Learning the Lingo: Dunnage, Lading, and Other Jargon to Learn Before You Move

Every industry has its own special shorthand jargon used (and beloved) by insiders. And the moving business is no different, having evolved from a few covered Conestoga wagons during the westward expansion in the 1800s to the thriving $13 billion industry it is today. But what the heck is the difference between "dunnage" and "PBO"?

Realtor.com is here to help! This installment of our weekly Learning the Lingo series will illuminate all the terms you'll need to relocate without a hitch. And to sound like a pro while you're doing it.

Bill of lading

What is lading, you ask? It's a verb originally meaning "to put cargo on a ship." The bill of lading came into existence centuries ago when international trade was heating up and people on both sides of a deal realized they needed a binding, written description of items going from Point A to Point B.

Today it's a commonly used to describe the agreement between customers and movers, acknowledging that all belongings will be loaded on a truck and delivered to the target location. It also serves as a receipt ensuring those items are returned in good condition, so be sure to examine the document and make sure all your valuables are listed.

In 1350, one early statute dictated that if the clerk lied about the document, "He should lose his right hand" and "be marked on the forehead with a branding iron." We don't need to go that far, but it's nice to know this bill has a history of being taken seriously.

Binding estimate

This one is simple, but oh-so-critical: It's the guaranteed price supplied by a moving company based on the inventory of your home.

A binding estimate means that if the actual weight of your shipment is more than the written estimate, you still pay only the amount quoted. But not all estimates are binding -- nonbinding means if the weight goes over, you pay for the excess, up to 10% of the original quote. Still with us? You can also ask for a binding not-to-exceed estimate. If the actual weight is less than this type of quote, you pay a lower amount.


Yet another old shipping term, this describes the stuff that protects your stuff: blankets, pads, and filler material that prevent damage to goods during transit.

While the word seems awkward these days, at least modern movers don't talk like they did in Rudyard Kipling's "Captains Courageous": "There's a hundred hogshead o' salt in the bins; an' we hain't more'n covered our dunnage to now."

Flight charge

Moving to or from a two-story home or a walk-up apartment? The flight charge is what movers bill to carry furniture up (or down) each flight of stairs.

If your property of origin or your ultimate destination has any steps, make sure to ask your mover to include this flight charge in your guaranteed price to avoid any surprise overages; some movers even charge by the step! And if you think a service elevator eliminates the need to pay this fee, think again. There may be an elevator carry fee, including time spent waiting for the thing to come.

High-value article inventory form

That side table you had appraised on "Antiques Roadshow"? Your carrier will have you fill out a high-value inventory form to list any items included in your move that are valued at more than $100 per pound. This ensures pricey items are protected accordingly, as most moving loads are valued at 60 cents per pound.

Items of extraordinary high value usually include china, art, and computers. And don't forget to list your expensive shoes, which usually weigh around 2 pounds.


This acronym stands for "packed by owner," meaning exactly that: A customer packs up articles himself or herself for moving. It seems simple enough, but PBO items damaged en route may not be insured. On the other hand, broken CP -- or "carrier packed" -- items must be replaced by the mover.

Weight additive

Here's a quick physics lesson on weight versus volume. Some items included in a shipment -- such as a boat or camper shells -- may take up a lot of volume while adding relatively little weight. To compensate for the light weight of a bulky item, a tariff, or weight additive, is added to the net weight of the shipment.

Accessorial services

These are moving company assists that goes beyond transporting goods from hither to yon. Such services can include packing, unpacking, and even providing extra gas for the moving truck. Guess what goes with these perks? Accessorial charges.


Sure, you could say "shipper," but moving companies prefer legalese. Plus "consignor" just sounds so much cooler, doesn't it? So to make it simple: A consignor is the person who sends things to a consignee, the person receiving the goods. Odds are that's you.