How To Predict Job Times

Because sometimes people don't like surprises.

Things you'll learn:

  • How to estimate the length of the job over the phone.
  • Important questions to ask the customer to give accurate quotes.

A newlywed couple is moving from their 2 bedroom second-floor apartment to a 2 bedroom cape across town. There's a 100-foot walk from the apartment building to the parking lot; at the house you'll be able to pull right up to the garage. And Oh we're taking off on our honeymoon early tomorrow morning so can you just kind of tell us now how much the move will cost?

A prospective customer calls to request an estimate on loading their 2-story, 3 bedroom house. Their heaviest item is an armoire. There is a short flight of stairs outside the front door. And Gosh we're terribly busy can you give us your estimate right now over the phone?

And there you are, receiver in hand, the person on the other end of the line waiting for some numbers.

How many guys will I need to handle the job? How many man-hours will the job require?

As the person in charge, you'll be expected to be able to give fairly accurate figures for crew sizes and job times. If you are still building up your business you may have time to go out and survey things beforehand, but if you've reached the point where you are too busy to go out and estimate every move, or if a customer simply doesn't have the time or availability for you to come out, you'll have to come up with an educated estimate. It can be tricky, but a few bits of critical information will keep your bid in the ballpark – then when it's all over you'll have a happy home crowd.

There might be a temptation to guess low to increase your chances of getting the job. Of course when the final tally turns out to be fifty percent higher you'll have one extremely unhappy customer. On the flipside, going too high may very well send the customer running over to the competition. So how to arrive at a reasonably accurate figure, job site unseen? For starters, take a look at the following chart (which you will soon know by heart and be able to recite in your sleep).

Job Size Loading Only Unloading Only Load & Unload
Studio or Small Apartment 2 movers for 2 hours 2 movers for 2 hours 2 movers for 4 hours
2-3 Bedroom Apartment 2 movers for 3 hours 2 movers for 2 hours 2 movers for 5 hours
2-3 Bedroom House 3 movers for 4 hours 3 movers for 3 hours 3 movers for 7 hours
3-4 Bedroom House 4 movers for 4 hours 4 movers for 3 hours 4 movers for 7-8 hours
4+ Bedroom House 4 movers for 5 hours 4 movers for 4 hours 4 movers for 8-10 hours
Large House or Castle 4+ movers for 6+ hours 4+ movers for 4+ hours 4+ movers for 10+ hours

This, of course, is only a guide; every home is different. To arrive at an estimate you can feel confident about, ask the following questions.

What is the layout of the house? Will there be a long carry to or from the truck?

A two-bedroom condo might involve a large walk-in closet, an upstairs office and a sprawling crawl space off the downstairs den. Destination might come with a long walk from the truck to the front door and an even longer walk around to the back of the house to the basement sliding doors you'll have to use for the large sectional sofa they want to put down there.

Does the customer have a significant amount of something?

'We have a lot of pictures' or 'My wife has a ton of shoes' may or may not mean much when estimating a move, but the customer might have boxes and boxes of Christmas decorations and thirty years of their kids' stuff in that crawl space; they might have a record album collection to put an oldies radio station to shame; maybe they've prepared for Armageddon and have a year's worth of canned goods in the garage. And, believe it or not, they may not think to mention it. So ask: Do you collect anything, or have a lot of something you'll want us to take extra special care of?

How many flights of stairs are there at each end of the move?

A good rule of thumb is to add 30-60 minutes (depending on the overall amount of furniture and boxes) for each set of stairs you'll be encountering. On the subject of stairs, consider slipping in a quick question about the staircases inside the customer's home (and outside, particularly in the case of an apartment building). Are they wide and fairly accessible? If not, no need to wallow in the details, the customer will not only understand that you are a considerate moving pro, but will now have the notion in his or her head that tight corners and narrow passageways can slow the crew down if there are any large and/or heavy pieces to maneuver.

Does the customer have any particularly heavy items?

Add 30 minutes for pianos, pool tables and gun safes. Items like these can take the entire crew a while to move from room to truck or vice versa. Grandfather clocks also take up time as they need to be serviced (i.e. the weights need to be removed and packed) while the clock itself will demand a fair bit of TLC. Baby grand pianos require special equipment as well as extra time.

Are there any items that require tools for assembly, dismantling or removal?

Bed frames and dresser mirrors are common answers and do not actually take up much time. And you probably bring tools with you as a matter of course. But similar to questions about stairs, asking about items that require tools may remind the customer of something – the bar that won't fit through the door unless the top is taken off; the wall unit that is screwed into the wall studs; the credenza that is mounted on a massive cleat behind the massive desk in the office. (Yes, we have seen all of this and more!) By mentioning these things you not only prepare your crew, you plant the seed in the customer's head that certain things will add to the total move time.

So make it a point to ask these questions. You'll put yourself in a position to be able to predict the job time accurately without having to visit the property beforehand.