Figuring out a moving estimate can be tricky, and yet it’s something a homeowner will need to be capable of before committing to a moving company. Moving estimates are an essential part of the process, and include all of the relevant financial information regarding a client’s move. In addition to the total estimate itself, it should also include a fee breakdown and any special provisions that may affect the final price. For obvious reasons, a homeowner should seek out an estimate that is as detailed and precise as possible.
In the moving industry, two services can produce two estimates that vary by several hundred, or even thousands of dollars. Knowing what a reputable estimate looks like is therefore extremely important.
The Three Types of Moving Estimates
Moving companies will offer one of three types of moving estimates, including non-binding, binding and binding not-to-exceed estimates. Above all else, a client must know which type of estimate they are working with, because with some estimates, what a client sees isn’t necessarily what they will get. What does that mean, exactly? Consider the benefits and concerns with each estimate type:
Binding Not-To-Exceed Estimates
In general, binding not-to-exceed estimates are the best option for consumers, as they provide a chance to save money with no increase in risk. This is how a binding not-to-exceed estimate works:
- The moving company will provide an estimate of the job’s cost, including a detailed fee breakdown and the expected weight of the client’s goods.
- The moving company will weigh the client’s goods on the truck once everything is loaded. This is done at an approved facility and should be done while the client is present so they can verify the weigh-in results.
- What makes a binding not-to-exceed estimate such a powerful option for clients is that the client always gets the lower price between the estimate and the weigh-in. Even when the client’s goods weigh more than the estimate, they will get the lower estimated price. It is effectively a no-lose situation for a homeowner.
- With a binding not-to-exceed estimate, a homeowner knows what they will pay at the maximum, so they can plan ahead better and with less stress. And if the weigh-in comes in lower, then it’s a bonus for the client.
- A binding not-to-exceed estimate is always given after a company representative has had a chance to survey the property prior to the move. It is always to the client’s benefit to have the company survey the property, as this will ensure the crew shows up prepared and with any equipment they need for the job. It also ensures the most accurate estimate possible.
- After all, it is to the company’s benefit to be extremely accurate in this case, because if they are off, it’s the company that takes the hit, not the client.
- The only problem with binding not-to-exceed estimates is that they are difficult to secure. The vast majority of moving services will not offer them, but if a client is insistent, they may be able to convince the company to agree to one.
For homeowners worried about being taken advantage of during the moving process, a binding not-to-exceed estimate offers the best peace of mind, and usually signals that the company is a reputable one. That being said, it is still important that a homeowner be present at the weigh-in and that they inquire about any fees they are unsure of that are listed on the estimate.
A binding estimate also offers stability during the moving process, as it guarantees a price beforehand. In short, the cost listed on a binding estimate is immovable, no matter what the goods actually weigh. Here are some things to keep in mind about a binding estimate:
- Moving services will hold firm to what the estimate says, so clients that want to do some negotiating will have to do so early on, because they won’t have an opportunity to do so once the goods are weighed.
- It is enormously important that a client only agree to a binding estimate if the company has actually visited the property and if the estimate details all fees. The weight of the client’s goods is not something that should be guessed at. When moving services guess at fees and pricing, it is almost always to the client’s disadvantage.
- This means that homeowners should not accept phone or e-mail estimates. Moving services that rely on such estimates will charge fees that purposely overshoot the weight of the client’s goods. In short, the homeowner pays more for no reason.
- The nature of binding estimates is such that a client may try to game the system. For example, a homeowner may hide items from the estimator while they are at the property, only to pack them up in boxes prior to the move. The idea is that the client overloads the truck without paying more. The problem with this approach is that items are insured by weight, so if a client sneaks in additional weight and items are damaged, there may be no insurance available for reimbursement purposes.
- A binding estimate, like a binding not-to-exceed estimate, provides some certainty from a budgeting standpoint, allowing clients to organize their finances accordingly. Binding estimates are also easier to secure than binding not-to-exceed estimates, so they are a practical choice for many.
While binding estimates aren’t as favorable to the client, they can still be a perfectly acceptable option, as long as the estimate is provided following a thorough inspection of the client’s property.
Non-binding estimates are popular among moving services as they generally favor the company over the consumer. They are also organized in a way that makes them easy to deliver over the phone or over e-mail, so it’s less effort on the company’s part to put one together. This added convenience can be attractive to clients too, but it comes with a lot of uncertainty regarding fees. Here’s a rough look at non-binding estimates:
- It’s best to think of a non-binding estimate as merely an approximation, and one that will almost definitely change once everything is weighed-in. No matter what a client is quoted at the time of the estimate, they will pay the cost associated with the actual weight of the goods.
- Because the client doesn’t get an exact price until everything is loaded on a trailer and taken to the company’s facility, this is the type of estimate that is most associated with bait and switch scams. Once everything is loaded on the trailer, the moving service has all the leverage.
- If a client is only moving a modest amount of goods and is moving on short notice, a non-binding estimate can work, as long as the homeowner is certain they are working with a reputable company.
- Non-binding estimates are usually given over the phone or over e-mail, which means the estimate will naturally be inaccurate.
- Non-binding estimates rarely feature detailed fee schedules, so if the client has any particularly heavy or bulky items, like a piano or large sculptures, they will likely have to pay much more than the estimate, as these items require additional equipment and additional fees.
- If the actual cost is higher than the estimated cost, the moving service may collect 10 percent of the difference prior to the move. However, at this point, they are obligated to transport the client’s goods to their destination. The mover will be able to bill a client for the remaining amount within a month of completing the job.
Non-binding estimates should be a last resort option for most clients, especially if the estimate is not offered in person. In fact, most oversight agencies, like the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration and Better Business Bureau, recommend homeowners only consider moving services that offer in-person estimates. Such estimates allow homeowners to review all of the related paperwork, including inventories and contracts, and this will protect the client from any unscrupulous behavior on the mover’s part.
A Few Final Thoughts on Estimates
While it is of paramount importance that a homeowner know the type of estimate they are working with, there are additional things to look for. They include:
- All estimates should be calculated using weight values, and not volume. This is especially true when the move involves interstate travel. Weight is strongly preferred because it’s an extremely difficult value to alter, and therefore it is harder to scam a client using weight. Volume, though, is easy to alter and moving companies can wring an extra few hundred dollars out of a client by just moving the goods around on the trailer.
- Clients should not expect to pay a deposit on a move that involves interstate travel.
- Motor carriers are only required to maintain 60 cents of insurance per pound of cargo, which is usually a paltry amount compared to the actual value of the goods. If purchasing additional insurance, make sure this is reflected on any fee schedule.
Moving estimates are an all-important reference document for clients during the moving process, and should be regarded with care. Clients should expect their estimates to be thorough, detailed and transparent. If there is any doubt present about an estimate’s accuracy, trust that doubt and avoid wasting hundreds of dollars needlessly.