When choosing a moving company, you should request written estimates from two or more movers so you can compare prices. Written estimates are binding, which means once the services described on the estimate the price for those can not go up.
All written estimates must be based on visual inspection of your goods and location and must describe services and total charges. A verbal rate quotation (hourly rate or price per pound) is not an estimate.
Remember verbal estimates are not binding, to avoid problems in the long run, choose between written estimates.
In describing your wishes (required services) be as consistent as possible with each mover you talk to; this will make it easier to compare estimates. Be sure to tell prospective mover of all goods that need to be moved, any special services you require, and condition that may effect pickup and delivery (e.g. stairs, narrow road). It is especially important to tell movers everything about your new home that may effect your move. This ensures a more accurate estimate of cost, and reduces the chance of misunderstanding and/or unexpected charges on moving day.
A carrier's rates for long distance moves are based on constructive miles, which are miles accounting for driving conditions and the size or the weight of the shipment. If the move is over 100 constructive miles, it is considered a long distance move and in California must be charged on miles and weight basis. Any move crossing state boarders is also considered long distance moves, but those moves are governed by Federal agency called Department of Transportation. DOT allows carriers/movers to charge based on miles and weight or size of shipment. If your move is 100 constructive miles or less, and is with in California state, it is considered a local move and is usually charge by the hour. In local moves that may be completed just in a few hours, movers don't find it cost effective to send out an estimator to view your residence if it is smaller that a 2 bedroom house or 3 bedroom apartment. Movers will quote you an hourly rate. You should still try to find a mover willing to go out and give you a written estimate. If you are unsuccessful, in getting written estimate for a small move, hire the mover with better reputation, don't need to hire the mover with the lowest hourly rate.
Most movers have minimum charges. For example, on hourly moves, a carrier may charge a minimum of 3 hours, even if your move only takes 2 hours or less. Similarly, on long distance moves, a carrier may have a 5,000 lbs minimum weight. Even if your shipment weighs 4,000 lbs you will be charged for at least 5,000 lbs.
Movers will charge separately for packing services on long distance moves. There also will be a charge for elevators and stairs past first floor. If it is impossible for mover to park the truck with in 75 feet of front door of your residence, a long carry charge will apply.
If you add items, or require/request extra services that were not in the estimate, the mover will provide a Change of Order for Service form, either at time of pickup, or before performing service, and, of course, you pay for additional services. Make sure to keep a copy of that form for your record. Remember, the mover can not charge more than the written estimate, unless there were new services performed that were not on the initial estimate.