The Mistake Most People Make When Choosing Between Flat-Rate and Hourly Movers

published May 19, 2019
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If you’re prepping for a move, you may wonder if you should go the flat-rate route or pay hourly for movers.

Really, this is a choose-your-own adventure type of situation.

Are you moving a long distance? Or do you just need help moving some big items, like a piano or a cumbersome piece of furniture? If you answered yes to either of the above questions, your best bet is probably a flat-rate move, says Pat Byrne, Operations Manager at Moving Ahead Moving & Storage in Long Island, New York.

Is your move a local one, and fairly easy? If your nodding “yes, I hope so,” hiring movers on an hourly basis may be a good bet, Byrne says.

However, moving often comes with lots of caveats, and there’s a good chance you’re either over- or underestimating how long your move will take. This is a common mistake causing many to spend more money than needed. (We recommend calling a few moving companies for quotes before booking!) Here’s what you should consider when choosing between flat-rate vs. hourly moving:

Flat-rate moving: Pros and Cons

Vivian Young is a seasoned pro when it comes to moving: She’s moved 10 times within the Los Angeles-area. As a newlywed, she and her spouse moved from a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom apartment. They booked by the hour since they didn’t have too much stuff to move.

“What I thought would be a two-hour move including the drive time of five minutes turned into an expensive five-hour disaster,” says Young, a senior content manager at sleep resource site Good Night’s Rest. “The movers worked so slowly and wasted time rearranging the furniture in the moving van.”

Since, Young has opted for flat-rate moving, finding the process seamless and efficient.

Moving experts recognize that people like knowing the cost upfront since it helps for budgeting.

Lior Rachmany, the CEO and Founder of Dumbo Moving + Storage in New York, explains that you can better understand flat-rate moving as priced per item (or multiple of boxes).

“You do not have to worry about extra fees when you choose to move like this,” he says. “Once you pay, you pay.”

Also, Rachmany says, flat-rate moves will protect your items better because movers aren’t rushing. They’ll also take more time to carefully wrap and protect items.

Flat-rate moving makes sense when you are moving a large house or condo or have a lot of boxes or furniture, says Sharone Ben-Harosh, founder and CEO of FlatRate Moving, a moving company that operates in several U.S. cities. The flat-rate model also favors metropolitan areas notorious for traffic delays, like New York City or Los Angeles, he says.

“While the initial planning stage of flat-rate moving is slightly longer as they typically require taking your inventory over the phone or through in-home estimates, the moving process itself is quicker with less surprises,” Ben-Harosh says.

On the con side, flat-rate moving is often priced higher than hourly moving, says Byrne. Also, if you go this route, you may want to ask if the company charges extra fees for inconveniences. Byrne says bad traffic, hazardous weather, small elevators, or tight spaces can mean extra charges.

Byrne says last-minute items not included in the original quote could mean extra fees, too.

Hourly moving: Pros and cons

A big advantage of hourly moving?

“You pay for the actual time and materials used, even if it’s less than estimated,” says Byrne. He notes people oftentimes overestimate how long a move will take.

Hourly moving can especially be reasonable for short-distance moves, Byrne says.

If you’re leaning towards an hourly service, be sure to ask about any minimum time requirements. Many hourly moving companies require at least three hours, says Ben-Harosh. Of course this could be a bummer if you’ve prepared for your move in a way that it’ll only take a couple of hours.

Whether you go with a flat-rate or hourly move, make sure the company details what’s covered in advance, says L.A.-based NorthStar Moving Company co-founder Laura McHolm.

“By all means, check the reputation of whoever you hire,” McHolm says.  

For example, if you’re doing an interstate move, check to see if your mover is licensed with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

McHolm also recommends going with established moving businesses. She says she’s noticed that some companies change names quickly so their bad reputations can’t keep up with them.

Made the call between a flat-rate move or hire movers by the hour? Here are some creative ways to save on your move.

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