1) Decide On Moving Services
Moving companies offer a variety of services designed to meet your unique needs. Think about how much help you want from your moving company when choosing a service package:
- Full-service relocation: From packing, to loading, to transportation, to unloading, to unpacking, a full-service relocation will require little to no physical effort on your part but will also be the most expensive.
- Packing and loading: Professional movers will pack, load, unload, and unpack your belongings, but you’re responsible for transporting your belongings.
- Pickup and delivery: Professional movers pick up your belongings and transport them to your new location, but you’re responsible for packing, loading, unpacking, and unloading your things.
- Small-load relocation: Full-service relocation on a smaller scale. For example, you may hire a small-load relocation company to transport a vehicle or piece of furniture.
While your budget will play the biggest factor in deciding on what service you choose, also weigh the costs and benefits of paying your movers to handle all of the packing for you.
2) Assess Your Potential Movers
Next, it’s time to gather a list of potential moving companies. We have a great list of companies to get started with in addition to family and friend referrals. Once you have your list but before you schedule an estimate, there are a few recommended gut checks to do first.
- Check the website—make sure you can find their license number.
- Search the company’s listed address either online or by driving by. Verify that the company actually has a physical office at that location.
- Call their phone number and ensure a representative answers with the name of the company or an affiliate. If the operator sticks to a generic title, such as “Relocation Service” or “Moving Service,” something may be off.
While it’s unusual to encounter a moving scam, if a moving company fails one of these three checks, it’s smarter to dig deeper or avoid them entirely.
3) Dig into Your Mover’s Credentials
Once your prospective moving companies have passed the initial gut-check, it’s time to dig a bit deeper into their credentials by checking their USDOT status.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is a branch of the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) responsible (in part) for regulating and monitoring interstate moving companies. They require every legitimate interstate moving company to be registered and have an active license to carry household goods.
Checking on a moving company’s DOT status is easy. If you know their USDOT number (hopefully listed on their website), you look it up directly in the FMCSA's Company Snapshot tool. If you don’t have it, you can also use the tool to search by company name.
To go the extra mile, you ask your moving company for customer referrals or look up their rating with the Better Business Bureau.
4) Get Multiple Estimates
Ideally, get estimates from 3–5 moving companies before making a decision, but at least make sure to get more than one. When you request a quote from only one company, you don’t know if they’re quoting you a fair price for your move.
With multiple quotes, you can compare moving company estimates side-by-side and see how much they think your move will cost given how much stuff you’re moving and the level of service you ask for.
When getting an estimate, there are three important things to know:
Estimates should be performed in-person. The final cost of your move is largely calculated based on distance and weight. It’s critical that your mover knows exactly how much you’re moving and gets an idea for how much it weighs.
Even with modern video and photo technology, most professionals cannot accurately estimate the cost of transporting your belongings virtually. In order for them to give you an accurate quote (and not have to charge you more money when they realize your sofa is a hardwood antique and not from IKEA), you’ll need to do a walk-through with them and point out everything that’s going on the truck.
Always require a written estimate. Once a legitimate company representative views and estimates your belongings, they will send you an estimate in writing. A written estimate protects both you and the moving company in ways that a verbal agreement doesn’t.
Understand whether you’re getting a binding or a non-binding estimate. There are three kinds of moving estimates:
- A non-binding estimate: Your moving company is unable to charge more than 10% of what they quote you in the estimate.
- A binding estimate: Your moving company’s estimated quote is guaranteed, for both moving services and additional services.
- A non-binding not-to-exceed estimate: This is the best kind, but is rare. Your moving company’s original estimate is the maximum price you will have to pay, and if your belongings weigh less than expected, you might even pay less.
If you choose a non-binding estimate, you’ll probably get a lower initial quote. That’s because the moving company knows they don’t need to be perfect at estimating how much each chair weighs or exactly how many boxes you’re moving. They’ll still try to get close, but if they estimate light, they can charge you up to 10% more than the original quote.
If you choose a binding estimate, you’ll know exactly how much you’ll pay from the start, but your quote will be higher. The moving company wants to make sure they’re paying their workers fairly for the work involved, so they’re more likely to err on the side of “you have heavy furniture” and charge you accordingly.
Ready to get moving on collecting estimates? Start with our three top-rated moving companies:
5) Prep for Your Estimate
You and your moving company are a team with a common goal: getting your belongings safely from your old home and into your new one. To have a successful and stress-free move, be completely upfront with your mover with exactly what you need moved and what the moving process will be like.
- If possible, have a complete inventory of everything that needs to be moved so you can review it together when doing the in-person estimate.
- Let your mover know if there are logistical challenges, like if your apartment is a third-story walk-up, if your driveway won’t fit a full-size moving van, or if you need to be fully packed and on the truck by a certain time.
In return for being upfront, you’ll receive a fair and thorough estimate–which has more benefits than just being a good teammate to your moving company. Your estimate will include details about your inventory and specify how the move will go. If your moving company shows up expecting an elevator and finds stairs, you might get charged for the additional time and labor required.
To guarantee a fair transaction for you and for the moving company, leave nothing to chance on the day of your estimate.
6) Choose An Insurance Level
When you hand over your furniture, appliances, clothes, and everything else that makes your house a home to a professional mover, it’s important to understand that all of those things may not survive the trip intact. Long-distance relocation is inherently risky, even when everyone is trying their best to protect your belongings.
Luckily, you can protect yourself financially with liability insurance. Most moving companies offer two types of moving insurance:
- Base liability: Your mover will refund you $0.60 per pound of lost or damaged goods. This insurance option is typically offered for free with any move. Customers run the risk of losing money with this plan if a high-value item with low weight is damaged, such as a television.
- Full-value liability: Your mover refunds you the full market value of your lost or damaged items. This plan will typically cost 1% of the estimated total value of your belongings. Full-value liability insurance is a great way to protect your investment in a long-distance move, but it may be expensive.
You can also choose to seek insurance from a third-party company (and if you have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, it’s a good idea to ask your agent about it).
7) Never Sign a Blank Document
There are several important documents to keep track of when moving: the written estimate, the order for service, the inventory, and the bill of lading. For each one, it is critically important that you read it entirely for completeness and accuracy before signing it.
Never sign off something that is blank or incomplete. It’s like signing a blank check; a moving company could add any detail and say you agreed to it. If your mover asks you to do this, strongly consider walking away.
Additionally, never sign a contract when you have questions about or disagree with its contents. If a company representative has taken the time to estimate your belongings in person, they have the time to answer every single one of your questions. If a representative of the company pressures you to sign when you’re not quite ready, that may be a sign to drop the company.
8) Walk Away From Red Flags
Unfortunately, being asked to sign a blank or incomplete document is not the only red flag you might encounter when looking for a moving company. If you experience any of the following scenarios, we recommend you refuse services entirely and find a new company:
- A representative gives you an estimate over the phone—most likely a too-good-be-true low number—without appraising your belongings in person.
- The company won’t provide you with a written estimate.
- The salesperson demands either upfront cash or a large deposit before the moving process begins.
- The truck that arrives on moving day is a rental vehicle, is completely unbranded, and/or doesn’t have a USDOT number on the side. or has a company name on it other than the moving company you’ve been working with or its affiliates.
9) Be Ready to Ask Questions
Moving is complex, strenuous, and time-intensive. To help answer common questions, your moving company or broker will give you a copy of the DOT booklet “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move.” That said, it’s normal to encounter more questions during the process and one of your best resources for answering them is your mover.
Here are some good questions to ask as you get ready to hire a moving company:
- “Is this estimate binding or non-binding?”
- “My belongings are in my fifth-floor apartment, but there is no elevator. How will this affect my pricing?”
- “Do I pack my things in your boxes or mine?”
- “What day and time will my things be at my new home?”
- “Will you help me unpack and situate my belongings, or will they simply be removed from the truck?”
- “I forgot to include [item] during the estimate. How will this affect pricing?”