How To Understand Moving Estimates

How much does it cost to move? Why are my moving quotes so different? How do I compare moving estimates? We answer these questions and more.

Molly Henderson

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

 ·  7 min

Whether you have tons of moving experience or are relocating for the first time when making the transition to a new home or apartment, you’ll probably ask yourself these questions. 

Estimates are among the most important moving documents, but fine print and obscure industry terms are challenging to understand. 

In addition, most companies use different formats, which makes comparison tricky. 

It may sound overwhelming, but understanding moving estimates isn’t that difficult if you know what to look for. 

In this post, we’ll cover moving estimates from every angle. And for an even more in-depth look at moving costs, check our ou Ultimate Moving Cost Checklist.

Why choose a moving company?

Right now, you may be wondering – what are the benefits of hiring a moving company?

Hiring full-service movers is usually more expensive than renting a moving truck and doing a DIY move, but this isn’t always the case.  

It’s best to think of moving as an overall value proposition, of which price is just one component. 

When weighing the pros and cons of each option, you’ll want to consider these factors as well – 

Health

Moving heavy furniture and appliances up and downstairs and into and out of trucks is dangerous. 

Cuts, bruises, smashed fingers, and broken toes are surprisingly common, and sometimes the injuries are far worse. 

Moving yourself to save money may seem like a great idea, but injuring your back by lifting a piano could be exponentially more expensive in the long run. 

Downtime

Moving a studio or 1-bedroom apartment locally can often be done in as little as half a day. 

On the flipside, packing the contents of a 4-bedroom home with an attic, basement, garage, and shed could take weeks, and that’s not including the time it takes to actually move everything. 

For some well-paid professionals, hiring movers may be less expensive than missing work.

Also, keep in mind that even if you do opt for a full-service move, you’ll still spend lots of time dealing with realtors, schools, and utility companies. 

Family safety and comfort

Imagine your U-Haul truck breaking down in the Arizona desert in June.  

Now add in an irritable spouse, a colicy 2-year-old, no cellphone reception, and being 12 miles from the next highway exit. 

Though rare, unfortunate situations like this do arise on DIY moves, so take them into account before making your decision.  

Damage

Remember – not all movers are created equally. 

However, if you’ve hired a reputable moving company, they’ll have experienced crews and top-notch equipment, which means they should get your job done efficiently with little or no damage. 

Of course, accidents happen, which is why valuation (moving insurance) is so important. 

If there’s breakage on a DIY move, you’ll only have yourself to blame.

On the other hand, if you’ve opted for full-value protection (instead of going with free released-value coverage), your movers will cover the cost to repair or replace the damaged item. 

How do I choose a moving company?

This is the $64,000 question because choosing a shady means getting seriously scammed. 

If so, you could wait weeks or months past your agreed-upon delivery date or have your household goods held hostage until you fork over two or three times the amount of the original quote. 

To avoid these maddening scenarios –

  • Ask friends, family members and coworkers for referrals
  • Vet prospective companies with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and American Trucking Association Moving & Storage Conference (formerly the American Moving & Storage Association)
  • Make sure movers are licensed and insured and check their USDOT number 
  • Verify that they they belong to professional moving industry organizations
  • Keep an eye out for red flags like lowball estimates and unreasonable promises
  • Get their address and swing by unannounced to see if their facilities are clean, orderly and secure

How do I get a mover quote?

Getting a moving quote or two is the easiest part of the moving process. 

You could go retro by picking up the phone, calling local movers, and scheduling in-home estimates like they did in the ‘80s. 

These days, however, online quotes are all the rage because they’re so convenient. 

With the latter, getting quotes is usually as simple as entering – 

  • Your email address
  • Your move date
  • The size of your home or apartment 
  • Your origin and destination zip codes
  • Any other relevant information, like whether you’ll need storage and/or packing services

Just keep in mind that internet quotes are typically less accurate than in-home estimates. 

You could also opt for “virtual” estimates, during which estimators will view your items through your phone. 

What is typically included in a moving quote? 

Interstate moving estimates

On moves that cross state lines, transportation charges based on weight and mileage plus additional items like –  

  • Packing and unpacking
  • Crating and uncrating
  • Appliance disconnects/reconnects
  • Shuttles and long carries
  • Bulky articles like pianos and hot tubs 
  • Storage
  • Fuel surcharges
  • Valuation – free released-value coverage vs full-value replacement protection

Local moving quotes

Most local moving costs are similar to those on interstate moves, with the exception that labor and transportation charges are typically based on an hourly rate depending on crew size.  

Remember, regardless of where you’re moving, each charge should be clearly itemized. 

How do you compare long-distance moving quotes?

To compare multiple moving estimates, look at the corresponding line items and make sure they’re similar.  

To recap, on long-distance interstate moves, the bulk of your charges will be based on the weight of your household goods and the distance between your old and new homes. 

On local moves, charges are usually based on the size of your crew and how long it will take them to load, transport, and unload your items, in addition to the optional services listed in the previous section. 

On interstate moves, the estimated weights should be nearly identical (within 10 or 15% is acceptable), while on local moves the crew sizes and estimated times should be similar.  

Next, compare each line item for the other additional services you’ll need. 

Remember, if a company gives you an un-itemized estimate or one that’s impossible to understand, it should be a big red flag. 

What do professional movers cost?

There’s really no such thing as an “average cost” when hiring full-service movers with so many variables. 

However, if you’re moving a studio or 1-bedroom apartment across town and everything is already packed, you could pay as little as $300. 

Now take that same studio apartment, add full packing service, and ship it from Florida to California at the end of June, and you could pay between $5,000 or more.  

Likewise, moving a minimally furnished 2 or 3-bedroom home locally could cost $1,500, while with additional services like packing and storage, shipping the same household goods from coast-to-coast could cost $20,000. 

In other words, there are huge variations in move cost, and the best way to determine how much you’ll pay is by getting multiple estimates from reputable companies. 

What are the different types of moving estimates? 

With all estimate types, your surveyors will give you quotes based on the information you entered online, what you told them over the phone, or what they saw while walking through your home. 

Non-binding estimates

With non-binding estimates, your final charges may be more or less than estimated depending on the actual – 

  • Weight of your household goods on interstate moves
  • Time it took the crew to finish up on local moves 

In both instances, you’ll also be charged for the actual number of boxes used to pack your items, plus any additional services.

Binding estimates 

With binding estimates, you should pay the exact price you were originally quoted, but only if – 

  • You hired a reputable company 
  • You didn’t add items or require extra services that weren’t originally included on the estimate

Guaranteed not-to-exceed estimates

As the name implies, your final cost may go down with guaranteed not-to-exceed estimates, but it won’t go up. 

Of course, moving companies can legitimately charge more than the not-to-exceed price if they can prove that you added items or needed additional services. 

What are the different types of moves?

Below are the three most common types of domestic moves. 

Local moves

Relocations under 50 miles (this varies) in which no state lines are crossed are usually considered local moves. 

In some states, movers are regulated, while in others, they’re not, but either way, they’ll need to be licensed and insured. 

When shopping around during pre-move screening, ask prospective companies about their hourly rates and ensure they have good reviews from verified customers. 

Intrastate moves

Intrastate moves are where the customer’s old and new homes are in the same state, but the distance between them is greater than 50 or 100 miles. 

Two examples are –

  • A 600-mile move from Amarillo to Houston, Texas
  • A 380-mile move between Los Angeles and San Francisco, California 

Interstate moves

On interstate moves, the origins and destination cities are in different states, regardless of their distance. 

An example of a long-distance interstate move would be when a family moves from Miami, Florida, to Seattle, Washington, 3,300 miles away. 

On the other hand, a 7.5-mile move between Elkton, Maryland, and Newark, Delaware, is still an interstate move. 

To provide interstate relocation services, movers must have a valid US Department of Transportation (USDOT) number. 

What factors affect moving company quotes? 

The cost of your move will depend on multiple factors like where and when you’re moving, the size of your home, and which services you’ll need.  

Long-distance moves 

Interstate and intrastate moving company costs are determined by – 

  • The weight of your household belongings 
  • The mileage between your homes
  • What time of year you’re moving
  • Whether you’ll need help packing
  • If you’ll require additional services like crating or storage
  • Which valuation option you choose

Local moves 

Local move costs are generally similar, except that the labor and transportation charges are usually based on time instead of weight and distance.

What is valuation?

Valuation, or “moving insurance,” sets the mover’s liability for loss and/or damage when they’re transporting your household goods. 

There’s usually a free option called released-value protection, but you’ll also have the option of purchasing full-value replacement coverage. 

On most moves, the released-value coverage is .60 cents per pound per article.

With this option, if your mover destroys your 100-pound flatscreen television, they’ll only reimburse you $60 regardless of its value because – 

100 pounds x .60 cents = $60   

On the other hand, if you bought full-value replacement coverage, you’d be reimbursed the amount it would cost you to repair or replace the television, whether it was $300 or $1,500. 

If you opt for full-value replacement coverage, you may have multiple deductible options, so be sure to ask.

For more information on protecting your valuables when moving, check out this helpful post from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

How can I lower my moving costs?

Moving can be expensive, but you can keep costs to a minimum by –

  • Donating, selling or discarding unused items prior to moving
  • Doing the packing and unpacking yourself
  • Moving during the fall and winter instead of during the peak season when it’s most expensive
  • Moving on a weekday in the middle of the month
  • Booking your moving date early

Do moving companies offer discounts?

Yes, many moving companies offer discounts, especially during less busy times of the year. 

You may be eligible for a discount on your upcoming move if you’re a – 

  • Senior citizen or AAA member
  • Veteran or active armed forces member
  • Teacher or student
  • Middle-aged basket weaver

Frequently asked questions – FAQs

How can I get a free quote for my upcoming move? 

Getting free moving estimates is as easy as going online, calling local companies, scheduling in-home estimates, or using a move cost calculator to get a quick ballpark quote. 

Do add-ons like disassembling furniture cost a lot?

On local moves, you’ll pay for the time it takes the crew to disassemble items like beds and tables, while on interstate moves, it’s included in the cost.  

Where can I buy cheap packing supplies? 

Though most movers sell packing materials, boxes, paper, and tape are usually less expensive online and at home improvement stores. 

Are PODS moving containers worth the money?

Yes, PODS moving services are definitely worth considering whether you’re moving locally or long-distance or just need storage for a month or two. 

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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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