Newsflash: Moving stinks—and it can be even worse when you don’t know how to get a moving estimate you can trust. This can lead to massive misunderstandings, when movers quote you one price before you move, and whole different (and much higher!) number after it’s over.
So what gives?
The fact is, there are many ways to get a moving estimate, and each come with their pros and cons. Here’s what you need to know to get an estimate that won’t become a moving target.
How a moving cost calculator can help
For starters, you can get an instant estimate for your move using a moving cost calculator, which will ballpark the cost of your move based on the number rooms you have, how far you’re moving, and other variables.
In general, the average cost of a professional in-state household move is $2,300, according to the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA). That number climbs to a whopping $4,300 for an out-of-state move, based on an average weight of 7,400 pounds and an average distance of 1,225 miles.
But keep in mind that a moving calculator is just a ballpark start. To get a more accurate estimate, you’ll have to actually contact a moving company and get its take on the situation.
Binding vs. nonbinding estimate: What’s the difference?
So you want to know precisely how much your move is going to cost? Get a binding estimate, where a moving company tells you upfront all of your moving costs, including fees, taxes, and insurance. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), movers who provide a binding estimate can’t require consumers to pay any more than the estimated amount at delivery.
There are a couple of caveats, though. Getting a binding estimate upfront may incur an initial fee. And with a binding estimate, “movers will often charge more money to build in an extra cushion, in case the move takes longer than expected,” says Scott Michael, AMSA’s president and CEO.
By comparison, a nonbinding estimate is free, but the cost that you’re quoted is only an estimate, and is subject to change. If the nonbinding estimate is based on weight, the movers can charge up to 10% more once they get the official weight on your goods, after packing them into the vehicle and stopping at a weigh station.
How to get a moving estimate that won’t change later
You can obtain a moving estimate over the phone, by email, or in person. Michael recommends getting estimates from at least three movers in person.
“Doing it in person ensures that the mover will see all the items that need to be shipped, and can identify any complications in advance,” Michael says. “For instance, if there are low-hanging tree branches that would prevent the moving truck from being able to pull up to your house, that’s something you want to know ahead of time.”
To obtain an accurate estimate, you’ll want to do a walk-through of your home with the mover a couple of weeks before your move. Michael recommends going room to room with the mover, “showing the person every single item the company is going to move.”
Point out items that you plan to transport yourself, and flag valuables, like artwork or antiques, that need to be handled differently or insured at a higher rate. “You may need to get an insurance policy from a third party to cover extraordinary artwork,” Michael says.
How to find reputable movers
To find a reputable moving company, make sure it has a state license to operate—and it should be happy to show you proof.
If you’re moving out of state, you’ll need a mover that also has a unique license number, issued by the United States Department of Transportation.
Unfortunately, every year, thousands of people fall victim to moving fraud, according to the FMCSA’s “Protect Your Move” campaign. To avoid getting scammed, steer clear of moving companies that ask for a deposit, list a P.O. Box or a residential address, or offer a ridiculously lowball estimate.
Once you have an estimate, it should be part of a written contract that’s signed by both parties before the move. That way, if the numbers come back different after your move is done, you have documentation that argues otherwise.