to ask about available moving discounts, either.

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