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Rescission Estimates and Relocation: BE WARY … of Unexpected Estimate Revisions When Moving

Posted 03-23-2009 at 09:34 AM by RikkiTikki
Updated 02-20-2010 at 10:05 AM by RikkiTikki


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 cost that an interstate household goods motor carrier and/or move broker tries to negotiate on loading day.

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:
  1. 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,
  2. 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.
These requirements are defined in Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move”, an informative consumer oriented publication prepared by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Your mover/broker is required to provide a copy to every prospective individual customer moving interstate. The information is included as part of FMCSA’s Protect Your Move.gov website, a comprehensive resource for anyone considering relocation.

Unfortunately not all service providers supply their customers with the required publication - just as not all consumers take the time to read and comprehend the information. This is usually where the problem starts.

The applicable regulations for binding (§ 375.403) and non-binding (§ 375.405) estimates state that a household goods motor carrier is not required to honor a previous price quote if it “appears an individual shipper has tendered additional household goods or requires additional services” to complete their move.

This means that if an agreed price was negotiated over the phone or on the internet without the benefit of a physical survey, and the driver arrives on moving day to find more goods or services, the driver must do one of the following three things before loading:
  1. Reaffirm the original binding or non-binding estimate.
  2. Negotiate a revised written binding or non-binding estimate listing the additional household goods or services.
  3. 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 interstate 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!

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.

Things you should consider when making your decision are:
  • 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?
Remember...don’t choose the company with the lowest price when making your carrier selection. Pick the one that will provide the best value. You won’t be disappointed!

Still at your wit’s end? Join me at RELORoundTable – a gathering place where interested visitors can participate in a mutually supportive but commercially neutral learning environment that deals with the trials and tribulations of movin’.
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