If you've shopped moving companies lately, you've probably noticed a vast range of prices. Like any good consumer, you likely picked the cheapest company that still has decent reviews. Then you cross your fingers.

Choosing a moving company is not like buying a car or pair of shoes. The costs involved in operating a moving company don't vary much from company to company. At the end of the moving day, you might see a difference of about 10 percent, at most.

The cheaper estimate could easily end up being much more costly.

I wouldn't say the cheaper companies are lying, but they aren't painting a complete picture. Some might quote just an hourly rate, forgetting to include items that are a necessary part of every move, like tape. They also might only quote their minimum number of hours, giving the impression that that's how long the move will take.

It's not deliberate deception, but it is a way of attracting you with their hourly rates and it's a way of getting you off the phone quickly so they can move on to the next customer.

How to protect yourself

Unless a moving company takes its time to find out every detail of your move, including each and every item of furniture, what needs packing and what needs unpacking, how many flights of stairs might be involved and what sized truck is required, there are no guarantees. In fact, the second biggest complaint about moving companies is about underestimating the job.

It might be time-consuming to go through your entire home, or to arrange for a mover to give an in-person estimate, but that is the only way to ensure that you are getting a realistic price. In fact, that's the only way a moving company will guarantee their price. It is also the only way that the company can prepare in case your move needs a few additional boxes, an additional mover or even an additional truck.

Even if you live in a modest-sized home, very few moves are completed within a company's minimum number of hours. Those minimums are to protect the moving company, not the customer. To ensure that you are getting the most accurate price, not just the best hourly rate, demand that the mover takes the time to learn everything about your move.