How to Read and Understand a Moving Contract

Reading a moving company contract is not always straightforward. Here is what you need to look for in your moving contract to make sure it’s secure.

Molly Henderson

Molly has been writing about the moving industry for more than 10 years and knows exactly what makes a mover great.

 ·  6 min

A good contract should cover all the bases, from the worst-case scenario to the most specific detail.

Failing to read a moving contract properly can set you up for surprise costs or even a scam.

A reputable moving company should already be verified with the FMCSA and have a USDOT or MC number to their name. Their contract process is another useful way of vetting their professionalism. Attempting to rush this process (or skip it outright) is a major red flag. 

Learning to read and understand a moving company contract is one of your best tools for completing a successful move. We’ll take a look at the complexities of the moving contract below, from basic clauses to red flags.

What is a Moving Contract?

A moving contract, just like any other type of contract, is a legally binding document designed to protect both parties in the event of a breach. This is one of the best tools you have for completing a successful move.

Keep in mind that most moves are completed without a hitch. However, it only takes one slip-up to set you back thousands of dollars or waste your time. 

What is the Difference Between a Moving Company and a Mover?

A moving company is a business verified by the FMCSA to transport people and belongings within or outside a state. This looks like a moving company being registered with a USDOT or MC number, which you can check on the FMCSA’s moving company database. 

A mover is an individual who works for a moving company, such as transporting goods or driving. 

What are The Moving Company’s Responsibilities?

Your moving company is obligated to make your life as easy as possible. You’re paying them for a service that can involve packing, transporting, loading, driving, and/or consultation.

While the full extent of your moving company’s responsibilities depend on the service you buy, there are a few commonalities:

  • Providing valuation options, a written agreement, and an estimate (not always free)
  • Assisting with transporting and loading belongings
  • Consultation on accommodation, food, and lodging while transitioning to your new home

Never assume what your moving company will or won’t do beyond the absolute basics. A trustworthy moving business will be upfront about their range of services on their website and are happy to answer questions and concerns.

What Should Be in a Moving Contract?

All contracts have a basic template describing the services, price, and legal recourse should there be a breach in the moving services agreement. 

Remember you should always have a written contract, whether physical or digital. This is one of your most important documents, so make copies in the event of a dispute resolution.

Here are the differences with moving company contracts.

Job Description

What kind of moving services are you requesting? Is this a full-service moving company or just a transporting job? You can never get too specific on this part, as both you and the business need to know what to expect. 

Scope of Services

Similar to the job description, the scope of services outlines how these duties will pan out and the order for service. They detail the dates, locations, and any other details that ensure the job will goes smoothly. 

  • Will you need packing services or will you pack your belongings yourself?
  • Is this a no-contact move or will you be present?
  • Will the moving company be breaking down complex furniture?

Additional services can be requested after the fact, but they will require another contract and a potential increase in additional charges. Try to get this part done right the first time to avoid a delay in your move.

Price

Pricing is exactly what it says on the tin: how much will your job cost and how will you pay for it?

Some moving companies offer payment plans, while most prefer a lump sum at the end of the completed job. Be very wary of a moving company that asks for an upfront deposit, as that’s one of the most common scams in the business. 

It’s best to budget your move as early as possible so you can avoid extra charges or sudden additional costs. Request a free moving estimate from your moving company and ask them to specify whether it’s binding or non-binding. A binding estimate means the stated price won’t change, while a non-binding estimate is still subject to change. 

Make sure to get any estimate in writing, as you can’t dispute a phonecall or a handshake if something goes sour. 

Confidentiality

This is a common clause on any contract, ensuring that the business you’re working with won’t share your personal contact information with other businesses. 

What are Common Moving Industry Terms I Should Know About?

Now that we’ve reviewed common moving contract clauses, let’s take a look at moving industry terms you should know about. 

Line Haul Charges

Let’s start with one of the most obvious in the pack. Line haul charges is a moving industry term that refers to the distance the business will be transporting your household goods and the gross weight required. 

The Bill of Lading

This is simply a moving contract you receive on your moving day. It’s completed after you go over elements like valuation coverage, insurance, price, terms, and scope. 

Never sign your final bill of lading until you’ve read it thoroughly for any discrepancies in payment or scope. A reputable moving company will be happy to answer questions or adjust the moving contract as necessary if there’s an error.

Binding Estimate

We touched on this earlier, but this element trips up many people, even those that have moved frequently. The function of an estimate is to give you a ballpark number so you can budget your move.

A binding estimate is useful because it cements a price: it ensures a binding contract won’t change, no matter what. Do not take a mover’s word for it. Get your binding estimate in writing, print or digital.

Non-Binding Estimate

A non-binding estimate is still subject to price changes down the road. This can be helpful in some instances, such as providing the moving company with the ability to better adapt their services to your needs.

On the other hand, it can be stressful for the person moving to be faced with fluctuating price points they can’t prepare for.

The non-binding estimate can seem a little scary as a precedent, but there’s a limitation. The FMCSA doesn’t allow non-binding estimates in the moving industry to exceed 110% of the original stated price. 

Valuation

Another complex aspect of the moving industry is valuation, or how much your belongings will be covered in the event of loss or damages.

Some valuation is minimal, only covering a percentage of the estimated price of each belonging. For example: this can look like only covering 10% of the full value of your office desk. If your office desk is $1,000, then they will only be responsible for providing $100 in either repairs or replacements. 

Some valuation is much more specific, such as covering the total of computer equipment, but a smaller percentage of everything else. This leads to…

High-Value Inventory Sheet

This is how a moving business tallies up all the belongings they’re going to move (and potentially pack, label, or break down). 

Not only is this useful for tallying up weight and size, this inventory list defines the total cost of each high value item. Make sure to take photos of your belongings (or at least the more expensive ones) before the move. If there are any damages or loss during transit, you’ll want evidence to provide during your dispute resolution.

Who Should Be the Contract Holder?

Both you and the moving company are responsible for not just reviewing and signing the document, but keeping it in the event of a dispute. 

As the person moving, you are the cosigner: this is a legal term for the individual giving their written permission for services. The cosignee, however, is the person who signs the receipt at the end of a job. While the cosigner and consignee can be the same, it’s a case-by-case basis.

Is There a Way to Find Out If a Moving Company is Good Before I Hire Them?

It’s intimidating navigating thousands of moving companies. Fortunately, searching for a moving business is a prime example of the value of knowledge. 

Any responsible moving company will have these basics covered: 

  • Being registered with the FMCSA with a USDOT number and/or MC number
  • Having a detailed and transparent website detailing services, coverage, and prices
  • Providing a written digital or physical contract
  • Offering basic valuation and having valid moving insurance
  • Having a positive, friendly, and honest attitude

Beware of any moving service that checks off any of the elements below:

  • Attempting to rush the contract signing process
  • Not doing an in-person inspection for their moving quote
  • Constantly changing their legal business name
  • A high volume of recent, dissatisfied customers 
  • Requesting a down deposit for their services

Learning to read and understand a moving contract is pretty simple once you know the service you’re buying. It all boils down to giving your professional moving company the information they need to do their job best. 

Molly Henderson

Molly has been writing about the moving industry for more than 10 years and knows exactly what makes a mover great.

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