Hiring a mover without getting burned

Hiring a moving company involves a degree of trust. Trust that the movers will be on time, charge a fair price, and take good care of your belongings. Many local movers fit that description, but if you've never hired a mover, be careful. surveyed local customers about their experiences with local moving companies, and they did their own price check. Some companies got high ratings for overall satisfaction, others left much to be desired.

"One of our shoppers had movers come to her home and get estimates to move her home from Seattle to Bellevue. It was just a typical three-bedroom home," explained Checkbook editor Kevin Brasler.

The undercover shopper got estimates for packing as well as doing the move. The lowest estimate was $1,681. The average estimate was $1,949, and the high was $3,198 for the same job. Keep in mind, prices are based on a number of factors, including wages, equipment and other overhead costs.

Experts always recommend getting three estimates, and two estimates at the very least. And pay attention to their professionalism, their degree of knowledge, their thoroughness and they way they answer your questions.

"It just pays to shop around. It pays to do a little bit of extra work, to have more than one company come to your home," Brasler said.

But never shop by price alone, because the lowest price could leave you with empty rooms and your belongings held hostage. A lot of those low-ball estimates come from scammers, especially on the Internet.

Once they get your property loaded, they take off and the price goes way up. Moving scammers are known to hold property hostage, and even steal or destroy belongings. So always insist on an in-home estimate and get it in writing, and make sure you know your rights under the law.

Here in Washington, all movers must have a valid state permit with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission. Movers must give you a written estimate prior to the move, and they must provide a complete inventory of the belongings they take.

And be sure to verify the permit. It could be bogus. Investigators say they just foiled the plans of a Bremerton man trying to get into the moving business illegally. Turns out he has a 12-year criminal history that includes theft, identity theft, making and selling drugs- and sexual misconduct.

You can check out the Checkbook ratings here. Just remember, that fact that people have used a moving company does not guarantee that company has the required state permits.

The State Utilities and Transportation Commission tells me some movers currently operating in our state, do not have permits and are essentially rogue movers who, in fact have many complaints. No matter what anyone tells you, always verify the state permit.

Checkbook ratings and reports are a subscriber-based service, but Checkbook has made special arrangements for KOMO viewers to have access the Movers Report for the next 2 weeks. The link will be active through Feb. 5, 2013.