How to negotiate with moving companies

moving company truck

Anyone that's been through a big move knows it’s a painful process.  Finding a reputable mover at a reasonable price can be a challenge.  Add to that the stress of packing, trusting strangers with everything you own, and setting up life in a new place can give anyone a headache.  But hopefully, these tips that will make the process a little more bearable (and affordable). 

Before you select a mover, remember that moving services are negotiable, but you only want to consider the highest quality moving companies.  Unlike some other industries, you don’t necessarily want to find the cheapest company out there.  Start by asking friends for referrals and lookup each company with the Better Business Bureau.  Narrow your search to 3 or 4 reputable movers and then make them compete against each other. 

You may have read how to buy a car by creating a competitive bidding situation.  But did you know the same negotiating technique can be used in a variety of other situations? 

  • Haggling for lawn care treatments
  • Picking a moving company
  • Selecting contractors for home improvements
  • Getting the best interest rate for a mortgage (or re-finance)

We’ll explore more of these topics in future posts.

Get Moving Estimates

Start out by calling movers and getting estimates.  Make sure you ask each company to quote the same things.  Each estimate should cover the same inventory and contractual items.  You want to compare apples to apples. 

Some companies will provide an estimate over the phone and others will walk through your house inventorying every item. Estimators will estimate the weight of each item individually and use that to calculate the weight of your entire house.   

When getting an estimate, be sure to address these items to avoid surprise charges later:

  • Indicate whether you will be packing/unpacking yourself or if the movers will do this for you.  Also, find out if any packing materials are included in the price.
  • Identify any large items that may require special handling like a piano, hot-tub, or bar.
  • Is there street access for a large moving truck?  If not they may need to pick-up using a smaller vehicle and transfer items to another vehicle.  This may cost extra.
  • Point out if you do not have a first floor entrance at either the pick-up or destination.  Again, see if this costs extra.
  • Determine the type and price of insurance available ($.60/lb, full replacement cost, etc.)
  • Will you need them to provide temporary storage facilities and what is the cost?

How do moving companies charge?

Some companies will charge you based on an hourly rate, some by volume, and some by the weight of the load and distance.  It’s not universal, but most local moves are by the hour and interstate moves are by weight.  They’ll weigh an empty moving truck, load up your possessions, and then weight it again.  The difference is how much your stuff weighs. 

See if you can get a maximum weight allowance included in the contract.  That way, if the actual weight exceeds the estimate, you will only have to pay extra fees up to a certain point.  On my last move they estimated 1500lbs and when it was weighed it came to 2,000lbs.  Fortunately, I had a maximum allowance of 1500 lbs. and saved myself a lot of money.

How to negotiate with movers (flowchart)

Assuming each of the companies you’ve selected are all of similar quality, then you can negotiate strictly on price.  You’ll want to negotiate based on the total estimated price, but you may have to explain how it was reached (i.e. how many pounds the other company estimated).

In the example below, you’ll get moving estimates from 4 companies.  You’ll then make them compete against each other to systematically reduce your price.

 moving company negotiating steps

More Tips for Negotiating with Movers

Get a written contract before starting a move.  Do not rely on verbal agreements.  You must have everything in writing to protect yourself.

Are you flexible on the dates of your move?  Depending on the time of the month or season premiums or discounts may apply.  For example, most rental properties have leases starting on the first of the month, so movers are often busier at that time.  You may be able to get a discount by moving mid-month or during the week.

One last moving tip…tipping!

Always tip the movers on both ends of the trip.  Usually $20 per person is reasonable.  You’ll do this after loading and unloading so it’s best to subtley hint in advance by saying something like, “if you guys take care of my stuff, I’ll take care of you”.  This may cost you an extra $120 or so, but is well worth it.  You’re asking them to take good care of all your worldly possessions and you want them to be happy campers.

Do you have any tips for choosing movers?  Do you tip movers (and how much)?

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