By Sam Wasson
Updated Oct 10, 2022
The price tag of a move can be high, with full-service moving companies charging thousands of dollars for relocations. Elements like extra services, hidden fees, and even fraudulent charges can turn the most modest, short-distance move into a money sink. Worst of all, some of these elements remain hidden in the initial quote, only showing up within the final bill.
This article will help you avoid this nightmare scenario by outlining all the hidden costs of moving and providing you with some valuable moving tips for avoiding them.
The bill from a moving service can look overwhelming, but generally, three elements contribute to your final price: base charges, service charges, and fees. Base charges are the primary factors that contribute to your quote’s baseline cost, including the amount of cargo you’re hauling, its weight, the distance of your move, and labor hours. Service charges are the costs associated with the different services you opt for during the initial estimate or throughout the move. And finally, fees are extra costs tacked onto the bill resulting from complications or inconveniences the movers have to overcome, such as stairs or long elevator rides.
Of all the different kinds of charges on a moving bill, fees and service charges are most likely to be hidden. Often at the beginning of a move, homeowners will sign up for services they don’t need or select services that end up costing far more than they initially expected. On the other hand, fees can pop up anywhere and are not always outlined in the initial moving quote – some fees are more prone to this than others, such as long carry fees or hosting fees.
The first step in reducing the hidden moving costs in your bill is understanding the different kinds of estimates moving companies offer. Professional moving companies offer one of three different kinds of estimates or quotes, nonbinding, binding, and binding not-to-exceed. Each quote has benefits and drawbacks depending on the kind of move you’re undertaking. Regardless of which type of estimate and moving service you decide to go with, we recommend gathering multiple quotes to find the best price.
A nonbinding estimate is standard in local moves and hourly rate moving services. These quotes use the weight of your cargo, estimated labor hours, and services to calculate the expected final cost. These quotes don’t bind the moving company to the estimation, meaning the final price can, and almost certainly will, change. Since the price of these quotes is flexible, it does mean that the final bill may be less than the initial estimate, but this is not often the case.
Binding estimates are standard for interstate and long-distance moving services. These quotes are estimated the same way as nonbinding quotes. However, unlike nonbinding quotes, these hold the moving company to the price. Elements like labor hours, wait times, and distance won’t affect the price if they change throughout the course of the move. These estimates are excellent for moves with long travel times and heavy cargo since delays won’t affect your bill’s outcome. However, if your labor hours and travel time fall below the estimated amounts, you will still pay the initial cost outlined in the quote.
Keep in mind that all binding estimates have elements that can change the final bill, namely significant weight changes and fees. When signing a binding estimate contract, don’t forget to check the section outlining additional fees and service charges to learn what factors can change the total.
This quote is the most popular type in the moving industry, especially for cross-country moves. Binding not-to-exceed quotes combine the best elements of nonbinding and binding estimates. Simply put, if the weighted total of your cargo exceeds the initial quoted amount, you won’t pay any extra. However, you will pay less if your cargo’s weight is below the initial estimate, meaning you only pay for the exact weight of your cargo.
Moving companies offer a host of helpful services that can make moving more manageable and less strenuous. While these services are convenient and needed in some cases, they all have an associated price tag that will increase the total of your bill. Most professional movers won’t blindside you with services, instead outlining them in the initial quote. However, some services are selected partway through the move, and their costs can significantly increase the final bill and take you by surprise. What follows are some of the most common services to pop up throughout your move and alter your final bill.
Unfortunately, unforeseen, last-minute delays happen, especially in complex processes like moving. In a move, if the realtors, previous tenants, cleaning companies, moving companies, or their drivers drop the ball, it can put the entire relocation on hold. If this does happen, you might be delayed for days or even weeks. In the meantime, you will have to store your cargo until the situation is resolved and you’re ready to move in. Most moving companies offer short-term storage for just such an occasion, but it will cost you. Storage services are usually around 40 cents per cubic foot per month, small storage units will cost you around $50 per month, and most large-sized units will cost well over $300.
This additional service usually comes alongside packing and unpacking services. If a moving company has to provide packing materials like paper, moving boxes, bubble wrap, or specialized containers, they will charge you. Worse yet, moving services charge far more than retail costs for these materials. If you choose a moving company’s packing and unpacking service, always ask if packing materials are included. If they are not, supply all the possible packing materials that the moving company needs to store your possessions.
One of the most expensive additional services a moving company can add to your bill is shuttling. Shuttling is when a moving company uses a smaller truck to transport (shuttle) your possessions to the primary moving truck. Shuttling can cost, on average, between $350 to well over $1,000. Thankfully, it’s less likely that shuttle service fees will blindside you, as a reliable estimator should outline the need for a shuttle in your initial estimate. To avoid surprise shuttle fees, mention any factors that would require a shuttle at your new home. Here are some situations where a moving company might need a shuttle for a location:
The biggest culprit in surprise bill bloat is hidden fees. Movers charge fees when forced to take extra time, precautions, or effort to do their job. While a professional estimate will outline most potential fees, many can occur spontaneously, adding extra charges to your bill. Even binding estimates have a condition within the contract stating that the occurrence of fees can alter the final price of the bill. To limit and mitigate these extra fees, always talk to your estimator about potential fees, and inform them about the conditions of the arrival destination ahead of time.
If packers and/or a moving crew have to take apart any furniture, they may decide to charge you a disassembly fee. While not expensive, this fee can come as a surprise as they are easily missed in initial estimates. You can expect to pay around $30-$50 per hour for this fee, or some companies charge by the piece, for which prices can vary.
Long carry fees occur when your professional movers have to carry your possessions a long distance, typically 100 or more feet, to the moving truck. This fee is the most common to surprise a homeowner, as it can occur without prior knowledge or planning, most commonly due to a lack of parking. The cost of this fee varies significantly for each moving company but is calculated based on the carry distance in feet and the total weight of the haul. Since your haul’s size and weight can affect the cost of carrying fees, the price can become exceptionally high. To avoid long carry fees, ensure that your home has plenty of parking on the day of your move and that the space in front of your home can accommodate the moving truck.
Let’s say you have a large sofa on the second floor and that during the inspection process, the appraiser says that the movers can get it down the stairs. But on moving day, it turns out that the movers can’t get the couch down. Unfortunately, these scenarios happen all too often and can become impressively expensive when they do. If you want your couch down those stairs, your movers will have to hoist it down. Hoisting heavy items involves your movers maneuvering them out a window, usually with rigging or thick straps, and lowering it carefully down to the ground. Only movers trained in hoisting are allowed to attempt this, as it is a delicate, complex, and dangerous task. The weight of these bulky items determines hoisting fees, and it usually starts at around $80 but can be several hundred dollars depending on the item. Specialty items like pianos or pool tables will also have higher rates since they are delicate and require special care.
This fee typically only applies to local moving companies and is one of the lesser-known charges on this list. Travel fees account for the travel time from the moving company’s office to your home. This fee is usually minor and charged as an additional hour to your move’s bill, but it can become more expensive if your home is far away. Most of the time, travel fees are unavoidable if you’re using a local company. Still, you can determine which companies use travel fees by inquiring about them during the quote process.
Environmental moving fees happen when a company has to handle or dispose of any packing materials. If you hire a moving company and utilize their packing and unpacking services, you will likely get charged a disposal fee. The cost of this fee is determined by the total amount of packing supplies in need of disposal, so the more cargo you have, the more expensive the cost. The rates vary by company, and you will have to ask your appraiser for the exact amounts during the quote process to account for them.
Gas fees, or fuel charges, are the fees associated with the gas usage of the moving truck. These additional charges are somewhat devious because they are typically not included in the initial estimate since the gas prices can vary from station to station. Generally, the higher the gas price in your area, the higher the price of this fee on your bill. Furthermore, moves with longer drive times and multiple stops will incur a higher gas fee.
While not a fee, gratuity, or tipping, is standard in the moving industry. Professional movers are skilled laborers who often have to handle large, bulky, and extremely heavy objects with care. Because of this, it’s common to pay them a small amount of gratuity once the job is complete. Depending on service, standard tipping rates are $8-$12 per hour per mover or more.
Keeping the cost of your moving bill low can feel impossible. Homeowners are fighting an uphill battle between hidden fees, service charges, and the increasing price of moving within the U.S. However, there are several practices you can utilize to reduce the number of hidden fees associated with your next move:
It always pays off to keep an eye out for hidden fees when moving. While most moving companies are straightforward with their quotes, fees and unforeseen charges can still always pop up. By following some of the advice in this article and familiarizing yourself with the different hidden charges that can exist, you can save money on your next move.
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