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.

For Moves Within Illinois

State law specifies three ways rates can be set for moves within Illinois, depending on the distance:

  • For moves entirely outside of Cook County that begin and end in the same incorporated community or within 10 miles of its corporate limits, the state does not regulate rates. These are referred to as “rate-exempt” moves.
  • For moves of less than 35 miles or that take place entirely within Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will counties, companies can charge customers only for the actual number of workers and actual number of hours it takes to pack, load, move, and unload the household goods, plus travel time. An hourly rate for the size of crew it will be using should appear on the company’s written estimate.
  • For moves over 35 miles and outside the counties mentioned above, charges are based on mileage and weight according to rate tariffs licensed companies must file with the state. If customers want packing assistance, prices must include charges for labor and any company-supplied containers.

To get a good price and reduce the chances of subsequent hassles for all intrastate moves, request written estimates from several movers. Make sure each estimate describes what you want moved. Also make sure the estimate specifies the number of crew members on the move, the hourly rate for the crew, and, for longer moves, the rate per mile per hundred pounds. Ask each mover to attach a copy of its state-filed rate sheet to the estimate.

Beyond this, the strategy for getting a good price depends on which type (distance) of move you will be making.

For a short rate-exempt move, ask each mover to write onto its estimate that the estimate is binding, and that you will not have to pay any more than the estimate, as long as you don’t change the amount to be moved.

For a non-rate-exempt local move (less than 35 miles or entirely within Cook, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry, and Will counties), your estimate will provide only limited protection. A company that gives you a low estimate of the hours required might be lowballing and actually take as long as other companies for the actual move. A company that quotes a lower hourly rate than its competitors for the same-size crew may seem like a good prospect for a low actual cost—unless its crews work slowly. The law ensures that you won’t pay for more hours than the company actually puts in. It also provides limited protection if a move takes a lot longer than estimated: If you are charged more than 10 percent above the estimate, you have the right to pay only the estimated price plus 10 percent and insist that the company complete the move; you then have 30 days to pay the rest. That way the company can’t hold your goods hostage on the truck while demanding its full charge, and you have time to lodge a complaint with the Illinois Commerce Commission for unfair trade practices, if appropriate.

To illustrate the range of bid prices you can expect, the figure below shows illustrative prices for two local moves. As you can see, moving companies quote widely divergent prices for the same jobs.

Our Ratings Tables report hourly peak-season labor rates for two-, three-, four-, and five-person crews. The hourly rates varied substantially.

Long-Distance Interstate Moves

For long-distance 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. With a nonbinding estimate, you will only be required to pay up to 110 percent of the estimate cost at the time of delivery (no more than 10 percent above the estimate); the mover can bill you for any remaining charges after 30 days from delivery.

Alternatively, a mover can offer a binding estimate. You will pay no more and no less, as long as you make no changes to 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 figure below includes illustrative prices for three long-distance moves quoted to our undercover 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.