Smart Moving

By Joe Harrison
President of the American Moving and Storage Association

Research tells us that moving is usually one of the most stressful events in a person’s life, ranked as high as the death of a loved one or divorce. But with the right kind of planning and care, you can make your move a lot less stressful.

The first step is to plan ahead. Begin planning your move as soon as possible. Waiting until the last minute — especially during the busy summer season — limits your options and can result in disappointment when it comes to securing the services of the mover you want at the date of your choosing.

We recommend that you begin making arrangements for your move at least four to six weeks before the moving date. A planning checklist and planner, called Countdown to Moving Day, along with other useful advice, is available at our association’s consumer Web site,

And here is an inside tip from someone who knows the moving industry.  Most people want to move during the summer, when the kids are out of school.  This means that from May to September movers are extremely busy. If you can arrange for your move at any other time of year, you have a much better chance of securing a high quality move from the company of your choice.  Also, most movers offer lower prices between the months of October and April.

Similarly, most people want to move at the very beginning or the very end of the month, because most rent and mortgage payments are due on the first of each month.  However, if you can arrange for your move in the middle of the month, you will not only increase the likelihood of getting a top-notch crew and the mover you want, but the exact pickup and delivery dates you require.

Moving companies provide a variety of services for a range of fees. It is a good idea to talk with different movers to compare their services.  To find out who the best movers are in your area, begin by asking friends about their experiences with the movers they have used.  You can also check with the Better Business Bureau or other consumer organizations in your local area.

AMSA does not recommend moving companies nor does it recommend one moving company over another.  However, when selecting a mover, we encourage consumers to choose a moving company which is a member of AMSA.  The members of the AMSA are required to abide by the terms of our published pricing tariffs, follow federal government consumer protection regulations, and to participate in the Arbitration Program sponsored by our organization.

Many AMSA members are also participants in the AMSA Certified Mover and Van Line Program.  AMSA Certified Movers and Van Lines are companies that have voluntarily agreed to abide by a Code of Conduct that requires complete disclosure of moving information to consumers, written estimates of charges, timely service and prompt response to claims and complaints.

They also have agreed to arbitrate disputes of up to $5,000 arising from loss or damage to the articles in your shipment.  Not all movers participate in this program.  Before you make your choice of movers, be sure to find out if they are AMSA members and if they participate in the AMSA Certified Mover and Van Line Program.  Certified movers are listed

Once you have compiled a list of movers, inform them of the destination and timing of your move.  Ask them about the types of services they offer. Also ask them to explain their estimates in detail and to give you a copy.  Then carefully compare to see which mover best suits your needs and budget.

If you are moving from one state to another, you should read and understand all of the information you will receive.  In addition to brochures explaining their various services, interstate moving companies are required by law to give you a copy of a consumer booklet titled “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move” and information regarding the mover’s required participation in a Dispute Settlement Program and information regarding movers’ liability.

When you choose your mover, be sure you understand:

  • The rates and charges that will apply.
  • The mover’s liability for your belongings.
  • How pickup and delivery will work.
  • What claims protection you have.

Obtaining a Price Estimate

Now it is time to contact the movers on your list. Inform them of your destination and the timing of your move. Ask movers to provide you with an estimate, and have them explain the services listed in the estimate in detail. Carefully compare each estimate to see which company best suits your needs.

It is best not to seek a moving estimate via telephone or the Internet, unless your circumstances are such that time constraints dictate this method.  A very general estimate of costs can be obtained by phone or the Internet, but more exact and dependable estimates are best accomplished by an in-house survey.  A reputable moving company will send an experienced, trained professional to your home and provide you with an estimate in writing.

The cost of an interstate move is usually based on the weight of your belongings and on the distance they are shipped, plus the amount of packing and other services that you require.

Help the movers calculate the cost of your move by showing them every single item to be moved.  Don’t forget to go into the attic, basement, garage, closets and under beds. Reach a clear understanding about the amount of packing and other services needed.  Anything omitted from the estimate but later included in the shipment will add to the final cost of the move.

Most movers offer two types of estimates: binding and non-binding.  Binding estimates are written agreements that guarantee the cost of the move based on the items to be moved and the services listed on the mover’s estimate sheet.  It’s important to make certain the binding estimate inventory contains all of the items to be moved, along with any additional services to be provided by the mover. Anything that is added later will result in increased charges and may delay the move.

Non-binding estimates, on the other hand, are not guaranteed. Instead, a non-binding estimate is an approximation of the cost based on the mover’s survey of the items to be moved, with the final cost determined after the shipment is weighed on a certified scale.  A non-binding estimate does not bind the mover. When you receive a non-binding estimate, there is no guarantee that the final cost will not be more than the estimate.

Another type of estimate used by many movers is the Not-To-Exceed Estimate.  These types of estimates are called various things by various movers, such as Guaranteed Price or Price Protection, but the end result is the same — an estimate based on a binding estimate or on actual cost (at discount, if applicable), whichever is lower.  Like a binding estimate, a not-to-exceed estimate must be provided to you in writing and is binding on the carrier.

Not-to-Exceed estimates differ though in that the binding estimate amount becomes the maximum amount that you will be obligated to pay for the services outlined on the estimate.  This maximum amount alternates with the charges applicable based on the actual weight of the shipment, with the customer paying the lesser of the two amounts.  When you accept a not-to-exceed estimate, the move is performed at actual weight based on the discounted tariff rate levels, with the binding estimate representing the maximum charge that the shipper will have to pay.

Not-to-Exceed estimates are viewed as an extension of binding estimates, and, as such, are payable at delivery and are not subject to the 110% payment rule.

Further, under federal regulations governing interstate shipments, if you are given a non-binding estimate, your mover cannot require you pay more than the amount of the estimate plus ten (10%) percent.  You will then have at least 30 days after delivery to pay any remaining charges.  The mover may, however, demand full payment for any added services at the time of delivery if you have requested the mover to provide more services than those included on the estimate.

For example, if you received a non-binding estimate of $5,000 for your move, and you did not request any additional services, the mover cannot require you pay more than $5,500 to have your shipment delivered.  The mover is required to invoice you for any remaining charges.

If you want absolute price certainty and you can define what articles you are going to move, then a binding estimate may be a desired option.  However, binding estimates may be more costly since the mover must build into the price added revenue to protect them from variances in the estimate.  Most movers provide non-binding estimates, because the actual charges are based on the actual certified weight of all the household goods in the shipment.  This protects both the customer and the mover (charge based on actual weight of articles transported).

One important caution regarding estimating is to be wary of low ball initial estimates that later are doubled or tripled.  These tactics are used by rogue movers posing as professional movers.  If you receive an attractive low price for your move and it seems too good to be true, it probably is!  Don’t necessarily choose a mover based on price alone, especially a price significantly lower than other estimates you may have received.  Many complaints from customers involve receiving a low ball estimate and later a demand for significantly more charges while the shipment is held hostage by the rogue mover.

If a relocating consumer follows the advice detailed in this article, you should be able to avoid these negative estimating practices.  If you are not sure how to evaluate whether an estimate is unrealistically low, consult AMSA’s website for ball park moving costs depending upon the type and size of the dwelling and distance of the move.  A comparison of this data with estimates received should clearly identify an unrealistically low estimate.

When you are discussing your estimate with your professional mover, be sure to ask about the arrangements for paying for the move.  It is customary for movers to require that charges be paid in cash, by certified check, or by money order. Most movers will not accept personal checks.  Some movers will accept payment by credit card.  However, do not assume that because you have a nationally recognized charge or credit card that it will be accepted for payment. Ask your mover.

The regulations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration provide that when the mover arrives at your new home (or in some cases if your shipment is placed into a warehouse), you must pay for your move before your shipment is unloaded from the truck.  However, movers are not allowed to require you pay a deposit before your move.  So, if a mover you are considering using requires you pay a deposit before your move to hold your dates or to insure prompt service, you may want to consider using another mover.

Getting Everything Packed Right

Proper packing by a trained packer using specially designed cartons and materials is crucial to a good move.  Schedule packing with the mover a day or two before the moving van is loaded.

If you are packing yourself, it is never too soon to start.  While packing yourself can save money, movers will not usually accept liability for damage to items packed by owners.

Be present when your goods are packed.  An inventory of your goods will be made and it is important to resolve any disagreements prior to signing the inventory. Make sure all copies are legible and all items are numbered.  Have valuable items listed separately.  Some appliances may require servicing prior to the move.  Your mover can schedule these services for you.

Your mover may ask you to select several consecutive days during which your goods can be loaded and a second series of dates during which your goods can be delivered to your new home.  A spread of days gives you and your mover the flexibility needed to keep your move on schedule.

When moving day arrives:

  • Be on hand when the movers arrive.
  • Discuss the delivery arrangements fully with your mover.
  • Have beds stripped and ready to be packed.
  • Save your energy — let the moving crew disassemble goods.
  • Read the Bill of Lading (the contract) before you sign it.
  • Tell your mover how to reach you at your destination.
  • Keep in contact with the mover at your destination while you are in transit.

Generally, your belongings will be transported in a van along with those of other families in the same general direction. This helps to keep your costs down.  Delivery is made on any of the several consecutive days agreed upon before the move began.

Make sure the mover knows how to contact you to schedule actual delivery. If you cannot be reached at destination, the mover may place your shipment in storage to avoid delaying other shipments.  This can mean additional charges for storage and handling.

Upon delivery, check your goods for damage.  Do not sign the inventory until you have inspected your furniture and the exterior of the cartons.

Dealing With Loss and Damage Claims

If any of your household goods are damaged or lost, report the facts promptly and in detail on the van driver’s copy (original) of the inventory sheet before you sign it.  If you notice damage after unpacking, a claim must be filed within nine months after delivery.  However, it is to your advantage to report damage as soon as possible.

The mover must acknowledge receipt of your claim within 30 days and must deny or make an offer within 120 days of receipt of your claim.  When making a claim or considering a settlement offer, keep in mind the amount of liability that you declared on your shipment.

For example, if the value declared on your shipment was $10,000, the mover’s maximum liability for loss or damage to the articles in your shipment is $10,000.  Claims for more than this amount will be declined because they are in excess of the mover’s liability that you declared on your shipment.

There are several options for insuring your goods.  All interstate household goods shipments move under limited liability, which is required by law. However, you may purchase additional liability coverage from your mover, which is something that we recommend in most cases.

The contract that you will sign with your mover provides two options for placing a value on your shipment.  The value that you select sets the limit of your mover’s maximum liability for loss or damage to your goods.  These optional levels of liability are not insurance agreements that are governed by state insurance laws, but instead are authorized under the Surface Transportation Board of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Before you sign the contract (bill of lading) with your mover, you must decide how much your articles are worth and declare a value for your shipment.

Option 1 – Full (Replacement) Value Protection is the most comprehensive plan available for protection of your goods.  When you select this option, articles that are lost, damaged or destroyed will, at the mover’s option, be either repaired, replaced with articles of like kind and quality, or a cash settlement will be made for the repairs or for replacement of the articles at their current market value, regardless of the age of the lost or damaged articles.

Under this option, you have two choices for establishing your mover’s maximum liability on your shipment:

  1. You can declare a value based on the weight of your shipment times an amount of not less than $4.00 per pound, or
  2. You can declare a higher lump sum amount (for example, $30,000).

An additional charge applies when you select this option, based on the value you place on your shipment and on the deductible level of coverage you select, but this higher level of valuation is more likely to cover the value of the articles in your shipment.  Ask your mover for the details of his plan.

Option 2 – Released Value of 60 Cents Per Pound Per Article is the most economical option available.  This level of protection is provided at no additional cost; however, it only provides minimal protection.  Under this option, the mover assumes liability for no more than 60 cents per pound per article for loss or damage.

This means that claims are settled based on the weight of the individual article(s) multiplied by 60 cents.  For example, if a 10-pound stereo component valued at $1000 were lost or destroyed, your mover would be liable for no more than $6.00 (10 pounds multiplied by 60 cents).

Obviously, you should think carefully before agreeing to such an arrangement.  This value option is considerably less than the typical value of household goods.  There is no additional cost for this minimal protection and you must make a specific statement on the bill of lading agreeing to it.

Under Option 1, your mover is also permitted to limit its liability for loss or damage to articles that have an extraordinary value, unless you specifically list these articles on the Inventory of Items Valued in Excess of $100 Per Pound Per Article form.  An article of extraordinary value is any item whose value exceeds $100 per pound.  Ask your mover for a complete explanation of this limitation of liability before you move.  It is your responsibility to study these provisions carefully and to make the necessary declaration.  (Not all movers use these special provisions for articles of extraordinary value.)

For additional information, or to file a complaint against a mover that is not a member of our Association, you may also wish to contact the U.S. Department of Transportation at: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Office of Consumer Affairs – Room 600, 400 Virginia Avenue Southwest, Washington, DC 20024, 1-888-368-7238 FAX 202-358-7100, or on the Web at (use the Commercial Complaint Form on the Web site)

As noted in the beginning of this article, relocation is a stressful experience; however, the actual moving component of the relocation process can be a lot less stressful if the actual move is planned in advance and an experienced AMSA professional mover is selected to transport your household goods to your new destination.