BE WARY … of Unexpected Estimate Revisions When Moving
One of the more frequent complaints that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) receives from consumers involves the unexpected and supposedly “arbitrary” increase in moving cost that an interstate household goods motor carrier and/or move broker tries to negotiate on loading day. You’ve already obtained a moving estimate or a moving quote from the moving company when booking, but the moving company is trying to increase the price. This is very important to know before you select a moving company.
Many of these reports are filed by shippers who initially obtained “rock bottom”, “budget” or “deeply discounted” quotes for their moves by shopping for a “ballpark” phone estimate or uncovering an “unbelievable” Internet price based on a list of goods and services that they submitted to a moving or brokerage company that they found in their local phone book or at a lead generation site online.
By law, interstate moving estimates can be one of two types. Non-binding based on the estimated weight of goods and services that a customer declares need to be moved; or, more frequently, fixed price (or binding) based on the same list using the pricing policies and criteria defined in each carrier’s unique tariff. The different variations of binding agreements make this estimate type more popular with shippers because of the perceived level of price certainty.
The Consumer Protection Regulations (49CFR375), the federal laws that governs the transportation of household goods in interstate commerce, require your relocation provider conduct a physical survey of the items to be transported and provide the prospective individual shipper with a written estimate of the charges for the transportation and all related services based on the physical survey.
The primary purpose of the in-home, visual estimate is to protect the interests of both parties by having a trained professional review, record and price the services required to complete an individual customer’s move. For this reason, a physical survey should be requested whenever possible as the best way to avoid unexpected surprises and obtain an accurate estimate of total relocation costs.
There are, however, two exceptions to the requirement to conduct a physical survey. It is not necessary:
- If the household goods are located beyond a 50-mile radius of the location of the household goods motor carrier’s agent or brokerage company preparing the estimate; or,
- If the individual shipper elects to waive the physical survey. According to the law, this waiver agreement must be in writing and signed by the by the customer before their shipment is loaded.
- Reaffirm the original binding or non-binding estimate.
- Negotiate a revised written binding or non-binding estimate listing the additional household goods or services.
- Add an attachment to the contract, in writing, stating you both will consider the original binding estimate as a non-binding estimate. This may seriously affect how much you may pay for the entire move.
Customers moving under a binding estimate shouldn’t feel pressured or rushed into making a hasty decision when pricing changes are proposed before the packing and loading are started. Under the provisions of § 305.403 (a)(8.) shippers have one hour to determine whether they want the additional services performed. If the individual shipper agrees to pay for the additional services, the driver must execute a written attachment to be made an integral part of the bill of lading contract and have the individual shipper sign the written attachment.
It is always preferable to obtain a new estimate in these situations. Never sign any blank forms but particularly avoid signing anything marked “Revised Binding Estimate”, “Rescission of Prior Estimate”, and “Addendum to the Estimate/Order for Service” etc. to revise a previously negotiated written estimate without first insisting on an explanation of the changes. Your signature is your admission that the terms being modified, including any pricing adjustments, meet with the agreement of both you and the motor carrier.
When one of these types of documents is used to revise an estimate, it’s important the form be filled out completely to show that something was changed from an old value to a new value. For example, the number of pieces was increased from 200 to 220 and the price was increased from $1400 to $1600. Or, because of the increase in size due to the number of items being shipped, the agreed delivery dates were changed from 4-10 days to 4-8 days.
Always add N/A (not applicable) to any field that is not filled out or does not apply to the revised estimate. This will prevent any other changes from being made to the document after the fact. Always ask for an explanation if you’re not sure what any entry means – before you sign!
Once your mover begins to load your shipment, their failure to execute a new binding or a non-binding estimate signifies they have reaffirmed the provisions of their original estimate. Under the law, they may not collect any more than the maximum amounts allowed under the applicable regulations for binding (§ 375.403) and non-binding (§ 375.405) estimate types.
Don’t become a victim of an unscrupulous interstate motor carrier or move broker. Do your homework! Don’t forget to check your mover’s licenses. You can check a company’s credentials, size and safety record, authority history and complaint record using the FMCSA’s Search Movers & Complaint History tool at the Protect Your Move website.
- Fleet Size – Does the company have dispatch control over enough licensed equipment to meet their pick up and delivery service commitments for all of their customers?
- Location – Is it practical to expect the carrier to be able to service your shipment from their location with the amount of equipment that they have qualified?
- Tenure – How long has the company been involved in interstate moving? Does their motor carrier or brokerage authority have unexplained interruptions or gaps in their service?
- Complaint History – What is the frequency and type of complaints the company has received? No company is perfect and it’s normal for many established, reputable interstate movers and brokers to have some criticisms. Are the number of records and nature of complaints consistent with their size and tenure?