May 12, 2022

How do movers charge for their services?

Stuart Mason

One thing we're always hearing is that people don't really know how moving companies operate, particularly how they charge. Understandably many people never really give it a lot of thought as it all seems pretty obvious- you pay the movers and they move your stuff.  But there are a surprising number of variables that go into the price movers charge, and an understanding of how moving companies work can help you save time, money, and effort when moving. The more research you do before a move, the more likely it is to be a smooth, easy experience.

The Basics

First, the services available and terms of payment will be different if you are moving locally (generally considered to be 50 miles or less) or interstate (including across the country).  When moving locally the moving company will generally charge an hourly rate that includes most everything needed for the move, specifically: the moving truck and the services of the movers and miscellaneous moving equipment. In some states, such as California, this hourly rate will include what’s known as “double drive time.” In what are known as “double drive time” states movers are required by law to charge twice as much for the time it takes them to drive from one location to the next, in order to account for the time that they spend coming to and from jobs.  

In addition to the hourly rates, many local movers will also enforce a minimum contract, generally 2-3 hours of work (and will charge this minimum even if the move ends up being less time). Additionally, local movers will often provide the option to buy boxes or packing materials from them, although there can be cheaper ways to get these materials like going to local big box or home improvement retailers, or companies that specialize in selling boxes and moving accessories, which people are sometimes surprised to find out exist.

Unlike short distance movers, the price a long distance mover (generally over 50-100 miles) will charge you will depend on a few main variables: the distance traveled, the weight of the items moved, and whether or not the moving company included any additional services (we say generally because there are some movers who will charge a flat rate for moves, but more often than not moving companies charge based on distance and weight).  Moving companies will often try and distinguish themselves by offering these additional services.  While we certainly know of a wide range of specific and unique offerings by moving companies - like a service moving works of art so that they are protected - most movers provide roughly similar additional services: packing and unpacking; storage (often limited to a time period like 30 to 60 days) and furniture disassembly and reassembly.  And in addition to these bonus services which are available for most moves, some moving companies around the country even offer more specialized services like moving pianos or cars.   

Insurance v. Valuation

One of the most important distinctions to learn when understanding how movers price their services is between insurance and valuation.  Many people make the incorrect assumption that their things are "insured" by the moving company. While movers must provide some level of protection, they are not providing "insurance" which requires an individual paying a premium to a licensed insurance company. While an individual is free to buy insurance to cover any accidents in their move from a third party insurance provider, moving companies cannot offer insurance themselves and are rather required to provide what's known as
valuation coverage, which is broken into released value protection and full value protection.

Under released value protection your property is insured at $0.60 per per pound per item that is damaged or missing and is provided at no extra charge. Full value protection is more comprehensive, and generally movers will require you to purchase at least some amount of full value protection on your things, and requires the moving company to either repair or replace and items that are damaged or lost in the move. Generally, full value protection will cost anywhere from $5-15 dollars per $1,000 of total shipment value.

Often times, valuation coverage does not cover the full market value of what you're moving, and so if you want be extra careful it may be worthwhile to look into whether it makes sense to purchase an additional policy from a third-party source. Not only does valuation not cover the full value of your possessions, it may not apply at all to certain types of possessions. For instance, moving companies may decline to cover items that you packed yourself or where the damage was to a particularly valuable item and the moving company had not been put on notice beforehand. Moving companies may also decline to provide coverage where individuals fail to report the lost or damaged items in a timely manner.

Moving companies are required to provide valuation coverage, which is based on the assessed replacement value of the possessions being moved.

Home Inspection

Some moving companies will offer (or require) that you do an in-home inspection before moving. Generally, this service is offered by higher-touch, more full service moving companies that also do things like pack and unpack your belongings. Generally, there are three types of home inspections: in-home, over the phone, and (the newcomer) virtual. For the most part, companies will either send an agent to your home to assess your level of possessions and the difficulty of the move, or have an agent walk through the process on the phone. While the phone call can sometimes be less accurate, it is generally still fairly accurate and far less cumbersome for both parties involved. Also, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic companies have started offering virtual inspections, in which people either complete a detailed inventory of their possessions and send them to the moving company ahead of time, or have a video call with an agent where they “virtually” walk them through the house. This is a trend we expect to see continue even after the pandemic restrictions have all been lifted.

Binding v. Non-Binding Offer

Finally, offers by moving companies generally fall into one of two categories: binding and non-binding offers.  Like its name suggests, a binding offer means that a moving company will charge no less than the price it agreed to.  So for example, if you decide after having booked a binding offer that you want to throw out half of the things that you wanted to move you would still be on the hook to pay the moving company the agreed to price.  But be warned - the moving company can still increase your final price fi you decide to add a meaningful amount of items to the truck after accepting an offer.  So if the movers show up and you want them to move twice as many things, they are probably going to charge you for the increase.  However, it must be clearly stated in writing that the offer is binding - otherwise it is non-binding.  The best option is to have a “not-to-exceed” binding estimate by the moving company.  When you receive a “not-to-exceed” binding estimate the moving company will be capped on what they can charge you.  In a non-binding offer, neither party is bound by the estimate. 

Moving Tips

With these building-blocks in mind, you’ll be ready to tackle any move with confidence that you understand exactly why and what amount you’re being charged.  Now that you have these basics under control, check out our guide on how to save the most when booking your move. For example, did you know that moving companies generally charge lower rates when moving in the winter? Now that you’re a pro on mover mechanics, put your knowledge to work to make sure you get yourself the cheapest move possible.

If, on the other hand, you're looking to move soon, or just starting to look, and want someone else to do the heavy lifting for you, give us a shout at info@sunboundhomes.com or check out our services page to see how Sunbound can help you have your easiest move yet.

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