Good service is only part of the equation—you also want a good price. You’ll find tremendous price differences from equally reliable moving companies.

Moves Within Massachusetts

ompanies usually set their prices based on the number of workers and the amount of time needed for the job. Rates are based on tariffs that companies must file with the state, and companies must apply these tariff rates to calculate the cost of every job. Movers can charge customers only for the actual number of workers and number of hours it takes to complete the job. If your move takes eight hours, the company cannot charge you for 10 hours, even if it initially gave a written estimate of 10 hours. If you get help packing, prices will also include charges for any company-supplied containers.

The only way to get a good price is to shop around. Ask several movers to provide written estimates. The vast majority of companies will offer only nonbinding estimates (as opposed to a fixed-price contract or an estimate with a not-to-exceed price). But if a moving company has provided a written estimate, Massachusetts law prevents the company from charging that customer more than 25 percent above the estimate. So any written estimate you get has, in effect, a not-to-exceed price 25 percent higher than the estimated amount.

However, we find that most movers are unaware of this rule. This is a problem for consumers, because a nonbinding estimate would not otherwise protect them from being charged a lot more if their moving jobs take more time than estimated. Without a not-to-exceed price, you can get lowballed and choose a company with a low estimate when a company with a higher estimate might do the job for less.

Our advice is to make sure that any company you deal with is aware of Massachusetts’ not-to-exceed rule when it provides an estimate. Confirm this by having the company note on its estimate that the price will not exceed the estimated amount by more than 25 percent. If representatives are—like most moving company representatives in the state—unaware of the rule, show them this article, and ask them to contact the Transportation Division at 617-305-3559 for clarification.

Make sure your quote details services to be performed and goods to be transported. Otherwise, on moving day you may find yourself in a dispute with a mover who wants to charge you extra for work you thought was included. Prepare a written inventory describing the rooms and major items to be moved; then have the estimate refer to this list, with an attached copy.

To illustrate the range of bid prices you can expect, the table below shows illustrative prices for three local moves. As you can see, our shoppers collected widely divergent prices.

Move a fourbedroom house from Randolph to QuincyMove a fourbedroom house from Randolph to Quincy

Prices Quoted
for Sample Local Moves

Move a four-bedroom
house from Randolph
to Quincy
Move a two-bedroom
house from Melrose to
Winchester
Pack and move a
four-bedroom
house from Lowell
to Burlington
Burkhardt Brothers $3,384 $588-$672 $2,288
Father & Son Moving & Storage $4,100-$4,880 $840 $3,196
Gentle Giant Moving & Storage $4,540-$6,984 $985-$1,373 $2,786-$3,606
Marathon Moving $2,730-$3,003 $1,285-$1,635
Nick’s Moving $710 $1,450-$1,592
Olympia Moving & Storage $2,965-$3,410 $1,319 $3,440
Trowt Moving & Storage $3,000-$3,300 $750-$900

Our Ratings for Movers report hourly peak-season labor rates for three-, four-, five-, and six-person crews for local moves. The hourly rates varied substantially.

Don’t assume you’ll get a good price just because a company offers low hourly rates. The only reliable tactic is to ask several companies to bid. You’ll also learn a lot in the process.

Interstate Moves

For interstate moves, moving companies must operate under a tariff system that calculates the cost of moves using weight and mileage, not hours. Company tariffs also stipulate special charges for packing and exceptional matters, such as storage, extra stops, and waiting time.

However, a company’s specific tariff rate for a given move is somewhat irrelevant, because it can still impose exceptions to its filed tariff rates. Usually, a company simply agrees to discount its tariff rate, or portions of its tariff rate, by a specified percentage. It might, for example, agree to give you a 35 percent discount for the long-haul part of its charges and a 20 percent discount for packing.

If you wish to have your move governed by the tariff, less specified discounts, have the company give you a nonbinding estimate that shows its rates and the promised discount. Actual charges will be determined during the move itself. For example, the company’s estimate will include an estimated weight; the truck will be weighed before and after your load is added; and you will be charged for the actual, not estimated, weight of your load.

Alternatively, a mover can offer a binding estimate. You will pay no more and no less, as long as you make no changes in the job. If you add work after the estimate is prepared—additional furniture, for instance—your estimate will be refigured.

In preparing binding estimates, moving companies consider the same factors as when they prepare nonbinding estimates—weight, miles, special circumstances, etc. Having estimators follow similar guidelines ensures carriers that different agents will prepare similar bids. That’s important because the revenue of carriers, independent driver-operators, and destination-city agents are all affected by the price charged by the booking agent. But guidelines for binding bids are important only for the company’s internal purposes: You pay the bottom-line quoted price even if the load weighs far more or less, or packing takes far longer or shorter than expected.

Many companies offer a third option: estimates with a binding maximum, usually referred to as a “not-to-exceed price.” You won’t have to pay more than the maximum, but you’ll pay less if your load is lighter than expected.

The easiest way to compare movers is to get binding estimates or estimates with a binding maximum. If you don’t yet know which items you will move, you can use a nonbinding estimate for the long-haul charges. Get estimates in writing, and understand what each estimate does and does not include. Not getting a binding total price for the packing and packaging materials portion of the job is risky, however, because you’ll have no way to make sure the company packs efficiently.

The table below includes illustrative prices for three long-distance moves quoted to our mystery shoppers by phone. No packing is included (because estimates for packing can’t be given by phone). We for the most part found big price differences.

Prices Quoted for
Sample Long-
Distance Moves1

Move 8,000 pounds of goods 435 miles from
the Brighton to Washington, DC
Move 9,000 pounds of goods 1,000 miles from Lynn to Chicago Move 10,000 pounds of goods 4,000 miles from Waltham to Oakland
Company Move Insurance2 Move Insurance3 Move Insurance3
Burkhardt Movers $5,460 $340 $10,606 $394 $12,606 $394
Careful Carriers Moving Service $12,500 $540
Gentle Giant Moving & Storage $10,135 $330 $11,000 $370
HMS Van Lines $4,600 $400-$450 $7,272 $528 $13,000 $500
Marathon Moving $6,531 v340 $5,113 $589 $8,721 $589
New England Household Moving $4,073 $523 $4,775 $602 $8,567 $602
Olympia Moving & Storage $5,300 $495 $7,000-$7,500 $500 $10,200 $570
R C Mason Movers $5,500 $523 $5,671 $602 $11,417 $602
Scott Relocation Services $3,780 $520 $4,720 $480 $8,500 $400
Spry Moving $9,000 $500 $5,200 $570 $8,800 $570
Sterling Moving & Storage $3,501 $511 $4,810 $589 $8,478 $589
1Prices were quoted via phone to Checkbook's mystery shoppers and are for moving only (customer will pick pack)
2$50,000 of full replacement value coverage with no deductible.
3$60,000 of full replacement valur coverage with no deductible.