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The Difference Between Binding and Non-Binding Moving Estimates

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Moving companies have various ways of providing their customers with quotes of how much they estimate the total cost of the move will be when all is said and done.

Estimates can be binding, binding not-to-exceed or non-binding.

Often, these estimates will be given by the movers when they come to your home prior to the move to do an in-home assessment. Once at your home, they will estimate the total weight of your shipment and factor in the other services that you will need based on your requirements to guesstimate the total moving cost. 

Binding estimates remain fixed during the course of the move

For example, movers came to your house to give you an estimate. They assessed your three bedrooms worth of items and produced an estimated weight that the shipment would be. From that estimated weight, they will come up with a total price for you to pay.

Because the quoted price is binding, you will pay that amount no matter what. If your shipment ends up weighing more than what the movers estimated, you'll still only pay the amount quotes. However, if your shipment ends up weighing less than estimated, you will still have to pay that original figure as well.

Rules of binding estimates

The FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) has several rules and regulations regarding binding estimates and how they are carried out by professional moving companies.

  1. The mover cannot tack on additional charges as the move progresses without informing the customer. The customer will only be required to pay the amount of the binding estimate at the time of delivery, and any additional services incurred during the move will be billed separately after the move.

  2. The moving company must provide the estimate to the customer in writing. A copy of the estimate must be made available to the customer prior to the move, so the customer has time to review it and discuss any possible discrepancies or inaccuracies in the estimate.

  3. The moving company must state, in the estimate, that the estimate is binding. The mover must attach a copy of the binding estimate to the bill of lading. Furthermore, the mover must also state that the estimate is only for the services listed.

  4. If the moving company notices any additional items or add-ons in your shipment that were not included and described in the original estimate, the mover has the right to refuse service and create a revised binding estimate with the new items added, which will often result in being charged a higher price.

The advantage of binding estimates is that your price is outlined well before the move and will not change. However, if you do end up with a shipment that is less than what the movers estimated, there won't be a discount coming off of your total moving bill at the end.

Binding not-to-exceed estimates are rare but your best option

A binding not-to-exceed estimate is fixed but still might be less than the original quote. Much like a binding estimate, the binding not-to-exceed quote has a ceiling for your total moving costs. However, if the movers realize that they overestimated the total weight of your shipment, movers will knock off that excess amount and reduce your total bill.

TIP: When the binding not-to-exceed estimate is decided upon at the beginning, get the estimate in writing, attached to the bill of lading. Check that the shipment is expressed in extreme detail and the terms of the binding not-to-exceed estimate are clearly outlined. It should state that the final price of the move shall not exceed the amount originally quoted in the initial assessment of goods.

Since the binding not-to-exceed estimate is your best choice, there aren't really any disadvantages to it. This kind of estimate allows for more flexibility when trying to budget for your move and allows you to have a much clearer picture of how much your total moving bill will cost.

Non-binding estimates will increase or decrease on moving day

Though the movers will give you the best estimate possible, they won't be able to tell you the final cost of the move until everything is weighed on moving day.

  • A non-binding estimate is simply an approximate charge and leaves the customer vulnerable to a common moving scam. Fraudulent companies low-ball their customers and provide intentionally low estimates only to gouge them with an outrageously high price in the end.

  • The non-binding estimate is one of the most commonly used estimates in the moving industry and is provided free of charge. Their inherently flexible nature means that non-binding estimates can be given out over the phone.

  • Non-binding estimates ideal for people who are moving with light shipments and those moving on short notice.

Ask the movers the following questions during the in-home estimate

When the movers arrive at your home to survey your belongings and provide you with an in-home estimate, ask them any questions you may have about the estimate process, the moving process or even about their company in general.

Here are just some of the many important questions you should go over with the movers:

  1. What kind of estimate will I be receiving? A binding estimate, a non-binding estimate or a binding not-to-exceed estimate?
  2. Will the estimate be provided in writing after the assessment of the move and my belongings?
  3. Are there any other fees or charges that I should know about such as extra charges for long carries or stair carries?
  4. Do you have a USDOT number?
  5. Can you verify your license and insurance?
  6. How long has your company been operating for?
  7. How will you handle my goods during the move?
  8. What kind of safety precautions do you take to ensure that my belongings are moved safely?
  9. Do you have a claims process for any lost or damaged items?
  10. When will my belongings be delivered?

Allowing the movers to come to your home and survey your belongings in person gives them a true sense of what the move requires and the shipment size, so they can provide you with the most accurate estimate possible.

Another benefit of receiving in-house estimates is meeting the movers in person prior to your move. This is extremely useful because it allows you to gauge certain aspects of their company that you wouldn' t be able to simply by speaking with a sales agent over the phone.

Familiarizing yourself with the ins and outs of the moving industry and moving terminology before your move will help the process of looking for a moving company go a lot smoother. That way, when the company arrives at your home to assess your belongings and give you an estimate, you will know exactly what to expect.

  Posted by Nicole Schurott on November 29, 2018

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