|Quick take on moving: Estimates of
Movers like to say
that comparing estimates is like comparing apples to apples -- but
it doesn't always work out that way. You did what you were supposed
to do. You let three sales reps from three companies traipse through
your house, eyeballing everything you have -- only to come up with
three estimates that aren't even close. Here's what often goes wrong
when getting an estimate -- in no particular order of blame.
The customer gets it wrong
The customer underestimates what's going to be moved.
"You'll say to the
customer, 'Is there anything in the basement that needs to go?'
" says Chris Noblit of Avatar
Moving Systems in Bohemia, N.Y. "The customer says no. So you
go in the basement and come out with 2,000 more pounds. And she
says 'Oh, I forgot the metal shelf and the Christmas decorations
and the ... ' "
The lucky customer
has a sales rep who goes through the house room by room, including
the basement, garage and any other storage areas, carefully making
note of everything he or she sees. But inexperienced sales reps
simply may take a customer's word that nothing in the basement is
being moved. They probably will come up with a low-ball estimate.
It doesn't matter
who underestimates the load -- customer or sales rep. The bottom
line is it results in a big hassle and increased expense for the
An estimate includes
how much furniture, clothing, etc. is being moved; services the
mover will provide, such as packing, and accessorial charges for
long carries, stairs, elevators, moving a car, etc. Most movers
will allow for a carry of 75 feet from truck to door. Anything more
than that is considered a long carry and costs extra.
can be costly
If the big moving van can't get to your old home or new home because
the street is too narrow or there are low-hanging tree branches,
a shuttle may be necessary. This means everything has to be loaded
onto a smaller truck temporarily. That will be included in the estimate
as well as "additional transportation charges," which compensate
the mover for services performed in cities where labor rates are
Also look for something
called advanced charges. They cover additional costs for having
someone other than the mover dismantle things such as pool tables
are very common," says Jim Dalessandro of MoveSource
based in St. Clair Shores, Mich. "There are third-party companies
that provide that type of service -- disconnect a washer or dryer
or gas stove, for instance. Some movers will do that themselves,
but we'll bring in someone qualified to do that safely."
Dalessandro says customers
also should check the estimates to make sure they account for bulky
items, such as a piano, that require extra handling and may take
up space on the truck volume-wise vs. weight. With all of this to
keep in mind, it's easy to see how estimates can vary.
"When we walk through
the house we have a table of estimates called the cube sheet," says
Avatar's Noblit. "It lists about 150 items, everything imaginable.
We put a tick mark next to every item we see. The sheet then calculates
the total cubic footage so they know how much space it will take
up on the truck. If one mover comes up with an estimate of 1,000
cubic feet, which is then multiplied by 7 for a total weight of
7,000 pounds, and another mover comes up with 1,500 for a total
of 10,500 pounds, what's the problem? The big discrepancy is salesman
No. 1 didn't put as many ticks on the cube sheet as salesman No.
on quality of estimate
That's why Noblit says customers shouldn't focus so much on the
price as on the quality of the estimate.
"The highest weight
estimate the customer sees is probably the most accurate," according
to Noblit. "The common wisdom in purchasing is throw out the high
and the low estimates and go with the middle -- not here."
Noblit advises customers
to pick the agent they're most comfortable with. Referrals, initial
phone contact and meeting the sales rep all need to be factored
into the process. But referrals can be tricky. Someone telling you
Allied ... or United ... or Mayflower did a great job may not be
"People look in the
phone book for a name they trust. They don't understand each agent
is independently owned and operated. They see a nice ad in the yellow
pages and say 'I know that name.' It validates the fact that it's
a big name," says Noblit. "But your best bet could be a little mom-and-pop
outfit or a mega-agent. Do due diligence to find the good agents."
Customers like binding estimates. They figure they're protected
from higher charges being tacked on at the last minute when their
stuff is on the van and they're feeling like a hostage. But the
binding estimate only covers what's accounted for on the estimate
sheet, says George Bennett of the American
Moving and Storage Association headquartered in Alexandria,
"If you know you're
having a yard sale and you say, 'Give me a binding estimate on everything
except the stuff in the garage because I'm going to sell it.' Well,
for some reason you don't sell it. Now, the driver pulls up and
the homeowner says, 'I also have this.' Someone has to come out
and redo the estimate."
Movers are allowed
to charge for a binding estimate. Movers can't charge for giving
a nonbinding estimate even though that's the only kind some movers
If the move costs more than is stated on the nonbinding estimate
and the customer disputes the amount or can't afford to pay the
additional amount when the goods are delivered, there's a bit of
a reprieve. The customer has to pay the initial estimate plus 10
percent of the additional cost upon delivery. The customer then
has 30 days to pay the remainder or argue. But remember, the mover
will have weight tickets to show the load was heavier than expected
or will have other documentation to prove there was a longer carry
than expected or a shuttle was needed, etc.
If a mover does give
binding estimates, you may want to ask for a "not to exceed" estimate.
"The smart customer,"
says Bennett of the moving association, "will say, 'I'd like to
have a binding estimate and then I'd like to have the truck weighed
and figure that cost and get the lower of the two.' "
A good mover will
do that automatically, but it's best to ask.
Now that you have
three estimates, what's next?
back to low bidders
According to Noblit, find the one with the highest weight and the
one with all the carries and all the extras, call the others back
and say, "I'd like to see your estimate with five long carries and
9,500 pounds. Please revise your estimate."
Now, says Noblit,
everyone should be on a level playing field -- the only difference
will be the discount. This, he says, is where quality comes into
"A 5 percent difference
in a discount on a $10,000 move is $500. I'm not a big discounter,"
he says. "I'm competitive, but when they're at 55 percent, I'm at
45 percent. You can shop 'til you drop. You'll find price, but you'll
also find pain."
Updated: Aug. 3, 2001