Hiring a Housekeeper
If your life as a caregiver is so busy that you’re thinking of hiring an individual or agency to clean your home, you’re not alone. The US Department of Commerce estimates that by 2010, 80% of dual-income families will use a hired housekeeper or agency. This increasing demand for housekeepers means that the number of agencies and individuals in the industry is also growing, and consumers have a wide variety of options to choose from.
Before You Start Looking for a Housekeeper
To streamline the process and make sure that that you’re getting exactly what you need, you should ask yourself several questions before hiring a housekeeper.
What do I want the housekeeper to do?
First, give some serious thought to how much of the housekeeping you can reasonably keep up with yourself. If you can deal with most of the daily housekeeping routine, you might only need help once every several weeks. If you only have the time and energy to straighten the house, wash the dishes, and deal with minor clean-ups like sweeping spills, you might need a housekeeper who comes in one or two times each week. If you don’t have time for much housework at all, you may need to plan for several visits each week.
Consider which areas of the house you want to have help with, and which rooms you’ll want to deal with by yourself. For example, you might want to have a housekeeper clean the kitchen, bathroom, and living room but not the study or your bedroom.
Keep in mind that most housekeepers will clean all surfaces and floors, but many will NOT do this services without an additional fee:
- wash windows
- do dishes
- do personal laundry
- clean up after pets
Do I want to use a cleaning service, or hire an individual?
There are advantages to both options that you should consider.
Some of the pros and cons of hiring an individual as a housekeeper are:
- In general, an individual will cost you less than hiring an agency will
- You are in control of the types of cleaning products that are used; however, you might have to provide the cleaning products and equipment
- Because you are dealing with the same person every visit, you can develop a good working relationship with your housekeeper; your housekeeper will become familiar with your cleaning needs
- If your housekeeper quits, or you have to let your housekeeper go, you face the task of finding a replacement
- If your housekeeper is ill or unavailable, you have no backup plan
- If you decide to fire your housekeeper, you’ll have to handle it yourself
- It can be a lot of work to ensure that you’re hiring someone reputable
- You must verify that your housekeeper can work in the country legally, and you will have tax and accounting responsibilities as the employer
Some of the pros and cons of using a cleaning agency as a housekeeper are:
- You have no employment, accounting, or tax responsibilities as an employer
- Many agencies screen their employees and/or perform background checks, and many protect you from worker injury claims, property damage, and theft
- You will have a written contract, with services and fees detailed in writing
- Agency workers often work in supervised teams, which may limit snooping and dawdling
- You have the security of a quick replacement if a housekeeper is ill, but may not have the same housekeeper every visit
- If your housekeeper isn’t doing a good job, you can report it to the agency and let them handle it
- Your cost might be higher, and the cleaner might actually earn less
- You may have no control over the types of cleaning products that are used, but will probably not have to provide the cleaning products or equipment
What is my budget for a housekeeper?
The cost of a housekeeper varies widely across the country, but typically ranges from $40 to $150 per visit based on the size of your home and whether you hire an individual or an agency. Before calling an agency or talking to an individual housekeeper, you should have a good idea of what you can afford to pay.
Finding and Hiring a Housekeeper
Once you’ve decided:
- How much help you need
- Which type of help you’d like to find – an agency or individual
- How much you can afford to pay
you’re ready to find and hire some help.
Where can I find a good housekeeper?
If you have friends, family, or neighbors who have help with housekeeping, you should ask them for their recommendations (or find out who should be avoided!). If someone you trust has an already-proven housekeeping resource that they’re willing to put you in touch with, it can save you a lot of time.
If you’re choosing an agency, you can check with the Better Business Bureau for any issues that may have arisen with the companies you’re considering. Check your mail for discount offers—most of the larger chains send out frequent coupons, and they can save you some money.
Other places to find qualified candidates include:
- The employment office at your local university or junior college
- Bulletin boards at a community center or senior center
- The phone book
- The newspaper
What should I ask when interviewing an individual or an agency?
- If you’re interviewing individual housekeepers, ask the candidates what they like about cleaning, and why they do it; chances are, if they don’t enjoy what they’re doing, they won’t be thorough at it and won’t keep the job for very long.
- If you have specific cleaning needs (windows, laundry, cat boxes, etc.), find out if they are willing and able to meet them.
- Discuss cost per visit, or cost per hour, and decide whether they are within your price range.
- Discuss fees for additional/occasional services such as spring cleaning, waxing the floor, or shampooing the carpet.
- Ask for references from current or previous clients, then call and check those references—find out whether the housekeeper arrives for work every time and on time; find out what cleaning is done and how thoroughly the work is done; ask if they’re satisfied and are getting good value; ask how long they’ve used the housekeeper or agency; ask if they’ve ever had issues with damage, breakage, or loss; if they’re willing, compare quoted rates; remember, you’re planning to give this person or agency access to your home, and you should be certain that you’re making a good choice.
- For an individual, ask for character references, and follow up on them; if you have any doubts about a person or agency after checking references, you should look at other choices.
- For an individual, ask for documentation that establishes their legal right to work in the United States, a social security card, and a driver’s license; if you choose and hire an individual housekeeper, have them fill out an “Employment Eligibility Verification form”, or I-9 (http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/I-9.pdf), and keep copies of the supporting documents in your personal files.
- For an individual, ask for documentation of a recent tuberculosis test—this is standard for the cleaning industry, and shouldn’t offend a qualified candidate.
- Set up a 2- to 4-week trial period with your favorite candidate or agency to evaluate the work before you commit to a long-term arrangement.
After You have Hired a Housekeeper
Now that you’ve hired a housekeeper, there are some things to keep in mind to make your business relationship a positive one.
- If you’ve hired an individual, you’ll need to learn the basics of employment law, and how to pay the employer’s portion of taxes (FICA, federal unemployment, state unemployment taxes, Social Security, Medicare, etc.); some of these taxes are flat fees per individual, some are based on the wages paid, and some must be matched by the employer (contact your local Small Business Administration or similar organization for information on the forms you need to file and the records you should keep).
- Create a list of specific cleaning goals, specifying which rooms should be cleaned and which should not—if there are items that should not be cleaned, such as Great-Grandma’s priceless end table, be sure to specify that; go over the list with your housekeeper to make sure there are no misunderstandings.
- Set guidelines for what the housekeeper can do in your home, such as using the telephone, turning on the stereo or television, or using the computer; if you set the boundaries immediately, you shouldn’t have any issues later.
- Negotiate a way to request and pay for chores that aren’t on the regular cleaning routine, such as waxing the floor, an annual refrigerator clean-out, or spring cleaning.
- Decide whether you’ll want to be at home when the housekeeper visits, or away; sometimes, being home can make both you and the housekeeper uncomfortable unless your home is so big that you don’t cross paths.
- If you choose to be out during cleaning, be careful with security; give your housekeeper a key that clearly states it cannot be duplicated, and if you have a security keypad, give the housekeeper a number that isn’t used by anyone else
- If you have special breakables that you’re especially concerned about, move them to an area that won’t be cleaned; don’t leave valuables lying around to tempt fate.
- Store all personal papers in a locked drawer or file cabinet, and password-protect your computer if you don’t want the housekeeper to access it; its human nature to peek at available information.
- Pick up clutter in your house before the housekeeper visits; this will speed up the cleaning and get you more value for your cleaning dollar.
- After each visit, walk through the house and check for areas that might have been missed or that need more attention; politely bring these areas to the housekeeper’s attention at the beginning of the next visit.
- Keep the lines of communication open, provide positive feedback often, and don’t be afraid to give negative (but still polite) feedback if necessary.
- If something is broken or damaged, raise the topic immediately; if you suspect a housekeeper of stealing, you should write down a list of the things that you think are missing and then contact the agency, the housekeeper, or the police.
- For your peace of mind, it’s a good idea to have renter’s insurance or homeowner’s insurance.
- Unless a prior agreement has been made, housekeepers that you hire directly expect to be paid on the day of service.
- Be kind and respectful to your housekeeper.
- Enjoy the space that hiring a housekeeper has created for your life!