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Hiring the right someone to clean your house


Had it with cleaning your own bathtub? This article is for you.

A Medical Economics Web Exclusive

Hiring the right someone to clean your house

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Choose article section...How much for a pair of helping hands?What about security?Should you use a maid service?

Had it with cleaning your own bathtub? This article is for you.

By Susan Harrington Preston
Senior Editor

"I’m not going to argue with my husband about who’s going to clean the bathroom," says general practitioner Karen M. Engberg, author of It’s Not the Glass Ceiling, It’s the Sticky Floor (Prometheus Books, 1999). "I’ve always had someone to clean my house. To me, it’s worth the cost."

The cost is one thing–we’ll talk more about that later–but finding the right housekeeper is another. "Really good cleaning ladies are one in a thousand," says Cheryl Mendelson, author of Home Comforts (Scribner, 1999), a comprehensive guide to housework.

The most reliable new hire is, of course, someone you know, or someone recommended by a trusted friend. Engberg’s first cleaning lady, who stayed with her for 14 years, had been a housekeeper in the hospital where the doctor practiced. "I knew her and her work from the hospital," says Engberg.

If you hire on someone’s recommendation, make sure the maid won’t be overworked by adding your house to her schedule. Housekeeping is strenuous, so if she’s good 20 hours a week, she may be mediocre working 35 or 40.

You might also consider hiring one of your own kids. Taxwise, employing your kin can be a tad simpler than hiring outside the family. If the child is younger than 21, you may not have to pay Medicare or Social Security tax.

If you get a name from a bulletin board posting, checking references from one or two other employers is essential. Another option is to use a reliable maid service, since it will do its own background checks and send bonded, insured employees.

How much for a pair of helping hands?

Customary maid’s pay is about $6 to $20 per hour, depending on your region of the country. Although maids in Texas earn little more than minimum wage, "for a part-time housekeeper in New York City, you’d probably pay $15 to $20 an hour," says Keith Greenhouse of Pavillion employment agency, which places domestic staff for wealthy households. In Engberg’s hometown of Santa Barbara, maids earn $8 to $18 an hour, she estimates.

What about full-time help? "A live-in housekeeper costs a minimum of $25,000 and can easily run as much as $50,000 a year," notes Kathleen Webb of Home/Work Solutions, a domestic-employers’ tax service based in Sterling, VA. "If it’s a live-out position, probably no less than $30,000 and possibly upward of $60,000."

Flat fees are common for domestic employees of all types, according to Todd Maddalone of GTM Associates, a payroll service based in Albany, NY. The advantage of a flat fee is, of course, that you needn’t worry about how long the cleaning takes. If she wants to, the housekeeper can sit down and watch As the World Turns, and you needn’t fret over the extra time. She’ll be that much happier, and as long as the quality of the cleaning remains acceptable, you’ll be happy, too.

Still, a flat fee should be based on how many hours a typical cleaning should take. In Home Comforts, Cheryl Mendelson estimates that cleaning a one-bedroom apartment requires three to four hours, and cleaning a house with two to three bedrooms and one and a half baths, along with doing several loads of laundry, should take five or six hours. At $15 an hour, then, you’re looking at $75 to $90 a visit for a modest house.

The benefits provided for housekeepers tend to be minimal. Sick leave and vacation are simple to administer, particularly if the housekeeper earns a flat fee for each pay period. (If she works one day a week, you could provide paid vacation simply by giving her the right not to show up for a few weeks each year.) To retain a proven employee, you can add these benefits several months after you hire her.

Charges by maid services are similar to what you’d pay an individual. Merry Maids of Memphis, which has more than 900 franchises, reports that cleaning a three-bedroom, two-bath 2,000-square-foot house costs $65 to $95 per every-other-week visit, after the initial cleaning, which runs $100 or more. That’s on a par with the 200-franchise, Atlanta-based Maid Brigade, for which the average visit costs $83 and initial visits average $155.

But the tab varies greatly. Says Don Hay, who founded Maid Brigade, "In Westchester County, NY, the average regular cleaning is $138, and the average initial cleaning is $329." In Dallas, he speculates, cleaning a 4,000-square-foot house would cost about $85 a visit.

You can choose from many independent firms, too. In Anchorage, Housekeeping by Karen says it can clean an 1,800-square-foot, two-and-one-half bath, three-bedroom house for $75 to $85 per weekly visit (excludes laundry). Michael W. Baird, who operates the White Glove cleaning service in San Antonio, says that $50 to $65 per visit is typical. NY-Brite of New York City charges $50 per housekeeper for a three-hour minimum visit and $15 for each additional hour, assuming you provide the cleaning supplies.

If you use a maid service, you may be tempted to hire one of its ace cleaners directly. Since the services typically pay their employees 40 to 50 cents of every dollar you spend, hiring directly can save you money while also putting more dollars in the pocket of the lady with the mop.

You’ll burn your bridges with the cleaning service, though. Then, "you no longer have any guarantees, or any backup if she’s sick or doesn’t want to do it anymore," says Don Hay, who heads Maid Brigade. "You’re on your own."

What about security?

If you’ve hired through a reputable agency or checked references on your own, you shouldn’t have to worry much about the maid’s honesty. Just make sure your homeowners and workers’ compensation insurance is up to date, and relax.*

A maid can lose a house key, though, or have it stolen by a theft-minded acquaintance. And with cleaning services, you have little choice but to hand over a key.

If you can’t be there to let in a maid you hire directly, you might have a deadbolt installed somewhere discreet, such as inside the garage, if you regularly leave the garage unlocked. You can add a layer of security to that by installing a deadbolt on one door, giving the maid the key for that lock alone, and leaving that door unlocked–except for the deadbolt–on cleaning day.

If you’ve got a hidden security camera on your property, tell the maid. Not only is it the courteous thing to do, but if she’s as good a housecleaner as you hope, she may just find it anyway.

Should you use a maid service?

Having someone else deal with the hiring, scheduling, training, workers’ compensation, pay records, and tax hassles involved with cleaning people is undeniably attractive. So is having recourse if dust bunnies get left behind, and having a guaranteed replacement if your regular maid gets sick or quits.

Most maid services contract with customers for weekly or every-other-week visits. Usually, cleaning services provide their own equipment and supplies. The housekeeper may come alone, or there may be a team of four or five people headed by a supervisor.

If you use a cleaning service, especially a small one, you should double check that it carries workers’ compensation and liability insurance–the kind of insurance you’d need if you hired on your own. Jeanne Salvatore, spokeswoman for the New York-based Insurance Information Institute, recommends asking for assurance in writing that the company provides coverage.

You may have to work to set the standards for cleanliness. "If you call a typical maid service and say, ‘Will you do my miniblinds?’ They’ll say, ‘Yeah, don’t worry about it.’ Then you come home and your miniblinds are still dusty," says Hay of Maid Brigade.

"If we were going through your home with you on a first visit and you mentioned the blinds, we’d probably say ‘Well, Dr. Smith, we can do that regularly as an extra,’ " Hay says. "All that customizes your cleaning and determines what it costs you."

White Glove owner Baird, who also heads the American Maid Service Association, concurs. "We used to offer certification to maids, but we abandoned that because of lack of cooperation from the companies," he says.

Most companies will let you specify how you want your house cleaned, Baird says. If you go that route, skip the firms that send teams of cleaners, an approach that demands routine, in favor of a firm that will send the same one or two reliable people every time. You can also provide your own cleaning supplies, if you want to assure that certain supplies are used.

*For more on insurance, see "Child care: Hiring—and keeping—someone who’ll do it right."


Sue Preston. Hiring the right someone to clean your house.

Medical Economics


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