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Estimates 101

When you move, it makes sense to get multiple estimates. Before you do this, it's important to understand the estimate process. If you don't, you may end up making a bad decision.

So - what is an estimate anyway? Basically, an estimate is an opportunity for a mover to give you their best guess about how much your move will cost. Notice that I use the word 'guess', because that's really what it is. Moving is a complicated process, and there can be any number of small delays or difficulties during the course of the day. But`it's also possible for things to go better than expected, and for the job to get finished early.

The accuracy of the estimate is really dependent on the following factors:

1) Customer Honesty. A lot of people will downplay the extent of their move, in an effort to get a lower price. I had one gentleman who walked though his apartment with me, and kept saying "Don't worry about that piece, I will take it in my car". After a number of these statements I finally looked at him and asked him "What sort of car do you have? It sounds like it may be bigger than my truck!". I gave him an estimate for moving everything, and sure enough, NOTHING was in his car but one suitcase.

Another thing that we hear a lot is "Don't worry about that _________, I'm going to sell it". Well, maybe you won't be able to. Just assume we're going to take it, and then if you do sell it, we can give you a lower price.

Another major error can occur with attics and storage areas. Your estimator may not know you stored your bowling ball collection under the house, and he probably wouldn't expect that to be the case. Be sure and tell the estimator about anything that is hidden or unusual.

2) Crew Quality. When you select a moving company, it may be because you like the estimator. If you get an estimator that seems like a straight shooter, that's terrific, but remember one thing. That estimator is NOT likely to be there on the day of the move. He or she is a salesman, and may not even know who will be sent out to move you. This is particulalry true in large companies. The truth is that the quality of the crew will greatly affect the success of your move. They need to be professionals who do this for a living, and have been doing it for at least a year. And even a good crew can be adversely affected from time to time. Factors like excessive heat can make a long move very difficult. Inclement weather like rain, ice, or snow can make even a simple move dangerous and difficult. It's also possible in some companies that a crew will put in 60 or 70 hours a week during the busy season. These things can certainly affect the accuracy of the estimate.

3) Unforseen difficulties. There are some pieces of furniture that are just plain troublesome to move. As an example, consider this. Typically, moving a small spinet piano is not very hard. Two strong guys can generally take care of it pretty quickly. But we did a 3rd floor apartment once that had what looked like a normal piano. It turned out that it was actually made in Germany back in 1903. As near as I could tell, someone must have just hollowed out a tree and put keys on it. It took four of us to lift it, and we could move it perhaps 1 to 2 feet before setting it back down. Getting it down from the 3rd floor to the truck was not an experience I would ever want to repeat. So, that move definitely took longer than estimated.

4) Problems at the destination. Your estimator will be able to see your current home, and can judge how long it will take to load your belonging into the truck, but what about the destination? Are there problems there we ought to know about? Our office in Charlotte NC moved an NFL player into his new home. Unfortunately, that home had huge fountain right in the middle of driveway. There was no way to get a moving truck past it. So, he ended up having to load each piece of furniture into a pickup truck, and shuttling it all to the house.

We have also seen cases where a person moves into an apartment complex where the parking lot is hundreds of feet from the apartment. These sorts of things will cause major delays, and can blow an estimate out of the water.

5) Estimator Honesty. There are many companies out there that will flat out LIE. They know that if they get you to select them, it will be very hard for you to get someone else at the last minute. They will say anything to get the job, and could care less if you are well served or not. It's imperative that you use common sense. If you talk to three estimators, and one of them gives you a quote that is 50% below the other two, there may be something fishy going on. By all means, check the local BBB, and demand references whenever possible.

Doing your own estimate: Here's a real simple rule of thumb - An average room will take about an hour to move. If you have a ranch style house, with 3 bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and a family room, assume that it will take about 6 hours to move. A garage would be another hour. If you have an upstairs, add an hour for that as well. So if you have a 4 bedroom house with a garage, and your estimator tells you it will take 3 hours, show him the door. He's a liar and a thief.

Estimate Types Depending on the State you live in, you may be able to select one of three different types of estimates.

Non-Binding A non-binding estimate is done either by weight, or by the hour, and you don't have any guarantee about how much you will pay. This is very common in small local moves, where a mover will give you an hourly rate for 2 or 3 men and a truck. They will arrive and work until they are finished, and you pay for the time used. Generally speaking, if you have just booked a move over the phone, this is the type of estimate you will have. Movers won't generally commit to a specific price if they haven't seen what you have.

Binding Your estimator may look at your belongings and say "I will move this for $2000". With this method, you know exactly what you're going to pay, and the mover has a great incentive to get done as quickly as possible, so they can get to something else the same day if possible. Just keep in mind that if you sell half your belongings, you're still going to pay $2000.

NTE (Not to exceed) This is a combination of the other two methods. This estimate says your move will be billed hourly, but will not exceed a maximum price. If I were hiring a mover, this is what I would select. You are protected on the high side, but can also benefit on the low side.

Your estimate will also include Ancillary charges, but that's a subject in itself, and I'll address that in a separate post.

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