You have rounded up a small universe of mover candidates, it’s time to get down to the bottom line: How much will your move cost? If you’re relocating and your employer is willing to write a blank check to the mover, maybe you don’t have to pay much attention to cost. We should all be so lucky. Get as many estimates as you can.
Make sure you drill down to the small stuff that can add up if the mover thinks you’re not paying attention. Are packing materials included, or is there fine print allowing the moving company to dictate a price while your household is hostage in the van? Will the mover prepare major appliances for the trip, disassemble beds and remove items from walls?
To give you an accurate estimate, your mover has to see what he or she is moving. And make sure you show the mover everything that needs to be moved, including all that junk in the basement and attic.
All estimates should be in writing, and should include pricing for these services:
- Packing of your household goods
- Loading and unloading the truck
- Deliveries to multiple destinations
- Short- or long-term storage
- Special handling for valuables and breakables
- Relocation of cars, boats and belongings currently in storage
Now that you know what your estimate should include, decide which kind of estimate to get. Movers can price your relocation two ways, with nonbinding and binding estimates:
The mover gives you an estimate of your moving costs, usually based on estimated weight of your household goods and/or the number of hours the move will take, which means you shoulder the additional cost if the weight/hour estimate turns out too low (which if often does). These estimates are free by law. It is important to keep in mind that they are not a guarantee of the final cost and the final bills often exceed the estimate. Sometimes they’re simply price lists of hourly or weight rates, other times they may be “not-to-exceed” estimates whereby the mover says the move will not exceed a certain figure, but if the move comes in under the estimated amount you pay the lower price.
This is a way to shift much of the financial risk to the mover, but at a cost. Such a document specifies what you’ll pay to move your goods, regardless of what the actual weight turns out to be. The mover often charges for the estimate itself, which requires greater detail and thus additional labor. And the mover is likely to set a higher price on a binding estimate than on a free estimate, to compensate the company for assuming the risk. However, when you receive a binding estimate, you cannot be required to pay any more than that amount, unless you request extra services not outlined in your estimate and contract. To be effective, a binding estimate must be in writing.
Where does this leave you?
Try to get as many estimates as possible, a minimum of three or four free estimates, and then consider whether it makes sense to invest in a binding estimate. There are at least two situations that may warrant a binding estimate: the free estimates vary widely, or you can’t stomach the risk of not knowing the actual price moving until the truck drives onto the scale.
Once you’ve got all the estimates in hand, don’t automatically go with the low bidder. If you think you’ll get better service from a higher bidder, make them an offer. If they need to close one more deal to make a quota or fill a van, your offer may be the one they can’t refuse.
Watch out for absurdly low prices or promises too good to be true. If any mover’s estimate is far lower than others, make sure he is willing to stand by it by making it binding.