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Understanding Your Moving Costs

Published by Chris Townsend

Understanding Your Moving Costs

When you are hiring a moving company, it may seem like they are speaking a different language. Why won’t anyone just tell you how much it costs to move your stuff from one place to another? Why are there so many choices and different words for the same thing? It can’t really be that complicated, can it? Yes and no.

How can I understand the cost and get the best price for my move?

You can start by picking up a few vocabulary words to help you have a conversation with movers. You are going to have a few conversations with them because the steps after vocabulary involve estimates. Don't worry, no hard math, just a little time spent. Here are some key terms that will help you understand the moving industry and how it charges for services:

Interstate vs. local: Any time a moving company crosses a state line, it operates under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation, specifically the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, called FMCSA. FMCSA has some strict requirements for movers because they have been trying to crack down on a small number of rogue operators that are giving the industry a bad name. Most moving companies are honest and hardworking, but the shady ones have a visible presence and make it hard for the good guys. So, FMCSA requires that any interstate operator must have a license and follow their rules. Since most companies want to handle local and long-distance business, the above-board companies are most likely going to register with FMCSA, so you can check their credentials on the website, even if you are making a local move.

Do they charge by weight or by the hour? This question usually is also dependent on whether the move is local or long-distance. Any interstate move will have a price that is determined by the weight of the shipment. If the contents of your household weigh 7,500 pounds (average for a 3-bedroom home) and you want to move 1,250 miles, the median cost last year for that move was around $4,300. Now let's say that it is a local move instead of long-distance. If the mover says it needs Three Movers for 6 hours, that will probably cost about $1,200, although local differences are substantial. Some areas allow movers to charge for driving time to and from your home or back and forth to the new residence. Some local movers have a minimum, while others may not. Movers may add other services, and we will discuss those shortly.

Why are the estimates so different? It is essential to get several appraisals, whether you are planning a local move or going long-distance. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, it gives you a chance to talk to several moving companies and choose the one you are comfortable with. Price is important, but it's only part of the decision. Finding a mover you trust is just as important as finding one at a low price. This company will have control over the things you have bought, cared for, and collected that you want to keep and move to a new home. You can't entrust those items to just anyone. Second, estimates are different. There are binding and nonbinding estimates. A nonbinding estimate is not a guaranteed price. If the mover has miscalculated the weight of your goods, you will be expected to pay more, even though you aren’t at fault. If you get a binding estimate, though, that price won’t go up even if the mover underestimated the weight. What can change the price is if you add things to the shipment or ask for additional services.

The basis of the estimate is a list of everything you want to move, and in moving lingo, it's called the inventory. When the mover comes to your house to provide you with the estimate, you will walk through with them and help create the inventory. You can let them know if something isn't going to be moving with you (for example, a sofa you are giving to a relative or books you plan to donate to a library), but it is crucial that nothing is overlooked.

Along with the inventory, the estimate will include the mover’s tariff, which is a list of potential charges for other services. Packing is a good example. If you want the moving company to do the packing, they can take care of that for an hourly fee. Ask the mover during the survey, and they can assess how many hours of packing are required for your home. Keep in mind that movers are going to pack faster than you can, so if they estimate they need 15 hours to pack, you may not be able to get it done in the same amount of time. Make sure you find out what the hourly rate is and if that includes the materials. If it doesn't, you might want to buy the containers and other supplies yourself, because this can be a high-profit item for the moving company.

One definite advantage of hiring the movers to pack for you (besides the overall pleasure of not having to do it) is the peace of mind. It is not something they draw attention to, but if you pack, it may limit your ability to seek reimbursement for something that gets damaged. We will talk about valuation protection shortly, but just remember that if you pack it, and they drop it, if the container is not damaged, it's your fault because of how you packed it. If they pack it, it's their fault.

Other services that the mover can charge for (the mover will list these on the tariff) are long carries, which means that if the truck has to park more than a certain distance from your front door, there is an extra charge. Also, bulky items incur a fee, as do heavy items, disassembly and assembly of furniture, and any necessary crating of artwork. The mover may charge you for stairs and elevators, and definitely for waiting time if you aren’t ready when they arrive.

What about insurance protection?

Moving insurance, also referred to as valuation, is an important topic. The estimate will provide two options if the move is interstate. If the job is local, talk to the mover about your choices. Every FMCSA registered mover will offer you a basic level of protection against loss or damage at no extra charge with the cost of your move. It's fair to make that decision but consider it carefully. The primary coverage, also called released value, does not offer a realistic reimbursement level for any potential loss. It is set at $0.60 per pound for any damaged, lost, or destroyed item. That isn't much. You should discuss with your mover the cost of choosing the Full Value (also called Replacement Value) coverage instead. There is an additional charge for this option, but it will afford you the assurance of replacing items that sustain damage or get lost. This choice will have a deductible and limits associated with it, so you need to work through the specifics with the moving company in advance of the move.

Chris Townsend is a moving professional and relocation expert that has more than 10 years of experience in the moving industry. With a background that includes working in virtually every aspect of the company, he has distinguished himself as an integral part of our operations with expertise in all things related to moving. Chris has a keen eye for detail and brings intelligence and passion to every project he’s involved with.

While getting his degree in communications from Santa Clara University, Chris started out with the company working in the field as part of our team of professional moving associates. Following graduation, he was promoted to our main office, where he has thrived in a role that involves increasing responsibility and requires him to wear many different hats. Some days, you may find him answering the phone and providing moving estimates, others he may be writing for our moving blog, and another day he may be coordinating a large corporate moving job or helping us with our marketing efforts. Chris has authored many of our in-depth moving guides, as well as provided our clients with information and advice to handle the complexities of their upcoming moving plans. Simply put, there’s nothing he can’t do and we wouldn’t be where we are today without him.

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