Free time isn't always free. Busy parents, home owners and time-strapped singles are buying a little extra leisure time by hiring professional cleaners to do the honors instead of spending Saturday morning scrubbing the toilet, among other things. Is it all leisurely brunches in a sparkling kitchen and evenings spent in a family room free of pet hair, peanut butter smudges and dust bunnies? Well, sometimes. But when you invite someone into your home to do the dirty work, there can be complications no one should have to endure to stay on the clean side of the American dream. Let's take a peek at 10 dirty little secrets your industrious cleaning professional may be hiding behind her apron.
10: She Doesn't Know Much More About Cleaning Than You Do
Cleaning someone's home can get complicated. Should you use an acid-based cleaner on a marble vanity? Can you employ an abrasive sponge to get pot marks off stainless steel? Under most circumstances, the answer to both questions is NO, but that doesn't necessarily mean your maid got the memo. The average cleaning professional may never receive formal training. To help ensure that your maid doesn't ruin your Oriental carpet or destroy your antique mirrors, be present for the first cleaning. Offer suggestions, and provide detailed instructions. Make sure your instructions make it into your customer file, too.
9: She Brought Other People's Dirt and Germs Into Your House
Cleaning is hard work, and hardworking maids visit some pretty nasty locations. Imagine your maid cleaning an apartment vacated by a disgruntled renter who lived like a slob before he was ousted. He had a dog, a snake, bed bugs and a pet rat. After cleaning up that colossal mess, the maid looks at her schedule and realizes that your account is next on her list. She grabs her equipment and rushes over to your house.
Alex Contaboni, a Texas pest control professional, thinks a similar scenario may explain the bedbug, flea and cockroach problems plaguing a number of his high-end clients that share the same maid service in Dallas. Yikes! One way to protect your home and family from cross-contamination is to supply the tools and equipment your cleaning professional uses. You may want to supply the cleansers and disposable items, too. The service will be cheaper that way, and you'll be less likely to inherit somebody else's infestation.
8: She's Working Faster But Not Necessarily Better
The first time your maid comes to clean, she'll probably do a great job. This first cleaning will typically be more expensive than subsequent visits, too. The second and third visits establish the benchmarks for a standard cleaning. Pay attention to how long these visits take. If the second and third visits take three hours, then cleaning your home should consistently take about that long. If, after six months, you discover that the maid is in and out in two hours and 15 minutes, you have a problem. It could be that the maid is getting super-efficient, but it's more likely that she's cutting a few important corners but still charging you for the full treatment.
7: She May Pull a Bait and Switch
When you interview a maid or service, you'll have a discussion about your cleaning needs. This will include information about how many bathrooms you have and how many levels comprise your home. You'll be given an hourly rate and an estimate. If you schedule a cleaning and it takes longer than the estimated time to complete, you'll pay more -- sometimes substantially more --than you anticipated. This is politely called underestimating the work involved, but it may actually be a calculated strategy to get your business by misrepresenting the cost of the cleaning. To avoid sticker shock, invite the maid or cleaning service representative to your house for a walk-through and in-home quote. It will be harder to justify a big upcharge if you make your needs clearly understood beforehand.
6: The Service May Send Someone Else
You may need to schedule maid service while you're out or at work. In theory, it's a great concept. When you get home, the house will be spotless, as if by magic. Once you hand over the key, though, you don't really know who will be stopping by. Some services assign specific workers to accounts, but that's not a guarantee that the same person will always clean your home. Employee turnover, illness and scheduling conflicts could result in a number of different people cleaning your home in any given month, some of them strangers to you. Quite a few cleaning services subcontract labor, too, giving them less control over employee screening and work quality. Not to put too fine a point on this, but the idea of having a spare key to your house just floating around out there should really make you think twice about the potential security problems.
5: You Got a Cheap Rate Because She's Not Insured or Bonded
If you're shopping around for the best maid service rate, be careful to compare apples to apples. More established cleaning services often bond and insure their employees. This means you have some protection from loss or injury. Bonding employees and ensuring them costs agencies more, an expense they typically pass on to the consumer. If a service or person is offering a very attractive rate but isn't bonded or insured, any protection you enjoy will have to come from your homeowner's insurance policy, possibly at an increased premium.
4: She Has a Spotless Record But Her Boyfriend Doesn't, and She Tells Him Everything
If this doesn't scare you, it should. You may trust your maid, maid service or anyone else who enters your home, but that person you trust knows someone who knows someone. Once the word gets out about your belongings and your schedule, you can't really control how far it will spread, or who might find the holes in your security net -- and the location of your valuables -- fascinating.
3: She Filled Out Her Checklist Before She Arrived
One big selling point for most cleaning services is the checklist. This is usually a multipage list of all the wonderful things the maid will clean and tidy up during each visit. The specifics will vary, but the checklist usually looks very complete. It looks efficient. Actually, it probably looks like just what you're after: an organized, professional approach to doing what you're lousy at (or just too busy to tackle). The problem is that the people doing the actual work have to fill out checklists at every stop, all day, every day. That checkmark doesn't necessarily mean the work was performed. To make sure your maid remembered to dust behind the curtains, don't look at the checkmark; open the curtains and check. It's the only way to be sure.
2: She May Have Light Fingers
You might not want to think about it, but not everyone in the world is totally, completely honest. Maids may be no more likely to steal from their employers than anyone else, but those who are so inclined have a unique opportunity to exercise their light-fingered tendencies. Cleaning service complaint sites are littered with anecdotes about maids disappearing with everything from lingerie to cash. When someone comes into your home and takes something without permission, it's a violation. You should feel safe where you live, and when circumstances show you that you're not, the frustration and bad faith can cost a lot more than the item that was taken. Stick with a cleaning service that uses dedicated employees, not subcontractors, and bonds them. You might also want to take the extra step of always having someone at home on cleaning day.
1: The Tax Man May Think She's Your Employee
You may think you have a great arrangement. A friendly college student is giving you a great deal on cleaning work and she does a bang up job. She's always on time, and your kids adore her. She even babysits once in a while. So, what's the problem? The tax man may think this is such a great deal that you should be paying taxes on it.
Paying an independent worker $1,400 or more a year in wages can get you into trouble with the IRS. You may find yourself transformed overnight from a private citizen into an employer responsible for the employer share of social security as well as federal unemployment taxes, applicable state taxes and Medicare taxes, too. Does everyone get caught? No. Will you? Is it worth the risk?
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