Everyone loves a just-cleaned house — especially if someone else did the cleaning. To some of us, hiring housecleaning help is a luxury; to others, it’s a necessity. And either way, it’s a very personal service: after all, house cleaners have the run of the home.

Checkbook receives a lot of negative feedback on housecleaning companies. Most complaints relate to sloppy work, but many also mention quality of work deteriorating over time. So if you are considering hiring help with your household chores, you will want to choose carefully.

Your first step is to decide whether you want to hire an individual or company to do the work. Hiring a company relieves you of employer responsibilities, especially paying taxes and obtaining unemployment insurance coverage. But you may prefer getting to know an individual who you can work with to establish a long-term, trusting relationship.

You are also more likely to get better work from an individual you hire than from a company. A survey conducted by Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook found that area residents who employed companies were less satisfied than consumers who hired individuals.

Prices varied widely among local companies. For example, quotes obtained by Checkbook’s undercover shoppers ranged from $80 to $170 to clean a two-story, three-bedroom house with two baths on a weekly basis. For a semiweekly cleaning of a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo, prices ranged from $90 to $190. Most companies indicated they charge more for the initial cleaning session than for follow-ups — not surprising since the first visit may require taming total squalor.

If you decide to hire a company, phone estimates can provide an idea about which ones are reasonably priced. Before contacting companies, decide which services you want them to do. All will dust, vacuum, take out the trash, mop floors, and clean kitchens and bathrooms. If you want them to perform other tasks, check whether prospective companies will handle them. Most companies will not shampoo carpets and rugs, wash window exteriors, or do laundry.

Also decide how often you want service. Companies generally want to schedule regular periodic service, but some are willing to come only as needed, say for a move in or move out. Some offer only weekly or biweekly service. If you want service on a certain day, check whether companies are available on that day, especially if you want someone to come on Fridays or Saturdays.

Over the phone, be sure to supply detailed information about your home — number of floors, bedrooms, bathrooms, types of floor coverings, how large, etc. Then be sure to have any company you are considering out to your home to provide a written estimate with a description of exactly what work is to be done and how often.

Also ask companies to provide you with certificates of insurance — liability and workers’ compensation. If a company tells you it is bonded, know that doesn’t mean much: the bonds housecleaning services buy protect the company, not you.

If you prefer to hire an individual, keep in mind that paying an individual to help with housecleaning differs substantially from hiring a company. He or she will be your employee, not a contractor. You must negotiate pay and benefits. Get referrals from friends and neighbors who are satisfied. Talk with them — and other references from the individual — about your priorities, your pet peeves, and the strengths and weaknesses of the person you are considering.

When you have narrowed the field, have the candidate to your home, explain and list tasks, describe your expectations, and invite questions. Make sure you describe jobs you are picky about or that could be considered out of the ordinary. Discuss the terms of employment — pay, schedule and benefits — and put them in writing. Specify a probationary period to get acquainted.

With regard to how much to pay, Checkbook found no solid rule of thumb. Surveyed consumers who employ individual housecleaners reported paying anywhere from about $15 to $50 an hour.

Finally, remember that this person will be your employee. That means you are responsible for verifying work eligibility, paying federal taxes (Minnesota does not require employers to withhold state income taxes for household workers; state income taxes are the employee’s responsibility), paying into unemployment insurance funds, and carrying workers’ compensation insurance.

No matter whom you hire, plan to be home during the first cleaning visit. Do a full walk-through of your home describing your expectations. Try to arrange to have the same crew for each cleaning, and always store valuable and/or fragile items in a safe place.

 

Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org is a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. We are supported by consumers and take no money from the service providers we evaluate. You can access Checkbook’s ratings of local housecleaners free of charge until Dec. 6 at Checkbook.org/StarTribune/Housecleaners.