How Do Moving Companies Charge?

At a glance

If you’ve ever requested a moving estimate, then you know that the cost factors for moving are confusing and often withheld. What’s the point of all this secrecy?

Competition, for one thing. If companies were 100% forthright with their prices, they could lose their competitive edge. Companies also keep pricing a secret to avoid misleading customers. Exact prices are based on individual circumstances and can be deceiving when taken out of context.

To demystify moving expenses, we’ve broken down how moving companies typically determine prices, though each company does it a little differently.

So how do moving companies charge? There are seven factors that affect the price of your move:

  1. What type of move you’re doing
  2. The weight of your shipment
  3. The distance and route between your old home and your new one
  4. When you’re moving
  5. How long your move takes
  6. The price of special services
  7. The price of moving coverage

Keep reading to learn how these factors determine your price. Along the way, we’ll also throw in some money-saving tips!

What goes into the price of your move

1. Move type

Your moving method is arguably the most significant pricing factor. Using moving containers is typically cheaper than hiring full-service movers, and renting a moving truck that you pack and drive yourself is almost always your cheapest option.

(Though if you’re moving long distance, moving containers can be cheaper than rental trucks once you factor in gas, hotels, and road trip food).

Keep in mind that a lower price comes with less convenience, so going with a cheaper service means you’ll have to do more work yourself.

How much does it cost to move?

Move typeFull-service moveMoving container moveDIY with moving truck rental
Local move (100 miles or less)$550–$2,000$500–$1,500$132–$336
Long-distance move (100 miles or more)$2,000–$7,500$1,500–$5,000$500–$1,700
Move type
Local move (100 miles or less)
Long-distance move (100 miles or more)
Full-service move Moving container move DIY with moving truck rental
$550–$2,000 $500–$1,500 $132–$336
$2,000–$7,500 $1,500–$5,000 $500–$1,700

Data current as of 1/23/2020.

These are broad estimates—the exact price of your move will vary depending on your shipment weight, your move distance, and the other factors we’ll get to below.

If you want to learn more about how much moving costs, read our guide to moving prices.

2. Shipment weight

Your shipment weight is the total weight of everything the moving company delivers to your new home. Shipment weight is among the most important factors in your final price, so one of the best ways to save money on your move is to go full Marie Kondo on your home and get rid of as much as possible.

Online estimates vs. in-home estimates

When you request an online moving estimate, you usually have to fill out an inventory checklist. This gives the moving company a rough idea of how much your stuff will weigh, and it’ll generate a ballpark estimate to help you budget and make a decision.

However, your final price won’t be set until an estimator from the company comes to your home to inspect every box of books, every couch, every dining set, and every stuffed animal you’re shipping. They’ll keep a careful tally of every item’s weight and size (bulky items can require special care and cost more).

After the inspection, you’ll get a binding estimate with a more accurate price than the initial moving quote.

If you want to downsize before your in-home inspection, we recommend tossing old junk or donating some furniture with one of our favorite junk removal companies.

Info box icon

“Doesn’t the size of my home matter?”

“Doesn’t the size of my home matter?”

Yes and no. Home size sometimes helps movers make educated guesses about how much stuff you own, so they may ask you how large your home is before giving you an initial moving quote. But the square footage of your home is never a determining factor in your final price.

In fact, if a company charges you based on the size of your home, watch out. It may be trying to scam you.

3. Distance and routes

It should come as no surprise that the distance between your old home and your new home is a key factor in your move’s price. It just makes sense that moving 1,000 miles costs more than moving 500 miles, though there are some exceptions.

Surprisingly, the route your movers take can matter just as much as the distance they drive. If your old and new homes both sit beside major highways, your 1000-mile move may be significantly cheaper than if you were moving several hundred miles along back roads.

Why? If you’re moving along a major highway, it’s likely you’re moving in the same direction as someone else. If you both hire the same company, the movers may put both your loads in the same truck (with proper partitions between them) to save time and fuel, making your move less expensive.

Port-to-port delivery

If you don’t live by a major highway, don’t despair. You can still get good rates by choosing port-to-port delivery instead of door-to-door delivery. With this option, your moving company will take your household goods from the port (the shipping station the company owns) that’s closest to your old home to the port that’s closest to your new home.

Port-to-port delivery can save you a lot of money, but you have to take your belongings from your old home to the first port, pick them up at the receiving port, and take them from there to your new home yourself.

You’ll probably need to rent a moving truck at both ends, but it can still be cheaper (though far less convenient) than paying for door-to-door delivery.

Bullhorn

Moving across the country?

Moving across the country?

Cross-country moving is always expensive, and you can’t just modify how far you need to move to save money. However, there are a few other ways to stay within your budget during a long-distance move. Go check out our guide to cheap cross-country moving to learn more.

4. Seasonality

Moving rates are partially determined by truck availability, meaning that if more people are moving when you are, you’ll end up paying more. Roughly 80% of moves take place between April and September,1 so you can expect rates to go up in summer and down in late fall and winter.

Life happens. Sometimes you need to move on short notice, and you can’t always strategically plan what time of year you’re going to move. If you can swing it, though, avoiding peak moving season can save you a lot of money.

Another way to beat the seasonality problem is to schedule your move as far in advance as possible. If you’re the first person scheduling a move in July, you might get a better rate than the people who book their moves after you.

5. Hourly labor

Full-service moves include loading and unloading, meaning the moving crew will load your household goods into their truck, drive them to your new home, and unload them there. You can waive this service to save money if you want, but the convenience is hard to beat.

Some full-service movers estimate how long this will take based on how much stuff you have and charge you for that amount of time beforehand. This is most typical for interstate moves. For local moves, your moving company will probably total hourly rates after the move is complete.

If you’re moving with storage pods or a rental truck, your moving company may offer optional moving assistance for an hourly rate.

6. Add-on services and special accommodations

An add-on service is anything that isn’t included in the base package for your move. These moving services are optional, but they cost extra. Some companies offer totally unique add-ons, like Mayflower’s identity theft protection, but here are some of the most common ones:

  • Auto shipping
  • Temporary/long-term storage
  • Home theater setup
  • Trash removal
  • Computer network setup
  • Furniture assembly/disassembly
  • Hot tub shipping
  • Packing
  • Piano transport
  • Providing boxes and packing supplies
  • Washer/dryer hookup
  • Transportation for antiques and other specialty items

The company may also charge extra if the moving crew needs to make special accommodations for your move. For example, if you live in a third-floor apartment without an elevator, your moving crew will have to carry everything you own down several flights of stairs. Some companies give you one flight of stairs for free, but others charge a fee for every stair.

Get money

Not all last-minute charges are hidden fees

Not all last-minute charges are hidden fees

Lots of dishonest moving companies hit their customers with hidden fees, drastically increasing their prices at the last minute for things customers never agreed to.

That said, not every additional fee is “hidden” or evidence that a company is shady. If your moving crew shows up on moving day and you have more things to move than you disclosed or you need special accommodations you forgot to mention, don’t be surprised if your bill goes up at the last minute.

7. Moving coverage

Moving coverage is an insurance-like service that protects your household goods while they’re en route. While some companies have unique types of moving coverage, it usually comes in two flavors:

  • Basic liability coverage (also called released value protection)
  • Full-value protection

Moving companies are required by law to provide basic liability coverage to their customers for free. While this sounds nice, this coverage is . . . well, basic. It covers your belongings for just $0.60 per pound.

Here’s an example of how it works:

Let’s say you bought an armoire for $300, then moved a couple years later. If that armoire weighed 40 pounds and you went with basic liability coverage, you’d get reimbursed $24 if the armoire got damaged or went missing during delivery. While $24 is better than nothing, it wouldn’t be enough to replace the armoire.

Full-value protection is optional coverage that protects your household items at their market value, but it can get very expensive. Every moving company handles full-value protection a little differently, so be sure to speak to your customer service representative about how it works and how much it costs.

While going with basic liability protection may seem like the budget-friendly choice, we want to stress that replacing a necessary piece of furniture can cost much more than covering it.

If you want to learn more about coverage rates and options, read our guide to moving coverage.

Moving costs FAQ

How can I save money on my move?

Here are a few quick tips for staying within your budget:

  • Don’t move during peak moving season (between April and December).
  • Downsize as much as you can before moving day.
  • Do most of the work yourself instead of paying for deluxe services or hiring movers.
  • Opt for port-to-port delivery.
  • Check for special (military, senior, student, seasonal) discounts.

Some moving companies also offer discounts to customers who pay with cash instead of a credit card, so if you can afford to pay with cash up front, ask if your moving company offers this discount.

Should I tip my movers?

Like tipping your server at a restaurant, tipping your movers is never required. A tip should be based on service quality. The recommended tip amount is 15%–20% of your move price for larger moves (several bedrooms or a lot of mileage) and 5%–10% for smaller moves (local and apartment moves).

To learn more about gratuities for moving crews, read our guide to tipping your movers.

Recommended resources

Now that you know how moving companies determine their rates, here are some other articles we recommend checking out before your big move:

People also asked. . .

Here are a few guides we wrote to answer questions from budget-conscious customers like you:

Sources

  1. Moving Labor, “When Is the Peak Moving Season?

About Joe Roberts

Joe Roberts
Joe Roberts is a professional writer with a degree in writing studies and over three years of copywriting experience. He previously worked at Overstock.com, where he wrote about furniture, home decor, and moving. Joe has moved all over Utah, so he knows his way around a moving truck—and he spends his time (and money) expanding his personal library so it will be even heavier next time he moves.