Exploring the Potential Hidden Costs of Hiring a Mover + Tips to Ensure You Get a Good Deal

Exploring the Potential Hidden Costs of Hiring a Mover + Tips to Ensure You Get a Good Deal

Moving can be an incredibly stressful and expensive experience. Although the costs of hiring a professional mover will vary depending on the size of your move and the distance you’re traveling, there are some additional fees that may not be immediately obvious. To help make a decision on which mover best fits your budgetary needs, you first need to know how costs are laid out, things to look for and ask moving companies when soliciting quotes, and how to make sure you get the best bang for your buck.

There are three main components that determine the overall value (both explicit and implicit) of hiring a mover. The elements of costs, time, and quality (in the moving business, this is how well they care for your belongings) make up the value matrix, and typically you get 2 of the 3 elements at the expense of the third. Because cost is usually pretty high up on the decision tree, we’ll focus on how you can truly manage the cost element to get the best value.

Breakdown of typical moving costs

Typically professional movers break their quotes out into: 1) Hourly labor rate, 2)Travel fees, 3)Materials/miscellaneous. And while each one of these cost breakouts seem pretty straight forward, there are plenty of ways that a moving company can hide fees that help their bottom line while inflating your cost.  Understanding how each of these costs are calculated and what value you’re getting for that cost can help make sure you’re making the right decision on hiring a mover.

Professional Moving Labor Costs

Hourly Labor Rate

The main thing to understand with an hourly rate is how many workers you are buying for that hourly rate. A lot of people will look at the quoted hourly rate and just make a comparison across moving companies, but what you should really be looking at is the number of workers you are getting for that price. Company A will quote you $149/hour and Company B will quote you $199/hour, but dig deeper and you might discover that that $149/hour buys you 2 guys ($74.50/hr per worker), or $199/hour buys you 3 guys ($66.33/hr per worker). The assumption is that 3 workers can move a house quicker than 2, so anticipate paying for more hours with 2 guys.

Time Minimums And Hourly Breakdowns

Have a small house or apartment you need help moving? As part of the quote process, most movers have a minimum number of hours that you’ll be charged. If you have a small house that only takes the moving company 2 hours to complete, but they quoted you a minimum of 3 hours, means you are paying a premium for a small job. Look for the minimum billed hours in the quote.

Another place to look for hourly rate savings is how the company actually bills the hourly rate. Is it in 15 minute increments, 30 minute increments, or in whole hour increments regardless of time actually worked? The movers worked 2.5 hours, but billed you for 3 because they billed in whole hours? You paid a premium. Time is money, so try to find movers that bill in smaller increments. 

Day Of Week Differences In Hourly Rates

No one WANTS to move, but EVERYONE wants to move Friday through Sunday and the reason is simple: Convenience. And because of this convenience factor, demand for movers is greater Friday through Sunday. Some movers will discount low volume days (typically Tues-Wed) so if you have the flexibility to move in the middle of the week you can save money by not paying the premium for the added convenience of weekend slots. Same goes for holidays.

Travel Fees

One of the least transparent of the overall quote and cost of a move can be the travel expense. As a consumer, look hard at this part of the quote. Many moving companies hide expensive miscellaneous fees within this cost line item of a quote.

Travel Fees

There are 3 main ways that moving companies will build a travel fee into their business and quote models: 1) Flat rate-usually done as 1 hour of quoted hourly rate, 2) Time based-once again, typically based on an hourly rate, and billed in same increments (15 min, 30 min, etc.), 3) Distance based-which typically involves pinning their business on a map and calculating the distance from their offices to 1st stop, any remaining stops, and back to their offices. The distance-based model provides the greatest level of transparency because it accounts for the distance versus time. If the total distance traveled is low, the travel fee slides down with it and vice versa for longer distances. It also blunts the element of time (think rush hour traffic versus non peak traffic times to go the same distance).

Fuel Surcharges

This charge typically ends up as a line item on your contract, much like taxes on other purchases. But beware, as this line item can make up a big number(we've seen as high as 18%) on the overall bill. Some companies charge this as a percentage of the total move (so you’re paying it based on labor, rather than fuel use or distance traveled). It can be a very large surprise at the end of your move, so ask questions to make sure you understand if there is a surcharge and how it’s calculated.

Equipment Fees

This is an interesting catch all cost bucket for travel expenses and can be made up of a variety of things. Some are easy to understand, some are not. Typically they are another way for moving companies to cover costs by inserting coverage for truck maintenance, insurance, and fuel. Ask a lot of questions if you see a line item for equipment to get a better understanding of whether or not the moving company is passing along their expenses to you.

Materials And Miscellaneous Moving Costs

Moving Materials

Now there are two separate topics when it comes to materials expenses. One is for packing belongings up, which we will handle in a separate post. The other is materials needed for the actual move itself. Typically these materials are made up of shrink wrap, bubble wrap, blankets, and tape used to protect the belongings being moved. Other materials may be anything used to protect goods during the transport, like load bars, straps, and other separating materials to keep items from shifting.

Some companies will pass along many of these charges, calling them consumables, packing materials, or protection. Typically if these are being added to the cost of the move, it is done either by estimating the amount of protective materials needed based upon contents and size of the house, or by a simple percentage calculation of the total cost of the move (5-9% is common). Once again, ask the question about how this is calculated to make sure that it won’t create a surprise on move day.

Miscellaneous Fees

These fees are where some moving companies really get creative. Here are just a few of the various ways that some movers cover their costs:

  • Protection Fees – In essence, the mover is charging you up front for a potential payout of a damage claim (TX regulations require $.60 per lb coverage for anything damaged in transit)
  • One-time charges – Once again, the moving company is amortizing out their expenses involving their vehicle/liability insurance, fuel, etc.
  • Distance from parked truck to residence – If they have to walk beyond a certain distance or flights of stairs, or use an elevator in a high rise, they may add a fee. Some of these were up to $100 of the total move (on top of the hourly rate).
  • Heavy item charges – Some moving companies have sliding charges for each item over 150 lbs or 300 lbs that can add significant expense (we saw up to $75/per item over a certain weight). Taking a clear inventory of your heavy items and communicating that during the quote process will help you identify these charges and if a moving company is adding them to your bill.
  • Assembly/Disassembly/Connect/Disconnect – Once again, ask the mover during the quote process what is included. You should take a serious look into bedroom sets, TV mounts, washer/dryer, and/or other furnishings that require disassembly/assembly and make sure that you know any charges for these activities. 

Considerations and Questions To Ensure Value

There are some basic common sense rules to make sure that a mover can meet your needs without breaking the bank. We want to help you better understand what is contained in a moving quote, so we’ve developed this list of questions that you should be asking yourself and your mover during the quote process:

  • What is included in the hourly rate?
  • When does the clock start/stop during a move?
  • How many workers for that hourly fee?
  • Are there added charges for heavy items?
  • Are there added charges for disassembly/assembly of your items?
  • Am I being billed for the movers insurance/gas?
  • How is their travel fee calculated?
  • What materials am I being charged for?
  • What do I need to make sure that I prepare in order to avoid surprise expenses?

Other considerations when comparing quotes:

  • Check the reviews of the moving company crews. Not only for their star ratings, but also what the reviewers commented on. Did they hustle? Did they take care of the belongings? How efficient were they? Any commentary will help you determine the value for the cost.
  • DOT licensing, insurance, or other proof of being reputable.
  • Check into what each moving company expects of YOU. The less ambiguity around what moving day looks like will mean less chances of surprise costs.

Remember, this is all about the value you get for the cost you pay. Making sure that you understand how transparent your quote is will help you prevent surprises on move day and show the movers that you’re educated enough to know that the cheapest hourly rate doesn’t necessarily mean the best quality, efficient moving experience.

And finally, because we can’t resist, try Three Men Movers and you’ll see just how transparent our pricing is to our customers. No hidden fees, no surprises on moving day. Click to get a quote or call one of our move experts and discover just how transparent we are with our customers. Or don’t. Either way, you’re armed with the knowledge to get yourself a better deal.