Kayla Coco-Stotts
November 22, 2023
Article type:
Understanding Documents
Applies to:
All Moving

Unveiling the Moving Industry: What Is a Binding Estimate?

Once you’ve entered the realm of moving services, the term 'binding estimate' tends to surface. Though it’s often tossed around by industry experts, it’s common to be confused by this term. In particular, you’ll likely mince the word binding estimate with terms like written moving estimate, mover estimate, and non-binding estimate.

To dispel any confusion that may incur as you shop around for a full-service moving company, this article aims to fully articulate the concept of a binding estimate. We’ll provide you with a comprehensive understanding of its implications and advantages in the moving industry. By demystifying this term, we'll equip you with essential knowledge to make informed decisions during your next move.

In short, a binding estimate is a written guarantee by a moving company that firmly outlines the total cost of the moving services based on a detailed inventory of items and initial walkthrough conducted by an estimator. Continue reading below to learn more about the binding estimate, how it differs from a non-binding estimate, and key indicators to watch out for when obtaining a written estimate from a moving company.

What is an Estimate?

A written estimate, provided by a full-service moving company, is an official document that details the projected cost of your move. This estimate is formulated based on various factors such as the total weight of your belongings, the distance of the move, and any additional services you may require.

It's crucial to understand that a written move estimate is not a binding contract, but rather an approximation of the total cost of your move. Therefore, you should thoroughly review and understand the written estimate you receive from your full-service movers of choice before proceeding with the move.

In addition to understanding what a written estimate is, it’s important to keep in mind there are different types of estimates that full-service movers give to customers. In particular, there are two kinds:

  1. A binding estimate, which 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.
  2. Or a non-binding estimate, which project the cost of 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.

Through the remainder of this article, we’re going to cover the details of binding estimates. However, you can check out this blog post for more information regarding non-binding estimates.

So, What is a Binding Estimate?

A binding estimate is a legal agreement between the customer and a moving company, which includes a flat price for the move based on a detailed inventory of items and the services to be performed. This type of moving estimate provides certainty for moving customers as the cost won't change unless additional services are added, or inventory is increased. A full-service mover’s binding estimate is typically based on an onsite evaluation of your belongings, the distance of the move, and the complexity of the services required.

A binding estimate is absolute in terms of cost and your mover must follow some general rules established by the FMCSA. For starters, your mover cannot add additional charges to the estimate without first informing you. Any additional services required on moving day will be billed separately. Also, your moving company must provide the estimate in writing. Finally, the moving company must state in the estimate that it is binding.

If your full-service mover notices additional items or add-ons included in your shipment on moving day, they will likely notify you that they’re drafting a revised estimate.  

How to Determine the Type of Written Moving Estimate You Receive

Customers can determine whether they have received a binding or a non-binding estimate by thoroughly reviewing the written document provided by the moving company. The document should clearly state the type of estimate it is and describe the terms and conditions associated with it.

In addition to this, before signing any agreement, it is crucial for customers to ask the moving company directly about the nature of the estimate. A reputable full-service moving company will always be transparent about their estimates, whether they are binding or non-binding, and how changes in services or inventory might affect the final cost. Remember, a binding estimate provides a guaranteed price for the move (unless additional services are added or items are added to the inventory), while a non-binding estimate is merely an approximation of the cost and can be subject to change.

Avoid Costly Deposits: A Key Benefit of Binding Estimates

Moving companies that operate with integrity and professionalism understand the financial strain often associated with relocation, and as such, avoid imposing additional upfront financial burdens. Thus, when opting for a binding estimate, customers can expect clarity and transparency, with no hidden fees or substantial deposits adding to their moving costs.

When customers receive a binding estimate from a mover, they can expect their final bill to match the estimated amount, provided there are no changes in the services requested or the inventory of items to be moved. This means that even if the actual weight of the shipment is more than the estimated weight, the customer will not be charged extra. The final bill, in accordance with the binding estimate, will itemize the services provided, such as loading, transporting, and unloading, along with any additional services requested such as packing or unpacking.

The Pros and Cons: Binding vs. Non-Binding Estimates

When deciding between a binding and non-binding estimate, it's important to weigh the pros and cons of each type.

Binding Estimates:


  • Predictability: With a binding estimate, you know the exact amount you'll pay for the move, barring any changes in services or inventory.
  • No Hidden Costs: There's no risk of additional charges, as the moving company cannot change the price after the estimate is agreed upon.
  • No Large Deposits: Most reputable moving companies don't require a substantial deposit when providing a binding estimate.


  • Potential for Higher Initial Costs: Since binding estimates require the moving company to stick to the quoted price, the initial estimate might be slightly higher to cover potential underestimations.
  • Changes Can Increase Cost: If you decide to add services or items after the agreement, the cost can increase.

Non-Binding Estimates:


  • Lower Initial Estimates: As these estimates are based on the mover's best guess, they can sometimes be lower than binding estimates.
  • Flexibility: Non-binding estimates offer flexibility since you can add or subtract services without modifying an existing agreement.


  • Costs Can Increase: The final price can end up being higher than the initial estimate if the actual weight or complexity of the move is underestimated.
  • Uncertainty: Without a fixed price, it can be stressful not knowing exactly how much the move will cost until it's completed.

It's understandable if you're conflicted between choosing a binding or non-binding estimate for your move. Both types of estimates have their advantages and drawbacks. If you prefer predictability and want to avoid unexpected costs, a binding estimate might be the better option. This type of estimate guarantees the cost of your move upfront, giving you peace of mind. Remember, however, that any changes to the services or the inventory of items being moved can lead to an adjustment of the initial binding estimate.

On the other hand, if you're still uncertain about the specifics of your move or anticipate changes, a non-binding estimate may offer the flexibility you're seeking. This allows you to adjust the services and inventory as needed, although the final cost may change depending on the actual weight and services rendered. Be prepared for possible cost increases with non-binding estimates, as the final bill might exceed the initial estimate.

In either case, always ensure you are dealing with a reputable moving company that provides detailed written estimates and is transparent about their terms and conditions. Remember, the right choice depends on your individual needs and circumstances, so take time to consider what works best for you.

Binding Estimates, Unmasked

Whether you choose a binding or non-binding estimate largely depends on your individual needs, expectations, and comfort level with uncertainty. A binding estimate offers predictability and a guaranteed price, while a non-binding estimate provides flexibility with an approximate cost that can change. Both have their unique benefits and potential drawbacks. It is essential to engage with a trustworthy moving company that offers transparent, written estimates and is clear about their terms and conditions. Evaluate your options carefully, ask the right questions, and make an informed decision to ensure a smooth, stress-free moving experience.