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Getting Estimates
  Once you have a list of several potential movers, the next step is to contact them to get estimates. Although it is possible to get an initial estimate online (or even over the phone), it is very important to eventually get in-home, written, signed estimates from the companies you are considering. That way there is no disagreement later about what the terms of your agreement were. Get estimates from at least three different companies so you can also compare their services and prices. Estimates should be at no cost to you.


If a mover you are considering refuses to give you an in-home estimate and claims he can provide an accurate estimate over the phone or online without ever seeing your possessions – choose another mover. Moving consultants, especially those certified through our CMC program, are trained to identify any issues with stairs, low hanging tree branches, or other obstacles, and can provide a more accurate estimate of your total weight through a visual inspection.

Be wary of low-ball estimates. If a company you’re considering tells you that it can do the job for a surprisingly low price, ask questions. It could mean he will “suddenly remember “ some extra charges once your belongings have been loaded on the truck, the doors have been padlocked and your leverage over the situation has been greatly reduced.

Get initial estimates from AMSA members using our free Mover Referral Service.

How Moving Services are Priced

The cost of an intrastate, or local move, is generally based on a per-hour cost for the personnel and the number of vehicles required.

The cost of an interstate move (between states) is usually based on the weight of your belongings and the distance they are shipped, plus the amount of packing and other services that you require.

Charges for an international move are based on a combination of the land charges between your residence and the ports involved, the ocean transportation between the ports, and any additional customs, portage, or handling charges that may apply in the countries transited.

Be sure to show the estimator every single item to be moved. Don’t forget to go into the attic, basement, garage, shed, closets and under beds. What about swing sets or hot tubs? Items omitted from the estimate but included in your shipment later will add to the cost.

All interstate movers are required to base their fees on a list of charges for their services, known as a tariff. Ask to see a copy if you have any concerns about how the charges are calculated.

Reach a clear understanding about the amount of packing and other services needed.  And remember, it's not just the price; it's the total value to you of a professional move.

Types of Estimates

Many movers offer three types of estimates, binding, non-binding, and not-to-exceed. It’s important to know what the differences are.

A binding estimate means that you are obligated to pay just the stated price, even if the shipment weighs more than or less than the estimate. But if you add items later to be moved, or request additional services, the mover may revise the original estimate before your shipment is loaded.

Many movers also offer a not-to-exceed estimate. This type of estimate is called various things by various movers, such as “guaranteed price “ or “price protection, “ but the result is the same - an estimate based on a binding estimate or on actual cost, whichever is lower. Like a binding estimate, a not-to-exceed estimate must be provided to you in writing and is binding on the carrier.

Not-to-exceed estimates differ, though, in that the binding estimate amount becomes the maximum amount that you will be obligated to pay for the services on the estimate. This maximum amount alternates with the tariff charges applicable based on the actual weight of the shipment, with the customer paying the lesser of the two amounts. When you accept a not-to-exceed estimate, the move is performed at actual weight based on the tariff rate levels, with the binding estimate representing the maximum charge that you will have to pay.

A third type of estimate, a non-binding estimate, has increasingly become less common. It’s an approximation of the cost based on the mover’s survey of the items to be moved, with the final cost determined after the shipment is weighed. Since a non-binding estimate is based on the actual rather than the estimated weight, the price will often be lower than a binding estimate.

When you receive a non-binding estimate, however, there is no assurance the final cost will not be more than the estimate. The mover, however, cannot require you to pay more than the amount of the estimate, plus 10 percent (or 110 percent of the estimate amount), at the time of delivery. You must pay any remaining charges for any additional services that you requested or that were required to accomplish your move that are over this 110 percent amount, 30 days after your shipment is delivered, if the services or quantities were not included in your estimate.

The mover may also collect for any services you requested that were not included in the final estimate, such as an extra pickup or delivery.

Finally, the mover may also collect for any “shuttle service “ that may be required at delivery (when a smaller vehicle shuttles your goods from the moving van) if it’s not possible to get the van close to your new home - but only if the shuttle charges don't exceed 15 percent of the total charges due at delivery.

This type of estimate has become increasingly less-common.

IMPORTANT: Be sure to check over the estimates you received for accuracy, in case the estimator may have missed anything. Any items not on the initial estimate which you want included in your shipment that turn up on moving day may increase the cost, so to be sure you and the mover are 100 percent on the same page (literally) about every item you have.

Movers are also required by federal law to give you a brochure with your writtem estimate for an interstate move, Ready to Move?  

See samples of interstate and local estimate forms


Placing a Value on Your Shipment

All moving companies are required to assume liability for the value of the goods that they transport. But there are different levels of liability, and you should be aware of the amount of protection provided and the charges for each option. The two different levels of liability that movers are required to offer are explained in the Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move brochure that your mover must give you by federal law before you move. Be sure to read this information carefully before declaring a value on your shipment.

Option 1: Full (replacement) Value Protection

This is the most comprehensive plan available for the protection of your goods. Under this option, often referred to as “full value protection” or “full replacement value”, articles that are lost, damaged or destroyed will be (at the mover’s option) either repaired, replaced with like items, or a cash settlement will be made for the cost of the repair, or for the current market replacement value, regardless of the age of the lost or damaged item. Depreciation of the lost or damaged item is not a factor in determining replacement value when the shipment is moved under full value protection.

The exact cost for full value protection may vary by mover and may be further subject to various deductible levels of liability that may reduce your cost. Ask your mover for the details of their specific plan.

Under this option, movers are also permitted to limit their liability for loss or damage to articles of extraordinary value, unless you specifically list these articles on the shipping documents. An article of extraordinary value is any item whose value would exceed $100 per pound (for example, jewelry, silverware, china, furs, antiques, oriental rugs and computer software). Ask your mover for a complete explanation of this limitation before your move. It is your responsibility to study this provision carefully and to make the necessary declaration.

Option 2: Released Value

This is the most economical protection option, but this no-additional-cost option provides only minimal protection. Under this option, the mover assumes liability for no more than 60 cents per pound, per article. Loss or damage claims are settled based on the pound weight of the article multiplied by 60 cents. For example, if a 10-pound stereo component, valued at $1000 were lost or destroyed, the mover would be liable for no more than $6.00 (10 pounds x 60¢). Obviously, you should think carefully before agreeing to such an arrangement. There is no extra charge for this minimal protection, but you must sign a specific statement on the bill of lading agreeing to it.

These two optional levels of liability are not insurance agreements that are governed by state insurance laws, but instead are contractual tariff levels of liability authorized under Released Rates Orders of the Surface Transportation Board of the US Department of Transportation.

In addition to these options, some movers may also offer to sell, or procure for you, separate added liability insurance if you release your shipment for transportation at a value of 60 cents per pound per article (Option 2). This is not valuation coverage governed by Federal law, but optional insurance that is regulated under state law. If you purchase this separate coverage, in the event of loss or damage which is the responsibility of the mover, the mover is liable only for an amount not exceeding 60 cents per pound per article, and the balance of the loss is recoverable from the insurance company up to the amount of insurance purchased. The mover’s representative can advise you of the availability of such liability insurance and the cost. If you purchase this separate liability insurance from or through your mover, be sure to get a copy of the policy or other document at the time of purchase. Your homeowner’s insurance policy may also provide some coverage to you.

Other Potential Charges

If you request additional services while your shipment is in transit, your mover can charge you for these added services at delivery with payment due within 30 days.

Movers also reserve the right to charge for services necessary to accomplish delivery, even if you didn’t request them. For example, additional charges would apply if you cannot accept delivery on the agreed date, and your shipment is placed in storage, or if a smaller (shuttle) truck must be used because your new home is located on a narrow street. As mentioned previously, up to 15 percent of all such unanticipated charges can be collected at delivery.

When discussing an estimate with your mover, be sure to ask about the arrangements for payment for the move. It is customary for movers to require payment in cash, by certified check, or by money order, and many will accept a credit card. Most movers, however, will not accept personal checks.

Making Your Decision

After you have compared your estimates, you should be ready to make a decision about which mover to hire. Contact that company and, if you hadn’t already, agree on the pickup and delivery dates.

Your mover may ask you to select several consecutive days during which your goods can be loaded, and a second series of dates during which your goods can be delivered to your new home. A spread of days gives you and your mover the flexibility needed to keep your move on schedule.

You’ll then receive a document officially known as an order for service, which will include the agreed-on price for the move from the estimate. After you sign and return it, you’re good to go unless anything changes before your moving day. 

Your mover must also give you a copy of the “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move” booklet (a paper copy or an Internet hyperlink to the information) as well as a summary of the arbitration program the mover must participate in.

 See a sample of an Order for Service form

Your mover will call you in the days before your move to make sure everything is still on-track and in case you have any last-minute questions.