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 California

For moves within California of 100 “constructive miles” (actual miles adjusted for driving conditions) or fewer, almost all movers set prices based on the number of workers and the amount of time needed for the job. For longer intrastate moves, charges must be based on mileage and weight, subject to a maximum set by state regulations; carriers usually charge less than the maximum rates. For packing assistance on both short- and long-distance intrastate moves, the price will include charges for labor and any company-supplied containers.

The only way to get a good price is to shop around. Ask several movers to provide written estimates that include the total dollar cost for the move, rather than just a rate quote.

Before your move begins, the mover must give you a “not-to-exceed price,” which means that you won’t pay more than that price but may pay less if the job is smaller (less weight or fewer hours) than the estimate assumes. For within-California moves, a written estimate that states total dollar cost is automatically a not-to-exceed price because the mover is required to enter the estimated total dollar cost as a not-to-exceed charge in an “agreement for service” document before work begins.

For local moves, the estimate should include the number of workers, hours, hourly rate, and any other details; then you can check whether the job went faster than estimated. For long-distance moves, you can be present at the truck weighing or have the mover inform you of the charges immediately after the weighing. If you disagree with the total weight, you may request a reweighing before delivery (although you may have to pay for it).

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 two local moves. As you can see, our shoppers collected widely divergent prices.

Prices Quoted
for Sample Local Moves

Move a four-bedroom house from Hayward to Union City Move a two-bedroom house from San Jose to Santa Clara
Advanced Moving Company   $560-$700
Ben's Moving & Trucking $1,760-$2,200 $480-$600
Celtic Moving & Storage $3,060 $640-$760
Cummings Moving & Storage $1,920-$2,535 $1,045-$1,435
Delancey Street Movers $1,800-$2,250 $751-$1,089
Jay's Small Moves   $970-$1,130
Macy Movers $1,600-$2,400 $750
One Big Man & One Big Truck $2,800 $1,310-$1,700
Seven Bridges Moving $2,376-$3,050  
Shamrock Moving &Storage $2,430 $1,250
Stu Miller's Movers $1,700-$2,720  
Waters Moving & Storage $2,800-$2,720 $844-$1,028

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.

Since the charges for local moves are based on time and size of crew, a mover’s hourly labor rate may be indicative of a relatively low bid. But don’t assume that you’ll get a good price from a company just because it charges low hourly rates. It might be very slow, and cost more than another mover with higher hourly rates. The only reliable tactic is to have several companies price your job. 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 370 miles from Oakland to Los Angeles Move 9,000 pounds of goods 840 miles from Palo Alto to Seattle Move 10,000 pounds of goods 2,800 miles from San Francisco to Washington, DC
Company Move Insurance2 Move Insurance3 Move Insurance3
Advanced Moving Company $3,138 $500        
Chipman Relocations $3,400 $425 $5,280 $480 $8,354 $480
Crown Relations $7,500-$8,000 $750 $4,324 $570 $8,186 $570
Cummings Moving & Storage $4,500-5,000 $475 $4,800 $600 $9,400 No quote
Foster Van Lines $3,200-$3,500 $725 $4,730 $570 $8,500 $570
Johnson & Daily Moving & Storage $6,960 $750     $9,437 $602
Macy Movers $7,232 $523 $5,268 $602 $9,000 $602
Mont-Rose Moving Systems $3,200-$3,600 $625 $4,371 $480 $7,200-$8,000 $400
Peeters Transportation $3,171 $750 $4,300 $602 $8,236 $602
Shamrock Moving & Storage $3,425 $475 $8,925 $570    
Waters Moving & Storage $7,500-$8,500 $500 $9,000-$15,000 $900    
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.