Which type of moving estimate is the best?

Long distance moving company estimates can be confusing — especially when you’re getting a full-service moving company to help with your move from start to finish.

From weights and hours to binding and Not-to-Exceed, there’s a daunting amount of jargon.

types of moving estimate options

So, which type of estimate is the best for your move?

This question comes up a lot, but it’s the wrong question.

Here’s the deal:

The terms of the estimate don’t actually matter that much.

Don’t get me wrong, you should understand how your moving estimate is set up, but your first priority should be finding a quality moving company.

Let me explain.

Good moving companies don’t like surprises. They try to be as accurate and detailed as possible with their free quotes. A good professional mover will guide you through getting an estimate for your specific move and let you know ahead of time about any potential for additional costs.

Good moving companies sell on service and attention to detail.

On the other hand, bad moving companies will focus on the contract terms and guaranteed pricing. Bad movers will rush the estimate but reassure you that their price is binding. It says so on the paperwork! The truth is, pretty much any mover can wiggle their way out of a “guaranteed” price regardless of how ironclad the paperwork may look.

So your top priority should be finding a honest moving company. And yes, we made a list of the best moving companies to help you out.

But even after you’ve found a great mover, you should still know how their estimates work.

The best way to understand moving estimates is to look at how each type of estimate plays out when you hire a good moving company versus a bad moving company.

Let’s get started.

In-home vs Video vs Phone Moving Estimates

The first thing to consider is how the estimate is completed? The way you get quotes from a company can tell you a lot about their quality. The first step in this process is inventorying — determining how much stuff you need to move.

Good full-service movers will come out to your house and do a walk through that allows them to inventory every item. Some of the more forward-thinking companies may request to do a video estimate with you over Facetime or Skype, where you would walk through the house and use your phone to show everything that needs to get moved.

Both in-home and video estimates are accurate ways to get a moving estimate. While this may feel like a bit of a hassle compared to just getting a quick online quote, this process ensures that your movers will be able to provide an accurate estimate for your specific needs.

Some movers to consider:

Company Quote Rating Price
Safeway Moving
Get A Quote
starstarstarstarstar 4.5 / 5
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American Van Lines
American Van Lines
Get A Quote
starstarstarstarstar 4.5 / 5
dollar sign dollar sign dollar sign dollar sign
International Van Lines
International Van Lines
Get A Quote
starstarstarstarstar 4.45 / 5
dollar sign dollar sign dollar sign dollar sign

Bad movers will do everything over the phone. While you can usually provide a decent inventory of your furniture over the phone, it’s very difficult for a mover to estimate how many boxes you will require without seeing your stuff.

Estimates over the phone tend to be much less accurate and detailed, which can lead to problems on moving day.

In rare cases, for very small moves of just a few items or last-minute situations, a local mover may have to do a phone estimate. For these situations, a phone estimate can be understandable. Otherwise, you should always require a visual estimate be done when requesting a quote, especially when working with long-distance movers.

Once the mover has an accurate inventory of what you’re moving, they’ll set you up with one of three types of moving estimates.

Non-binding Moving Estimates

For non-binding estimates, the total price you pay is typically based on the final weight of your move. Many people get confused by this. How does a moving company weigh a 3 bedroom home’s worth of furniture crammed into a truck?

It’s actually pretty simple. They weigh 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.

1000 pounds medium moving boxes

Movers will typically opt to give a non-binding estimate if they don’t have enough details about the move 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 guesstimate 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 both weight tickets certified by the 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 total 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.

Common tricks include…

  • Filling up the moving truck’s gas tank right before they weigh your shipment to increase the weight.
  • Purposely underpricing your initial estimate to get your business, then holding your goods hostage until you pay the new, higher price.
  • Forging weight tickets.

And bad movers will almost always ask for full payment in cash or certified check before they start unloading your items at delivery.

If you need a non-binding estimate, picking a good mover is extremely important.

Binding Moving Estimates

binding moving estimate

Binding estimates are a fixed price that don’t change, regardless of the final weight of the move.

Many customers prefer binding estimates because it gives them certainty on what their move will cost. These quotes will also account for any additional 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.

But, as usual, binding quotes are only as good as the company behind them.

Good moving companies will stick to the agreed upon, binding price.

However, there are still a number of legitimate reasons why your final moving cost can increase, 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.

While binding quotes can offer peace of mind, shady moving companies can still use them to reassure customers without really committing to anything. You’ll often hear their sales reps say, “Don’t worry about that, the price is guaranteed on the paperwork.”

The reality is a binding quote is only binding based on what’s on the paperwork. So if any details are missing — like some of the services you want included as part of your move — then the mover has the right to break the quote.

And there are always details missing on the paperwork when working with a bad moving company. Before you know it, the quote you thought was binding is suddenly double on move day.

Binding 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.

Moving companies don’t always offer Not-to-Exceed estimates, so be sure to ask your mover about them. Remember that like other binding estimates, last-minute changes that you request could cause your total cost to increase. Bad movers will try to use the same shady tactics to get around Not-to-Exceed estimates so they can charge you more money.

Tips For Estimating Your Moving Costs and Evaluating Estimates

Getting an accurate cost estimate for your move is an important part of moving to a new home, especially since your movers will be one of the biggest expenses associated with your move. Working with a professional moving company will almost always be more expensive than a DIY move — but there’s no denying that having someone else do the heavy lifting can make your moving process much easier.

Regardless of whether you’re planning a local move or a cross country move, our moving cost calculator can be a good place to start figuring out the average cost for your move.

Remember, there are many factors besides the size of your house that can affect how much movers will charge. It’s a bit more complicated than getting a quote for moving container companies like PODS, which typically offer a flat rate based on the number of containers you wish to use for your upcoming move. Even something like your moving date and the time of year that you’re moving can affect your rates.

To ensure that you get a reliable rate from a professional mover, be upfront about any and all additional services that you need for your move, like packing services, packing materials, unpacking, or moving heavy items. A good moving company should help you identify the need for these additional moving services when performing an in-home estimate, or walk through these options with you when getting a quote on the phone or filling out an online form.

All relevant fees that apply to your move should be included as part of your quote — and don’t be afraid to ask if there are any potential fees that aren’t in the quote. The last thing you want is a surprise increase to your moving costs because of a “hidden fee.” A good moving company will be upfront and transparent regarding how your final costs could change from the initial estimate.

With this information in hand, you can compare quotes from multiple movers. Don’t just focus on the quoted price. Be mindful of the potential for extra fees or charges, as well as the mover’s reputation, so you can navigate your moving estimates with confidence.

Taking the Stress Out of Moving Estimates

Figuring out how much movers cost can be a surprisingly stressful part of your next move. But it doesn’t have to be. When you focus on working with a quality, honest moving company, you can have confidence that your moving experience will go smoothly, and that you won’t have to deal with any unexpected price increases along the way.

So, if you take nothing else from this article, please choose a good moving company!

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