Our undercover shoppers collected prices for several different jobs and found tremendous company-to-company differences. Fortunately, many great companies often charge low prices.

Local Moves

For local moves, almost all companies base their prices on the number of workers and the amount of time needed for the job. If you get help packing, the price will also include a charge for any company-supplied containers.

The only way to get a good price is to shop around. Ask several movers to provide written estimates.

Most companies are willing to offer an estimate with a cap—you won’t pay more than the cap, and you’ll pay less if it takes less time than estimated. But some companies offer only nonbinding estimates, and we found that some companies won’t commit to a binding estimate for the packing portion of moving jobs.

Maryland law stipulates that movers must provide customers with written estimates and must indicate whether estimates are binding or nonbinding. For binding (also called “flat rate”) estimates, movers can’t charge even a penny over the price quoted. For nonbinding estimates, companies cannot charge consumers more than 25 percent above the total estimated cost—so if you’re moving to or from an address in Maryland, any written nonbinding estimate in effect includes a not-to-exceed price.

If you are moving over 30 road miles within Virginia, movers’ estimates are based on tariffs they must file with the Department of Motor Vehicles. A mover cannot charge more than its maximum tariff, which is based on weight and distance, but a mover may discount its tariff.

In the District, movers are required to provide a written contract unless the total charge will be less than $50.

We strongly recommend that you get an estimate with a cap or a binding estimate. Otherwise, the company may work slowly, and you’ll pay more than estimated. Also, without a binding price from each company, you lack a sound basis for comparing companies’ prices.
Some companies argue that binding estimates have to be inflated to cover contingencies, and that nonbinding estimates usually mean less-costly moves. We doubt it. If a company knows it is competing with several other bidders, its binding estimate will be its best guess of the true (non-inflated) cost, taking all contingencies into account.

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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 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. As you can see, the hourly rates varied substantially.


Long-Distance Moves

For long-distance moves, companies usually calculate their prices using a formula that factors in mileage and the weight of the goods they’re transporting. They also add special charges for packing and exceptional matters, such as storage, extra stops, and waiting time.

Most companies provide nonbinding estimates that detail their pricing formulas, with their actual prices determined during the move itself; the truck is weighed before and after your load is added. For movers that estimate costs this way, federal law prevents them from charging customers more than 10 percent above the initial estimate at the time of delivery, but the mover can still bill you for any remaining charges 30 days after delivery.

Alternatively, some movers offer binding estimates. 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 not-to-exceed price. 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 found big price differences from company to company.