You are moving. You know how much you can afford to spend on the move, and money is tight. You get 3 estimates from moving companies. Two of them come to your home, look at everything and give you similar estimates of roughly $5,000.00 to move approximately 10,000 lbs of furniture from Phoenix to L.A. The third company gives you an estimate over the phone of $3,000.00 for an estimated 6,000 lbs. No-brainer. You pick the cheapest estimate. When the truck arrives in L.A. with your goods, your driver presents you with an amended bill for $5,950.00 based on a weight of 9,744 lbs. Your driver shows you a weight ticket from a scale certified by the state of Arizona to document your shipment’s weight. He then shows you the table of charges from the moving company’s tariff, a legal document stating fixed rates that interstate movers are required to publish and provide to customers on demand. The practice is every bit as legal as your mover makes it appear. His only answer to your repeated “How’s?” is a sheepish “You had more than we thought, but this is what it weighs. The scale doesn’t lie. “Before you can manage to think of a way out of this, like stopping payment on a check or disputing a credit card charge later, your mover explains that he will need cash payment for the balance and he will need it before he can start unloading your things. If you refuse, he will take your goods to be stored at the moving company’s warehouse, at your expense. If you still don’t pay the new total charges, usually within 90-180 days, everything you own will be sold at auction to cover the mover’s charges.
This is not an unsubstantiated horror story from a disgruntled blogger. This is what I did for a living for nearly a year, and I was very good at it. The practice is called low-balling the estimate, and it is extremely common in the moving industry. The company that I worked for, whose name was something like Hungry Collegiate Types, is still in business and still known in the industry as “The low-ball kings.” This practice thrives in large part due to the average consumer’s inability to calculate, even roughly, just how much stuff you have.
How much you have and more importantly how much space it will take up in a moving truck are the first things you need to know when planning a long-distance move. Professional movers charge by weight because it is an easier and more uniform way to determine exactly how much you have. They literally drive the truck onto a large scale before loading your goods to get a light weight and return after loading you to get a heavy weight, with the difference being the weight of your shipment. The moving company’s estimate, however, is based on coming to your home and surveying the total cubic feet, or estimated size of all your household goods. They then convert that figure into a weight estimate by multiplying the cubes by the average density of 6.5 pounds per cubic foot. A small 3-bedroom house, for example, might have 1,000 cubic feet which when multiplied by a density of 6.5 (lbs) would equal 6,500 lbs. If this sounds like brain surgery, I would ask you to try and remember the last furniture mover you met who struck you as brain surgeon-ish. In my more than 30 years as a professional mover and estimator, the size aspect is the thing that the fewest customers even try to understand
The question now is: How do I learn to compute the total cubic feet of my stuff? The answer is a standardized form called a cube sheet, which provides the average cubic feet of hundreds of household items. Google-ing cube sheet will turn up literally millions of results. To give you an example of how to use it, consider your master bedroom and the furnishings in it:
1. King size bed=70 cubic feet (cu.ft.)
2. Chest of drawers=25
3. Cedar chest=15
4. Double dresser=50
5. 2 night stands at 5 each=10
6. Rocking chair=5
7. Exercise bike=10
Total=185 cu.ft. X 6.5 lbs = 1,202 lbs.
This is the rough furniture estimate, but you still have to figure the number and total cu.ft. of the cartons to put your stuff in. Start with the biggest and bulkiest: clothing wardrobe boxes. Wardrobe cartons are a 48″ tall x 20″ deep x 24″ wide carton. Take the total width in feet of your hanging clothes and divide by 2 (example: 10’of clothing = 5×24″= 5 wardrobes. The 24″ wardrobe = 15 cu. ft., so 5 x 15 cu.ft =75 cu.ft. Mirror or picture cartons, as well as dish packs for fragile items like lamps, are 5 cu. ft. each.
Determining the number of moving cartons required and factoring them into your estimate is a little trickier and is clearly the area where most self-movers fall short. The best way to visualize this is to have at least one of each size moving carton at hand to use as a reference. One of the easiest formulas that movers use is: 1 carton for every 100 lbs of furniture, or 10 per 1,000 lbs. An estimate of 1,000 cu. ft. of furniture x 6.5 lbs per cu. ft. = 6,500 lbs would equal an average of 65 cartons.
If the math seems convoluted, please bear in mind that this estimate can be used in two important ways. First and foremost, if you are going to move yourself long distance, size matters — a lot. The largest rental trucks available to the public average 1,400 to 1,500 cu.ft. of cargo space. If your household is similar to the previous example –1,325 cu.ft. — then you are looking at loading your truck with a roughly 10 percent margin of error in space utilization (highly unlikely even for professional loaders). Anything beyond that will require a trailer (which only U-Haul provides), a second truck or trip (not always an option) or leaving things behind. Knowing how much you have beforehand allows you to plan more accurately and realistically. Secondly, knowing how to estimate the size and, more importantly here, the weight of your household goods will make you a more informed consumer if you do choose to hire a professional mover. Moving estimators will generally provide you with copies of their cube sheet and weight estimate, as well as the number of cartons needed if you choose to have them pack you. Take multiple bids (they are always free) and compare their figures with your own.
Download a free copy of a cube sheet from the internet, grab a pencil and calculator and start taking some of the mystery out of your move.