Moves are expensive endeavors, and when choosing the right moving company, you want to get the most bang for your buck. Generally speaking, moving companies use either flat or hourly rates as their pricing models. Each of these models has different pros and cons depending on what kind of relocation you’re undertaking.

In this article, we’ll discuss what flat-rate moving is in addition to:

  • How flat-rate moving works
  • The key differences between flat-rate and hourly moving
  • When to choose one over the other 

What Is the Difference Between a Flat-rate and Hourly Moving Company?

A flat-rate pricing model establishes a guaranteed price during an in-home estimate that remains unchanged throughout the moving process. Several factors determine this price, such as the total size of your cargo, the distance between destinations, specialty items (like pianos or hot tubs), and other elements like multiple flights of stairs. An estimator will come to your home, assess the information, and produce a free quote that will outline the cost of the move. If the quote is accepted, you will then sign a binding contract, and the move’s price, barring the addition of more items, will remain fixed. The moving experts will arrive on the move date, load your cargo, drive it to your new home, and then unload it. The labor hours, time in transit, parking time, or any other factor affecting the wait or delivery time will not affect your bill’s total.

Alternatively, the pricing model for hourly rates charges you by the hour for every step of the process. Like the flat-rate model, an appraiser will come to your home and generate an estimation and quote for your move. But, unlike the flat-rate model, this quote is nonbinding, highly malleable, and will likely change by the end of your relocation. The clock starts from the moment the professional movers arrive at your home. After that, each hour it takes to pack the truck, the time the truck takes to arrive, and the amount of time to unload the truck adds to your bill’s total. Other elements like service charges, disassembly fees, crating, unpacking, and other elements can also add to your total moving cost. Ultimately, how long your move takes, and the more things get delayed, the more you will end up paying. 

What Are the Pros and Cons of Flat-rate Moving Companies?

Flat-rate moving services have a lot of advantages, but they also have some serious downsides. For example, flat-rate moving quotes can have higher upfront costs than hourly quotes. These steep costs result from the moving company considering your move’s cost factors right away. Appraisers will use the exact estimated amount of time it should take to transport your possessions, leaving no wiggle room in pricing. This upfront estimation is both a good thing and a bad thing. Since the moving company is charging you for what the approximate arrival time should be, if anything goes wrong, you won’t pay an extra cent. However, if everything goes well and things get done in less time than in the estimation, your bill won’t decrease. 

Flat-rate moving also has several logistical advantages over hourly models. When budgeting, you won’t have to worry about any massive price hikes, making allocating the rest of your funds easier. Furthermore, moving companies are incentivized to be more exact when using a flat-rate system. They gain nothing from padding time, fudging mileage, or taking advantage of other less than honest tactics to bloat your bill. As a result, if a moving company takes more time than expected during a flat-rate move, it winds up losing money. The only major hurdle to consider is that flat-rate movers have a much longer, more thorough quote generation process. Since the moving company wants to be as exact as possible, it will want an entire list of your inventory.  

What Are the Pros and Cons of Hourly Moving Companies?

While the initial price estimates for hourly moves are usually lower than those of flat rates, the final price can be a gamble. If all things go well, you will pay less than the initial estimate on your quote. This price drop can be significant for a move on a tight budget. However, this goes both ways, and if your move takes longer than the initial estimation, you can lose a lot of cash. What’s nice about the hourly rate system is that you can have some control over this. By packing your own boxes, downsizing, and moving your possessions to easily accessible locations, you can cut down the labor hours needed to load your moving truck. When it comes to the transportation of your goods, however, and the unloading process, you have no control over the speed of the moving company. 

The most significant downside of hourly rate movers is the higher chance of fraud or bogus charges. While most moving companies are trustworthy, there are plenty of scam artists and less than honest movers. The flexible nature of hourly billing leaves more openings for fraudulent moving companies to inflate numbers. Some of the most common ways illegitimate moving companies try to fleece customers are only doable on an hourly system. For example, a common scam is holding items hostage by massively increasing the bill’s final price. Scam companies will claim that additional items, long drive times, storage times, and wait times, increase your bill’s total. These scams are much more difficult to pass off with a binding estimate and contract signed beforehand. 

When To Go With a Flat-rate Moving Company

Flat-rate pricing models work best for any move that will take up a lot of time. The longer a company takes on a move, the more expensive it will be with an hourly rated system. Combine naturally long wait times with delays like traffic, parking, or packing errors, and you will have a considerable bill by the end of your move. In most cases, flat-rate moves are better for long-distance moves and relocations for large households (think three to five rooms). Since these kinds of moves take time, have more complex coordination, and possess a, on average, higher chance of things going wrong, flat rates are usually the better option. 

Conversely, hourly rated movers also have their place, specifically in small-scale, local moves. Efficiency and quick timing mean a lower price tag for an hourly rated move. Because of this, relocations with short travel times, less goods to haul, and fewer variables are preferable. While there is a slightly higher chance of running into a dishonest moving company, you can protect your possessions by researching your movers beforehand and adequately vetting them. 

Final Thoughts

Moving can be a stressful, difficult, and expensive process. Choosing the right moving company can relieve some of this stress and mitigate your overall cost. You should almost always go with a flat-rate moving company for cross-country, interstate, and large-scale moves. However, if you’re just moving across town or only have a few bedrooms worth of possessions, an hourly rate moving company will likely be a more cost-effective choice. In either case, you should always try to reduce time and money by downsizing and properly vetting your moving company beforehand. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Sometimes the decision between flat-rate and hourly movers isn’t clear, as both can offer competitive rates, and the price difference can appear minimal. Here are two commonly asked questions that might be able to clear things up.

Can the Final Price of a Flat-rate Move Change?

Yes. But only under specific conditions outlined in your binding contract. The most common ways a flat-rate bill will go up is through fees and the addition of items. Some commonly encountered fees are: 

  • Stair fee: This fee applies to houses with more than one set of stairs. This fee comes out to about $50 per additional flight beyond the first. 
  • Elevator fee: If your apartment has a long elevator ride or the moving company has to use a freight elevator, you may have to pay $50 to $100. 
  • Long carry fee: If the movers have to transport your cargo more than 100 feet to their truck, they will charge you an amount equal to the distance per trip. 

Are Hourly Rate Moving Services Cheaper Than Flat-rate Moving Services?

They can be. Depending on the distance of the move, the amount of cargo you are hauling, and how quickly your moving company operates, your final bill can be less with an hourly moving company. However, you’re almost always better off going with a flat-rate moving company for large-scale or interstate moves.

Editorial Contributors
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Sam Wasson

Staff Writer

Sam Wasson graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in Film and Media Arts with an Emphasis in Entertainment Arts and Engineering. Sam brings over four years of content writing and media production experience to the Today’s Homeowner content team. He specializes in the pest control, landscaping, and moving categories. Sam aims to answer homeowners’ difficult questions by providing well-researched, accurate, transparent, and entertaining content to Today’s Homeowner readers.

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Lora Novak

Senior Editor

Lora Novak meticulously proofreads and edits all commercial content for Today’s Homeowner to guarantee that it contains the most up-to-date information. Lora brings over 12 years of writing, editing, and digital marketing expertise. She’s worked on thousands of articles related to heating, air conditioning, ventilation, roofing, plumbing, lawn/garden, pest control, insurance, and other general homeownership topics.

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