Moving Contract Lingo: Learn it now, avoid problems later

Moving Contract Lingo: Learn it now, avoid problems later

One of the biggest challenges with hiring a moving company is understanding the moving contract lingo those companies use. I remember sitting on our couch, trying to read through the contract before signing it. There was a Bill of Lading, an Order for Goods, an Inventory Assessment, and more. Initially, I was looking up the meaning of every other word to know exactly what I was signing. As my husband and I later reviewed the documents together, we were again searching for the definition of many different words, which was very time-consuming.

Therefore, I put together these misunderstood terms to save you time when reviewing your moving contract. And to give you the confidence to ask questions before choosing a moving company. To best understand agreements, discussions, and contracts, please reference the alphabetized list of terms and definitions below:

Moving Contract Lingo


Accessorial Services:  extra charges that are incurred outside of the actual primary transportation services (e.g. packing/unpacking, crating, additional stops, shuttle service, technology set up).

Agent:  the moving company’s appointed contact for the customer.  There may be more than one type of agent assigned to a move: booking agent, origin agent, and destination agent.


Bill of Lading:  a legally binding contract between the moving company and the customer, clarifying agreed-upon details of the move for the driver responsible for the shipment. Including, but not limited to, the origin and destination addresses, services included, the expected weight of the shipment, additional third-party services,  and the final cost of the move.


Carrier:  the company providing the primary moving service of transporting items from origin to destination.

Cash on Delivery (COD):  the payment required to release items on delivery.

Claim: a statement that customers’ belongings have been damaged or lost while in care of the moving company or their third-party specialist.


Department of Transportation (DOT): the federal agency that oversees the interstate transportation industry.

Destination Agent:  the agent assigned at the destination location.  They will be the point of contact for the details related to the delivery of belongings.

Diversion: a change in the destination after belongings have been picked up from the origin.  Typically there is a fee for the cost of the changes of rerouting to the destination.


Estimate, binding:  an absolute value given to the customer after an in-home evaluation, detailing the cost of the entire move before the move.  This estimate is final and will not change based on actual weight and labor hours required for the move, with the understanding that there are no major changes to the expected load or final destination.  It does not matter if the actual move is more or less expensive than the binding estimate, as it is a final, agreed-upon value.  This estimate is commonly used for interstate moves and is guaranteed before the move.

Estimate, non-binding: a predicted value the moving company presents to the customer prior to the move, with the understanding that the final cost of the move will be finalized after items have been delivered to the final destination.  If the final cost is less than the estimate, the customer pays less.  If the final cost is more than the estimate, the customer pays more.  The final cost of the move cannot exceed more than 10% of the non-binding estimate.  This estimate is commonly used for local and short distance moves and is only a projected value.

Extra Labor Fee:  extra cost for tasks not related to general labor expectations in the contract (e.g., packing/unpacking an attic or crawlspace, repacking owners’ boxes).

stairs with moving boxes


Flight Charge: an additional fee that can be assessed for movers having to load or unload items up or down flight(s) of stairs.  This fee can be based on the number of flights of stairs.

Fuel Surcharge:  additional charge based on the cost of diesel expected at the move date.

Full-Service Mover:  when a moving company is responsible for packing and loading at the origin, shipping, unpacking at the destination, and carrying away debris.  This includes all supplies needed to complete the move, such as boxes, tape, and packing paper.


Guaranteed Pick-Up & Delivery Service: a service that ensures specific dates for pick up and delivery of belongings.


High-Value Items:  items included in the shipment, worth more than $100 per pound (example: jewelry, china, crystal).

Hundredweight: abbreviated (CWT), means per 100 pounds.


Interstate:  a move from one state to another state

Intrastate:  a move within the same state.

Inventory:  a comprehensive list of items being moved, typically including details such as location in home and condition before moving.


Long Carry Charge:  an extra fee when movers must load or unload belongings for a longer distance from the truck than expected.

back of a moving truck with ramp


Non-allowable List:  items prohibited from being loaded onto a moving truck. See my prohibited list for a detailed list of items.


Order for Service:  a written agreement approving the moving company to transport your belongings.

Origin Agent:  the agent assigned at the origin location.  They will be your point of contact for the details related to the pickup of belongings.


PBO: abbreviation for packed by owner.

Packing Service:  movers pack items up at the origin and unpack items at the destination.


Quote:  the estimated cost for a move.


Reweigh: once loaded onto the truck, items are weighed again to determine actual weight.


Self-Service Mover:  company that provides the ability for you to purchase or rent items to complete a move on your own. (e.g., a moving truck).

Shuttle Service:  when the primary moving vehicle cannot reach the final destination, a secondary vehicle that can reach the destination is used.  (e.g., the vehicle is too large, a road is too narrow, a bridge is too weak, load limits on a road).

Storage-In-Transit:  if items cannot be delivered immediately to the intended destination, a storage fee is assessed to store items until the destination is available for delivery.

Survey:  an in-person assessment of items to determine moving costs, where the assessor evaluates all items to be transported and the accessibility in/out of the home for the movers.  A reliable estimation of cost is created from information gathered in the survey.

storage units with orange doors


Tare Weight: the weight of the moving truck and supplies before belongings being loaded.  Subtracting this value from the packed truck weight reveals the actual weight of the move.

Tariff: a detailed list of the moving company’s prices, guidelines, and regulations specifically related to the client’s move.  These details vary depending on the type of move.

Third-Party Service:  when a specialized service is required for proper transportation of goods and is hired out by the primary moving company (e.g., having a table crated).


Unpacking:  movers unload boxes at the destination, place them on a flat surface (typically floor or counter) for the owner to organize, haul away packaging.  This is typically a premium service.


Valuation:  the total replacement value of goods while in the custody of the moving company.  This monetary value is not insurance but a declaration of value.

When hiring a moving company, do your homework. Make sure you understand everything you sign. It’s easy for companies to throw in hidden fees when customers don’t know what they are signing. Be informed so you can hire the right company, protect your belongings, and avoid scams.

Check out the Move Mama Move Relocation Planner with over 40 questions you should ask a moving company to ensure they are legit, trustworthy, and competent.

Moving Contract Lingo

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