A man and woman stand in their garage doorway. The man is carrying a cardboard box labeled "BEDROOM # 2" in black marker. A woman, who is smiling at him, rests her hands on top of a stack of labeled cardboard boxes. A white text logo in the lower right says "Puget Sound Consumers' Checkbook."

How To Save on Movers and Avoid Scams

We turned to our friends at Consumers’ Checkbook for tips on how to shop for movers you can trust, so you can get a great deal and protect your stuff.

If your household is moving this summer and you have more stuff than your friends will help you with in exchange for pizza, you'll want to book a reputable moving company — and the sooner the better. The good ones are very busy for the foreseeable future, and there are plenty of bad actors to avoid.

Here are some tips to help you get a good deal and protect your property.

Do as Much as You Can

First, think about what services you need. You'll save a lot of money by doing some or a lot of the work, especially packing. On most local moves, paying a moving company to box up your stuff will double your costs.

You can also save by ferrying some of your own boxes and other small items, which account for a substantial amount of the weight and cost of a move. Then, let a mover handle the piano, dressers and other heavy, hard-to-move items.

You can even rent and drive your own moving truck and just hire the muscle to help with loading and unloading. Prices vary based on the company's hourly rates and how many people are on the moving crew. You'll want to account for the price of the truck rental, mileage and gas to figure out if this approach will really save you money. The same shopping advice below applies whether you're hiring movers to do the whole job or just help you load and unload.

Even if you don't want to lift a finger, still plan to move jewelry, framed art and other especially valuable belongings yourself so you can keep an eye on those items and give them the level of care you think they need.

Shop Around and Get It in Writing

Be sure to get prices from several companies. Estimates should detail the services to be performed and include a summary of items to be moved and, just as important, any exceptions — items the movers won't move. Otherwise, on moving day you may get into a dispute with a mover who wants to charge extra for work you thought the estimate included, like your gas grill or piano.

Consumers' Checkbook's undercover shoppers collected prices for three local moves and three long-distance moves, and, for each job, found dramatic company-to-company price differences. For example, prices quoted to pack and move the contents of a four-bedroom house from Renton to Newcastle ranged from $1,320 to $5,440. And to move 9,000 pounds of goods from Shoreline to Los Angeles, price quotes ranged from $5,000 to $9,000.

The only way to get a good price for any type of move is to shop around. Ask several movers to provide written estimates; by law, they must do so before the move.

Short vs. Long Distance Moves

For moves within Washington of less than 56 miles, companies set their prices based on the number of workers and the amount of time needed for the job.

For longer-distance moves, charges are based on mileage and weight. If you want help packing, prices will also include charges for labor and for any company-provided containers.

For in-state moves, most companies offer only nonbinding estimates, but because Washington law stipulates that movers cannot charge more than 25% above a written estimate, any written estimate, in effect, includes a not-to-exceed price.

About Storage Services

If you need storage services, or if your goods will be placed into storage while awaiting transfer during a long-distance move, get prices for the storage service and documents indicating where the goods will be stored. Be sure to check what, specifically, you'll be charged for. If possible, inspect the storage facility.

Also, get proof that insurance will cover your belongings against theft, fire and other risks while in storage, because insurance for goods in transit won't cover them during long-term storage.

Be Present During Loading and Unloading

During your move, be on the scene — and attentive — when your belongings are loaded and unloaded. Make sure the moving company prepares an inventory of your belongings. Carefully read the bill of lading (the contract between you and the mover) before you sign it.

Check Your Stuff for Damage

As your goods are unloaded, check the condition of each item. You won't have time to open every carton, so focus on inspecting cartons containing especially fragile or valuable items. Don't sign the inventory or any other paper without first noting any damage that has occurred. Signing a document that does not note damage will make it hard to collect for damage later.

If you find damage after the movers leave, notify the company promptly; and keep the broken items and packing materials as you found them in the box, so the mover's claims representative can check them.

Be Cautious About Brokers

When shopping for a mover, beware of brokers, many of which operate online, often disguising themselves as local moving outfits. These companies do not own or operate any trucks or employ movers; they simply collect a deposit and arrange for a moving company to handle your move. The problem with such arrangements is you have no control over who actually performs the work. Since the broker chooses the mover, you may get stuck with an inferior company.

Because brokers typically collect fees up front, they may be uninterested in mediating disputes with the mover.

Pay With a Credit Card

If possible, charge your move to a credit card so you can initiate a chargeback from your card issuer if the company doesn't do the job properly and won't make things right.

Also, be aware that most peer-to-peer payment apps, such as Zelle and Venmo, do not offer the fraud protection of a credit card and therefore are risky ways to pay for goods and services.

Watch Out for Scammers

The moving industry is also plagued by scammers who take advantage of people who are in a rush and don't know how to find a reputable mover. The crooks advertise heavily on the internet to get prime placement on search results. A high-ranking online search result doesn't tell you anything about whether a company is legitimate. Spend some time investigating the business before you give them any information or money.

How Scammers Work

Because moving scams are so lucrative, criminal enterprises have created sophisticated operations masquerading as legitimate businesses. They claim to have an office in your area, but these are typically virtual offices or mail handling services. They also tend to change names frequently, which makes it difficult for consumers to get reliable information about them. If you hire one of these crooked companies, there's a good chance your possessions will wind up lost or stolen, or that the company will charge exorbitant fees for the return of your stuff.

Look Up Federal Registration

Many good local companies handle long-distance relocations, or work with national networks to coordinate them. For long-distance moves, avoid companies that are not registered with the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates interstate and international movers. Use the FMCSA's database to check if an interstate mover is licensed and insured (as required), and to see its complaint history.

About Puget Sound Consumers' Checkbook

Puget Sound Consumers' Checkbook and Checkbook.org are a nonprofit organization with a mission to educate and help consumers. Checkbook also evaluates local service providers — home improvement contractors, doctors, dentists, veterinarians, stores and more. It is supported by consumers and takes no money from the companies it evaluates. BECU members can try Consumers' Checkbook for 30 days for free and can get 50% off their annual subscription.

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