How Does an In-home Survey Work? Get the Low-down

GoodMigrations Whale


You may see the term “in-home survey” when reading about the international moving process, or moving companies may mention it when you speak to them. You may also hear it referred to as a “home survey,” a “pre-move survey,” or “in-home estimate.” We’ll discuss exactly what this means, what you can expect, and things you should look out for during the survey.

What is an in-home survey?

To provide an accurate estimate for your international move, the moving company needs to know what you’re shipping. So all the furniture, dishware, pots and pans, books, clothes, toys, stuff in the garage, and all the random things you have that defy categorization need to get tallied up if they’re going with you.

Most people are pretty good at listing all the furniture and other big items they have. But how many boxes will the books and toys fill? What about all the stuff in the garage? This is where people start to wildly miscalculate when they try to fill out one of those “instant quote” forms on websites or tell the moving company how much they’re shipping.

Trying to estimate the size yourself is how you end up with an inaccurate quote and potentially owe a lot more money once the mover actually picks up your stuff. That is not a surprise you want.

An in-home survey solves this problem. During an in-home survey, a moving company representative comes to your house at an agreed time and walks through it with you, taking inventory of everything you’re shipping (or taking to storage).

Some smaller movers use a paper inventory sheet to make notes of each item, but these days most use a tablet or some other electronic device with special software. As you point out things that you’re taking with you, they just enter it into the software. The software will give them the total volume or weight (or both) for your shipment, which enables them to price out and estimate the cost of the move. It also lets them know what size truck and how many people they’ll need on moving day.

This also gives the mover a chance to see where you live and identify if there’s anything uniquely challenging about moving your stuff out. For example, maybe you live on a street too narrow to fit a moving truck so the movers will have to wheel everything down the block – that’s likely going to be an additional fee. Or maybe you live on the fourth floor of a building with no elevator – again, that’s going to be more costly since it’s more work for the movers.

After completing the inventory, the moving company representative will sit down with you to discuss the services you need, such as packing services and materials (see this post on why you should let the mover pack for an international move) or temporary storage.

They’ll also answer any questions you have about the moving process.
Request an in-home survey
What does a survey cost?

Any reputable moving company will do a home survey for free – it’s just the cost of doing business. If a company wants to charge for one, you should avoid that mover.

And if a company insists on doing only a phone survey and refuses to send someone to your home, you should consider this a red flag. Many rogue movers don’t have the manpower to support onsite surveys. There is an important exception to this, however. If you live in a rural area then the mover may truly not have anyone nearby who can do a survey.

What should I look for during the survey?

A pre-move survey is an important opportunity for you to evaluate the moving company. Here are a few things you should pay attention to:

  • Did the moving company representative show up on time?
  • Was the representative professional and polite?
  • Was the representative able to answer all your questions/promise to get an answer for your questions?

If the answer to any of these is “no” and there’s not a very good explanation, you should be wary of using the moving company.

What should I prepare in advance?

It’s wise to do an in-home survey with each moving company you want a quote from, so you’ll want to be efficient. Before the mover arrives, make sure you know which items you want to ship, which you want to store, which you’ll pack in your suitcases, and which you plan to sell, donate, or give away. It may help to make your own list so you can be consistent with each moving company.

And make sure you’ve identified any delicate or special items that are moving, such as artwork or antiques, so the mover knows that they require special packaging, which can impact the cost.

What questions should I ask the mover?

The in-home survey is a great opportunity to ask questions of the moving company representative. Here are a few things you may want to consider asking:

  • If the salesperson doesn’t mention insurance, ask if it’s available (insurance is almost never included in the price).
  • Will the quote include packing materials?
  • Will the quote include terminal handling charges (THC)?
  • Will the quote include all paperwork and customs clearance?
  • If the volume is just enough to require more than a full container, can the mover tell you how much to reduce in order to stick to one container (and keep your costs down)?

Is an in-home survey always needed?

Our typical advice is you can probably skip an in-home survey if you have a storage unit or studio apartment and instead do a phone survey or fill out an automated quote form.

However, when your home is bigger than a one bedroom, that’s when it gets hard for a non-professional to quantify all the things in closets, in drawers, and on shelves. I know that every time I’ve moved I’ve always miscalculated how many boxes I need and end up throwing all the random left over stuff into bags.

What happens after an in-home survey?

After the survey, the salesperson goes back to the office to put together a quote. This can take a few days since the salesperson may need to reach out to a mover in your destination country to get the estimate for the work they have to do. (An international move can involve several different movers; learn more about how moving abroad works with this article.)
Pre Move Estimate

Once you’ve got a quote that’s right for you, you can book the mover. See the whole process for hiring a mover with our guide to getting an international moving company in six easy steps.

Have any questions? Please contact us and we’ll help you out.

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