When you’re looking for a mover, you’re going to be getting cost estimates for your move. This brings up a question. Are these estimates the real prices or are they just… well, you know, estimates?

That all depends on what kind of estimate you’re getting.

To begin with, you are entitled to a written estimate. This is not a quote over the phone, or an Internet quote, or a sheet with the “rate quote” on it. This estimate can be binding or non-binding.

A binding estimate is a written agreement made in advance with your mover, indicating you and the mover are bound by the charges. It guarantees the total cost of the move based upon the quantities and services shown on your mover’s estimate.

A non-binding estimate is what your mover believes the total cost will be for the move, based upon the estimated weight of the shipment and the various moving accessories requested. A non-binding estimate is not binding on your mover. The estimate must indicate that your final charges will be based upon the actual weight of your shipment, the services provided, and the mover’s tariff provisions in effect.

A good rule of thumb: You should be prepared to pay ten percent more than the estimated amount at delivery.

You must also be prepared to pay at delivery the cost of any additional services that you requested after the contract was executed that were not included in the estimate and charges for impracticable operations. Impracticable operations are defined in your mover’s tariff and you should ask to see the mover’s tariff to determine what services constitute impracticable operations. Charges for impracticable operations due at delivery may not exceed 15 percent of all other charges due at delivery.

TL;DR: A binding estimate is concrete. You pay the number on the estimate. A non-binding estimate allows for additional fees and services to be tacked on. Depending on your situation, 10% over the estimate is about typical, but if you have additional or special services added your bill could be substantially higher. It’s also likely that if a mover knows the final bill will be substantially higher than the estimate that they will refuse shipment or renegotiate the estimate.

Also, if you don’t know whether you have a binding or a non-binding estimate, you most likely have a non-binding estimate.

To keep your estimates as accurate as possible, be sure to accurately describe the rooms being moved and the kinds of equipment, furniture, and boxes that will be moved. This will ensure a proper estimate by the moving companies you ask and will prevent problems down the road.