Kayla Coco-Stotts
December 14, 2022
Article type:
Understanding Documents
Applies to:
All Moving

Understanding Components of the Written Estimate: Binding vs. Non-Binding

The written moving estimate is one of the most vital components of any upcoming move. It tells customers what their move is going to cost and binds the mover and customer to a written contract. If everything goes according to plan, there should be no surprises on moving day because everyone has reviewed the estimate of costs.  

Below, we’ve compiled a definitive guide to understanding estimates and evaluated the difference between binding and non-binding estimates.

Estimates, Demystified

One of the most daunting tasks people face when moving isn’t the packing or the calling of moving companies. It’s looking down at their written estimate and determining just what it all means.

Understanding your written estimate will make a huge difference in your move. It determines whether the journey will be an effortless move or a chaotic one. Refer to this article before you sign your written estimate so you can review its content in real-time. Read through every line, and never be afraid to ask your moving coordinator questions.  

Why Is a Written Estimate So Important?

Well, it’s important because the written estimate serves as your guide to understanding all the charges involved in your move.

Included in it is the following information:

  • Whether it is binding or non-binding (this determines cost rates at the end)
  • Liability coverage (this is selected by you)
  • All charges
  • Transportation costs
  • Storage costs
  • Deposits
  • Taxes and fees
  • Additional services like packing and unpacking, wait time, or extra stops.  

Your estimate will be delivered in writing and include all charges meant to accrue during your moving day. After presenting and agreeing upon the written estimate, you and your mover will sign the estimate of charges. Your mover must then present you with a signed and dated copy of that estimate.

Here are some rules you should adhere to regarding the written estimate:

  • Make sure you never sign an estimate that is blank or incomplete.
  • Everything contained on that estimate is finalized once you and your mover sign off on it, so just make sure you’ve read through and understand everything contained within it.
  • Estimates can be updated and changed in the days leading up to the move, but any changes to the document require another read and signature from both you and your mover.
  • After loading the shipment, your mover can no longer change the original estimate. All changes on a binding estimate will require change orders. On a non-binding estimate, change orders may be needed if it alters the contract you signed.

If you’re obtaining an estimate from a reputable mover, you’ll either sign a binding or non-binding estimate. Let’s dive a little deeper into the two types of estimates you’re likely to run into.

Binding Estimates

A binding estimate indicates that you and your mover are bound by the charges that have been laid out in writing. It guarantees the total cost of the move and is based on the inventoried quantity of items and services requested by you or your mover.

These estimates’ costs are calculated according to itemized inventory, not weight. If the inventory is correct, remains unchanged come moving day, and the scope of services to be performed doesn’t change, the price remains the same. However, if additional inventory is added or if extra services are added, the price of your move will change. Make sure everything you’re planning to move is included in the binding estimate’s inventory.

You will pay 100% of the estimated amount at the time of delivery of your household goods. The charges shown on the estimate are only for the services designated in the estimate.

The Rules of the Binding Estimate

A binding estimate is absolute in terms of cost and your mover must follow four general rules established by the FMCSA:

  • Your mover cannot add additional charges to the estimate without first informing you.
  • Any additional services required on moving day will be billed separately.
  • Your moving company must provide the estimate in writing.
  • The moving company must state in the estimate that it is binding.
  • If the mover notices additional items or add-ons included in your shipment, they have the right to refuse service and draft a revised estimate.  

Is a Binding Estimate Right for Me?

Binding estimates are often the preferred choice of movers and customers: It outlines the firm price of shipment and doesn’t change after the move happens. It’s the safest way to ensure you have no surprises when it comes time to pay your mover. Binding estimates limit risk and provide you with a realistic figure to budget before items are loaded and the truck is weighed.  

However, if you do end up with a shipment that costs less than what the movers estimated, you still must pay the amount listed on your binding estimate.

Non-Binding Estimates

Although like binding estimates, non-binding estimates project the cost for your move and don’t outline a contracted or guaranteed price. Rather, they calculate the estimate according to the weight of the move and the number of packing materials used by the moving company.

Here, movers can’t tell you the final cost of the move until everything is weighed on moving day. In this case, movers weigh the moving truck before your shipment is loaded and then weigh it again after everything is on the truck. The difference between these two weights is what you'll be billed for.

Though the price is not guaranteed, the moving company cannot require you to pay more than 110% of the total of your estimate at the time of delivery. Keep in mind the remaining amount will be billed later if you’ve accrued additional charges.  

Non-Binding Estimates’ Rules

Like binding estimates, non-binding estimates must adhere to a certain set of rules outlined by the FMCSA. These include:

  • Your mover must provide a reasonably accurate estimate based on weight and services required.
  • The mover must explain to you that all charges on shipments are moved under a non-binding estimate.
  • Your mover must provide the non-binding estimate in writing and without charge.

If you’re interested in obtaining a non-binding estimate for your next move, here are some tips you can follow:

  • Remember, don’t sign a non-binding estimate if it is blank or incomplete.
  • Make sure you’re aware of the maximum and minimum cost of your move so you’re prepared before you must pay.

It’s a Gamble, But It Can Be Right for Your Move

If you’re looking to pay a lower price for your move, a non-binding estimate is the way to go. Just remember it can be a gamble, as sometimes your move’s total can exceed the written estimate.

If you’re going this route, we recommend you find experienced, honest movers to give you the best weight estimate possible so you compare prices using that weight. Experience in estimating a home is a skill honed over time. Moving companies with longevity have had the time to hone their skill at estimating. Newer moving companies typically haven’t.

If you feel you can judge how much weight and time will be required, this estimate is the way to go. Trust with your coordinator and good judgment over the weight of your items will go a long way in determining whether selecting a non-binding estimate is the correct choice for your move.  

Moving Soon? Obtain a Free Moving Quote Today!

Are you planning an upcoming move and considering lightening the load using full-service movers? You can obtain a free quote from us today for a better idea on pricing and our upcoming availability.

We have offices in Denver, CO; Salt Lake City, UT; Grand Junction, CO; and Colorado Springs, CO and can do moves anywhere from down the road to across the world.