If there is an aspect of the moving process that most people find to be even more painful than packing, it’s dealing with movers’ paperwork.

Not understanding clearly all the terms and provisions of the various documents you need to sign when scheduling your move may cost you a lot of money, time and headaches. But moving paperwork can be a reliable tool that helps you achieve a smooth and trouble-free residential move.

Estimates and quotes

When you ask for a quote, the moving company will provide you with an estimate. But estimates received over the phone or online can never be precise and detailed enough. It’s a good idea to request an on-site visual survey of your household items in order to get an accurate written estimate for your move.

Generally, there are two types of estimates:

  • Non-binding estimates. The amount stated in a non-binding estimate may differ a lot from the final charges you will have to pay, because the actual moving costs will be determined by the precise weight of your shipment and the specific services that your movers provided. Weight tickets must be issued when your shipment is moved under a non-binding estimate.
  • Binding estimates. The final cost of your move is guaranteed in a binding estimate. However, if the actual weight of your shipment exceeds the initially estimated one, or if you need some additional services, you will have to negotiate a revised estimate and pay extra on moving day. Reputable moving companies will agree to provide you with an on-site written binding estimate, and will give you relevant information about potential extra charges and useful tips on how to best prepare for your move.

Bill of lading

Your chosen movers will prepare an order of service and provide you with a bill of lading that serves as a contract between you and the company.

Remember that it is your responsibility to read the bill of lading before you accept it. Keep your copy, as it is the most important moving-related document you will receive.

Make sure you understand and agree with all the terms before signing the document, and pay special attention to the clauses related to movers’ liability.

Your bill of lading must include:

  • Moving company’s contact and license information. The name, address, and phone number of your chosen moving company; the company’s U.S. Department of Transportation number and operating authority number (typically an MC number; you can verify that information in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s database); and/or any other state licenses. The same information should be available for any subcontractors your movers work with. The identification number(s) of the vehicle(s) that will transport your items should also be provided.
  • Your contact information, as well as the origin and destination address of the shipment. Make sure both the addresses are full and accurate.
  • Pick-up and delivery dates or time frame. If you opt for guaranteed service, your movers will have to compensate you in case they fail to keep the agreed time frame.
  • Provided services and rates. Any additional services and specific requirements should be clearly stated. Don’t forget to notify your movers of any possible obstacles when parking the truck and/or taking your household items out of your old property and into your new one.
  • Payment method. The moving company should accept different forms of payment. If they insist on cash only, this may be a sign that you are dealing with rogue movers. Any required minimum charges must be pointed out, as well as the amount and type of the required deposit (refundable or non-refundable). The maximum amount your movers will demand at delivery must also be specified.
  • Insurance coverage and dispute settlement. The document should specify any insurance you have bought from a third party, as well as its provisions and the amount of the premium. In addition, you need to be familiar with the dispute settlement programs available and the conditions under which you can make a claim for damage. Trustworthy moving companies should provide proper reimbursement for any damaged items, and any conflicts, disputes and claims against them should be peacefully settled. Be sure to request and review a summary of the arbitration process.
  • Valuation addendum. You will be provided with Full Value and Released Value Protection plans to choose from. Under the Full Value Protection option, your mover is obliged to repair or replace any damaged items, or to cover the cost of repair for any personal possessions damaged or lost while in the carrier’s custody. It comes at an additional fee, but you can set the amount for which you want your belongings to be protected, as well as the deductibles. You can insure your valuables based on their cost, not on their weight. If you choose this method, it must be explicitly stated in the bill of lading. Released Value Protection is offered at no additional charge, but the carrier won’t be liable for more than 60 cents per pound per item, and punitive damage claims will not be allowed. Remember that certain circumstances allow your movers to limit their liability. The moving company is not liable for any items you have packed yourself, or items of great value that are not declared in the inventory list.

Inventory list

All items that will be shipped by your movers must be present on the inventory list, with their current condition properly noted.

You should be very careful when inspecting the records both on moving day and upon delivery, because if an item has been lost or damaged while in the carrier’s custody, the inventory list will serve as evidence in your favor.

Remember that when the shipment is delivered, it is your responsibility to check your items against the inventory list. If something is damaged or missing, notify your movers immediately, and request that proper notations are made on their copy of the inventory before you sign it.

Even if you are pressed for time or stressed by the tense and chaotic moving process, never sign blank or incomplete papers. Find the time to read the fine print on the documents you have been provided with, and research the moving company’s tariffs, rules and regulations. You’ll avoid moving scams, and ensure a problem-free moving process.


Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

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