Going into a move without existing knowledge of the industry can be daunting, and the last thing you want to do is spend outside your budget. There are cheaper ways to move, but they require more work on your end to get your belongings to your new residence. On the other hand, paying for a full-service moving company allows you to do less heavy lifting and avoid driving a truck.
The choice is yours, but it’s important to know what goes into moving costs to stay within your budget and prevent less reputable companies from taking advantage of you. We’ve reviewed a multitude of movers to handpick the best moving companies in the nation. As part of that research, we’ve explored what weighs into the total cost of your move and how to stay in line with your moving budget.
How Much Do Professional Movers Cost?
Many factors go into determining moving costs. Local moves are typically based on an hourly rate, and long-distance moves apply a formula that calculates multiple factors.
Average Cost for Local Moves
A local move spans a short distance, generally considered to be within the same city or 50 miles of your original location. Since distance plays a less significant role, many local movers charge an hourly rate for services rather than a weight- and distance-based evaluation. If your move is for a larger three- or four-bedroom house, the moving team may need to bring in additional labor, adding to your total cost.
One of our top-rated moving providers, International Van Lines, estimates that a local move will cost $150 per hour for a team of three movers.
Average Cost for Long-distance Moves
A long-distance move can be from your current home to a neighboring state or involve cross-country travel. The increased mileage poses greater logistical challenges, more fuel, and more wear and tear on moving trucks, and these considerations will reflect in the final billing.
Most companies will determine the baseline cost using the weight of your household goods and the distance between the origin and destination cities. For movers that combine different shipments on the same moving trucks, your space requirements may also factor into the total cost.
Most nationwide moving companies share a basic formula, combining rates for the following factors:
- Home size
- Inventory weight
- Shipment volume
- Move distance
- Full-service packing
- Additional services
American Van Lines (AVL), another top long-distance moving company, estimates that the average moving cost for a long-distance move between San Francisco and Chicago is $4,799. This move is roughly 2,000 miles, a similar distance as a move from New York City to Denver or from Seattle to Dallas.
Full-service vs. Self-service Moving Companies
Your selection of a full- or self-service move will be a significant factor in your moving quote. Moving container companies are typically self-service, using shippable storage containers you load yourself. The company will pick up the container and deliver it to your new home after a specified time period.
You can also use a truck rental company for a true DIY move, loading your inventory and driving your own shipment to the destination. This is typically the least expensive option as long as you don’t need to hire help to load and unload the truck.
Full-service movers offer packing services for a hassle-free move experience. These companies can pack your entire household inventory, often bringing the necessary packing materials and figuring them into your total cost. The moving teams will also load, transport, unload, and unpack your shipment. Some full-service providers let you customize your packing and unpacking services for a reduced fee, providing assistance for fragile or heavy items and leaving you to do the rest of the work.
Additional Moving Costs
Moving costs get more complicated when you learn about the potential for add-on fees. When you receive your free quote from a mover, take your time to look over the fine print. Below are some additional costs you might expect, depending on the details of your move.
- Seasonality: Professional moving companies are typically busier in summer and may charge higher rates between May and September. Some companies provide an early reservation discount when you book well in advance, but the best way to avoid peak season fees is to schedule your move during slower months.
- Size of your home: The size of your home is a baseline cost factor for your move due to an increased inventory weight and volume. A larger home may also pose additional logistical challenges, such as multiple flights of stairs that will take more effort and time for the movers. This can result in additional fees.
- Stairs and elevators: Many movers will not charge extra for a move involving a single flight of stairs, but multiple flights will most often result in additional fees due to increased time and effort.
- Shuttle fees: Moving from a studio apartment in a large city will not cost as much as a three-bedroom home in terms of inventory weight. However, if a moving truck cannot park nearby, a shuttle will be used, and additional charges will apply.
- Bulky items: Most moving companies will charge extra for heavy items that are difficult to move. This doesn’t apply to basic furniture, but you can expect fees for moving items such as pianos, hot tubs, and pool tables.
- Fragile item packing: Some full-service movers include fragile-only packing in the initial estimate, but others will charge extra on your move date. Custom crating is often available as an add-on for specialty items, such as artwork and antiques.
- Contents coverage: Moving companies are required by law to offer limited liability coverage and value protection. For value protection, you will need to pay a fee that varies among movers and depends on your inventory details. This information can usually be found at the bottom of a moving estimate.
- Storage: For movers offering rentable storage units, you can expect to pay a monthly fee. These rates often change for short- or long-term storage, and it’s important to ask your mover how the company assesses storage costs.
- Packing supplies: You will need packing supplies for a self- or full-service move, and many providers sell these items. Some companies estimate your need for boxes and protective materials, including them in your quote. Others have separate marketplaces for purchasing packing supplies or may require you to purchase from a third party.
Quote and Payment Factors To Consider
Here are a few other details to consider about moving costs before you make a decision.
Type of Moving Estimate
Movers provide different types of estimates, and it’s important to understand the differences when you request a quote.
- Non-binding estimate: A non-binding estimate is a rough guess of what charges will be based on basic details about your move. This means that the price can climb much higher than the estimate, depending on the actual weight of your inventory, the services you select, and any additional costs.
- Binding estimate: A binding estimate attaches a flat fee to a move based on the details of your home and its inventory. You will not pay higher than the binding estimate as long as details about your move do not change after the fact. You will pay additional costs if items are added to the inventory or the weight is higher than the survey predicted.
- Not-to-exceed estimate: Not all moving companies offer not-to-exceed estimates, but they are a great option for keeping final costs in line with your budget. If your move is larger than predicted by the company, it cannot charge higher than the quoted price. If your move is smaller than predicted, your final cost will be adjusted to reflect a lower overall cost.
Most professional moving companies charge an up-front deposit, and there can be dramatic differences in the deposit requirements. Before you book your move, ask about the company’s deposit percentage and whether the deposit is refundable if you cancel.
Non-reputable moving companies often charge exorbitant deposits. In our 2022 survey of 1,000 consumers who had hired a long-distance moving company, participants who paid deposits over 50% of the total moving cost experienced more frequent issues during their move than those who paid less. Some of the notable issues included the movers failing to deliver on the agreed upon date and the final price exceeding the initial moving estimate. Additionally, the FMCSA cites large deposit requirements as a potential red flag.
Online Resources To Help With Moving Costs
There are numerous online resources on moving provider websites to help estimate moving costs and reduce costs. Here are a few resources to look for when weighing your options.
- Moving calculator: Some movers host online moving cost calculators to generate an instant sample quote based on the basic details of your move. It’s critical to keep in mind that these sample quotes are to give you a rough price range and will often not reflect the true moving costs.
- Moving checklist: Moving checklists are common on websites for moving companies, providing guidance on preparing for an upcoming move. Checklists often include information about cutting moving costs by downsizing. For instance, you may want to donate some items to charity to reduce the weight of your inventory. Charitable donations are also tax deductible, saving you additional money in the long run.
- Packing calculator: You may find a packing calculator on the website for many moving providers, allowing you to estimate the type and amount of packing supplies you will need. This tool won’t save you money, but it will give you an idea of what costs to expect for packing supplies and is particularly helpful for DIY moves.
The details of moving costs can seem overwhelming, but the more you know ahead of time, the better your chances of avoiding unpleasant financial surprises. Before hiring a mover, we recommend requesting at least three quotes and reading through the fine print of each estimate. If you don’t see information about the additional costs we mentioned, make sure to ask a company representative.
FAQs About Moving Costs
Our Rating Methodology
The This Old House Reviews Team backs up our moving company ratings and recommendations with a detailed rating methodology to objectively score each company. We conduct research by reading through the company websites, analyzing customer reviews, conducting consumer surveys, requesting quotes, and speaking with customer representatives. We then score each moving company against our review standards for services, contents coverage, scheduling, trailer and container options, additional benefits, and reputation to arrive at a final score out of 100.
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