What Goes Into a Moving Estimate?

Julia Campbell
Researcher & Writer
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Published on January 29, 2021
6 min read

At a glance

Hiring full-service movers is the most expensive way to move, but by using a moving service you save time and effort while avoiding potential new grey hairs. Once you’ve found a full-service moving company you’re willing to spend money on, getting an estimate can help you know how much to budget for.

A moving estimate helps moving companies determine how many crew members and how much equipment to provide for your move. It’s also a chance to identify challenging logistics like how mover-friendly your current home is and how to arrange furniture in the moving truck.

Lucky for you, there are three types of estimates: in-house estimates, over-the-phone estimates, and virtual estimates.

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The whole picture

What’s the difference between in-home estimates, over-the-phone estimates, and virtual estimates?

An in-home moving estimate means a moving agent will come to your home and assess how much your move will cost. This is the most accurate estimate type, and it provides prospective movers with precise quotes of how much the whole shebang will cost.

An over-the-phone moving estimate is the easier, lower-hassle version of its in-home counterpart. That said, it’s usually less accurate. You’ll still work closely with a moving coordinator by walking them through everything you need moved, but if you’re away from home when you make the call, you run the risk of relying on recollection.

We recommend preparing for your phone call by making a list of all the inventory you want to move so you can use it as a guide during your phone call.

Virtual estimates are still relatively rare, but more and more companies are offering them lately, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many to evolve. They can work in two ways. One method is filling out a detailed inventory and sending it to the company online. In the other method, you video call your estimator and give them a virtual tour of all your belongings.

What factors affect a moving quote?

Factors that influence your moving cost range anywhere from how much space the moving van has in the driveway to the number of stairs movers have to hustle up. Here’s a list of other things that can determine how much moola you end up spending in total:

  • The amount of furniture you have and how much space it’ll take up in a moving truck
  • How well your items fit into a moving truck
  • How easily movers are able to transport inventory in and out (for example, whether your sectional won’t make it through the front door)
  • The total weight of your inventory
  • The distance you’ll be moving
  • The route your movers have to take between your old and new home (some companies have different rates in different regions, and rural regions almost always cost more)
  • The number of stairs or use of elevators movers have to account for when moving goods to and fro (also known as flight charge)
  • Time of year (moving prices usually increase during the summer, for example, because it’s the most popular time to move)
  • Additional moving services like packing, custom crafting, etc.

Because every move is unique, moving companies don’t have set prices—it’s all case-by-case. For a more in-depth review of overall pricing, check out our article on moving costs.

What can I expect from an in-home estimate?

An in-home moving estimate is the most common estimate type—and that’s because it’s the most accurate. Allowing moving companies in your home to calculate the cost of your move lets the agent see all your inventory and include things you may have forgotten otherwise.

A moving coordinator will poke their head in any cabinets, closets, and other areas that aren’t visible—like underneath beds. So if you have a cabinet that things tend to disappear into, now's the time to clean it out.

A lot of people wonder if they need to be home during an in-home moving estimate—and the answer is yes. You do have to be there to walk them through each room. A phone estimate, however, means you can be wherever your heart desires.

What can I expect from an over-the-phone estimate?

With an over-the-phone estimate you skip out on having to take time off work and walking a stranger through your house.

The consultant you’ll speak with will ask about the logistics of your move (e.g., beginning and end locations, move date, etc.). From here, you’ll list the items you want to move room by room to a rep—and this is where you can forget things on your inventory if you’re not careful.

In an in-home estimate, you can walk from room to room and make sure you’re including everything, whereas in an over-the-phone estimate, you may not be at home, and could potentially forget certain things like wall decor or your knockoff Turkish rug.

While good moving companies know this and will remind you of these things, you should create a thorough list of your inventory before you call— just to be safe.

What can I expect from a virtual estimate?

Like an over-the-phone estimate, getting a virtual estimate means you don’t actually have to physically meet with someone. However, you do still need to walk your estimator through your home room-by-room unless your estimate is based on an online inventory sheet.

If you’re getting your estimate by giving your estimator a virtual tour, it will work like a hybrid of an in-home estimate and an over-the-phone estimate. The consultant will ask everything they’d normally ask over the phone, but they’ll also be able to see everything you’re hiring the company to move for you.

As with all other estimate methods, it’s essential that you tell your estimator about everything you’re moving.

When you should get an in-home estimate

Generally, if your home is bigger than a two-bedroom apartment your best bet is to go with an in-home moving estimate.

What’s the difference between binding and non-binding estimates?

In a binding moving estimate, movers can’t change the quote price on moving day. Basically, you’ll pay the set price you and your agent planned for, even if you take out items included in your moving estimate.

So even if you decided last minute to throw out your ratty college futon, you’d still have to pay the price you were originally quoted.

Keep in mind, though, that if you add something to your move after you’ve already gotten your binding estimate, your price can still go up on moving day. If your movers show up and you have a sofa or desk that isn’t included in your estimate, you should plan to pay extra.

This is why it’s essential that you fully disclose everything you’re moving to your estimator. Anything you forget (or “forget”) about will become a price hike later.

In a non-binding moving estimate, movers can change the quote price on moving day. The final breakdown of everything is flexible and will depend on the weight of your belongings, the labor and services, and any taxes.

If numbers are your thing and you want to know exactly how much your move is going to cost you, you’re probably better off using a binding estimate.

How to tell if an estimate is binding

In a binding estimate, movers are obligated to move your goods for the price they quoted. But it must be clearly stated in writing that your estimate is binding. If your estimate doesn’t say “binding” on it, it’s not a binding estimate.

Moving estimate FAQ

How much time will it take to get an estimate?

The time needed to get your estimate is roughly the same for all three options—on average it takes around forty-five minutes. That said, every estimate comes down to how big your current crib is and how much you need to move.

Ultimately, though, in-home, and virtual estimates require more prep time when you factor in how long it’ll take you to get home if you’re leaving work to meet the consultant plus how long it’ll take to clean and prepare the house for the evaluation.

How can I set up an appointment to get an estimate?

You can schedule either estimate by filling out a form online or by simply giving your moving company a call. We recommend filling out the form—it takes all of two minutes and a representative calls you back to set up a time for an estimate anyway, regardless of your method of choice.

When should I schedule an estimate?

The date of your move will likely affect whether or not your moving company of choice is available, so we recommend scheduling an appointment as soon as you decide to move or once you know when you’re moving.

A good rule of thumb is to schedule your estimate at least four weeks before your preferred move date.

Does getting an estimate cost money?

No, moving companies are required to give no-cost estimates. But moving companies recognize the value in giving estimates—they establish rapport with customers and help those customers make informed decisions about booking.

How do I know if the estimate is legit?

To be on the safe side, we recommend scheduling three estimates with three different companies so you can compare prices, find trends between each estimate, and then pick the best option for you. And, as you now know, over-the-phone estimates make that easy if you’re strapped for time.

Unsure if a company is legit?

If a company is giving you an extremely low price, it might be a moving scam. Luckily, there are a few ways to determine if a company is trustworthy. Check out our guide to moving scams to learn how to tell the difference between good and bad moving companies.

Ready to get your moving estimate?

Check out our list of the best interstate moving companies to see which ones would fit the bill for you.

Additional resources

Now that you know all about moving estimates, prepare for other parts of your move by reading these guides:

Joe Roberts also contributed to this article.

Julia Campbell
Written by
Julia Campbell
Julia Campbell is a full-time writer who knows the tricks of the trade when it comes to planning a hassle-free move. Having moved seven times in the past five years, she draws from her own experience and industry expertise to help you avoid her biggest mistakes (like that time she thought she could get away with packing her dishes without wrapping them first).