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You may need to hire a service to help maintain your home. Here are some tips on finding the right service, what to expect, what to ask for, and how to protect yourself. A national or state franchise is more likely to screen their employees. A service should be willing to meet with you for the first time to give you a free estimate (not a free cleaning).
1. At a minimum, the cleaners should be bonded and insured against accident or injury while in your home and for things they break. If a service or person is offering a very attractive rate but isn't bonded or insured, protection will have to come from your homeowner's insurance policy, possibly at an increased premium.
2. Will they be providing the services or will the services be subcontracted out?
3. How well do they screen? Do they do a criminal background check? You might want to do one of your own on the people who run the service and the individuals that are given access to your home. Peace of mind is worth the cost.
3. Do they have formal training? (They should!)
4. How many people will perform the services? Will you see the same staff most of the time or will it be rotating crews?
5. Do they charge by the hour or the job? Charging by the hour is a frequent, but questionable, practice. It should not be difficult for a service to assess the needs of the job, calculate the number of hours it will take, and charge you per visit. If they insist on charging by the hour, insist on a walk-through, discussing your needs and wishes, and ask for a written estimate. You can negotiate a maximum. If the actual bill is significantly different, challenge it. They should be able to estimate the time it will take. There should be no gross variations on the amount … unless, you added items yourself.
6. If you need services above and beyond their usual list, they must be negotiated in advance. Don't abuse the service staff. They are not your personal servants. There are there to do specific tasks only. They are on a time schedule. If you distract them, even if you are just being friendly, you are cutting into their time.
7. Communicate your needs up front. You cannot agree to a specific set of expectations, then add on or change them when they arrive.
8. Create a checklist of what you need help with before they arrive so you can discuss your needs.
9. The first two cleanings may be more extensive depending on how long it has been since your home has been thoroughly cleaned.
10. Some services organize and clean your closets and cupboards, make sure you've agreed to this or want it before they do it.
11. Some services will not pick up items, they clean around them. Others may try to put things away. They may not know where you want them. A thorough discussion, especially the first few times someone visits, will help alleviate misunderstandings. They should keep notes if other teams are likely to clean your house or you’ll find yourself having to explain over and over and it wastes their time and yours.
12. You can be proactive and leave a list for what you wish to have done that week. You may not need all services every time. They must agree to this and you can agree upon a fee schedule for each item with the a “do not exceed” limit of time for them and cost for you.
13. Some companies offer laundry service. Communicate with them about items requiring special handling. You don't want your favorite clothing ruined. Some items may require hang drying. Be specific in your instructions. Don't assume they know the correct way to handle your special clothing.
14. Some services make the beds, others don’t. Clarify your expectations beforehand.
15. If you have chemical sensitivities, you may need them to use low-odor, dye-free, perfume-free, nontoxic, or pet-friendly products. If you cannot tolerate air fresheners or sprays, say so. You may have to supply the special products. Ask if you can get a discount by providing them. If they won’t offer a discount, it is still worth the extra expense to avoid being affected by the chemicals.
16. To help ensure that your cleaner doesn't ruin your Oriental carpet or destroy your antiques, be present for the first cleaning. Offer suggestions, and provide detailed instructions. Make sure your instructions make it into your customer file, too. If you have a list of special instructions, make sure you offer that up front at the start of the negotiations. If your special requirements take up an excessive amount of time, they will charge accordingly.
17. In terms of bedbugs, cockroaches, and other infestations, you may want to consider supplying the tools and equipment such as vacuum cleaners to protect your home from cross-contamination. You may want to supply the cleansers and disposable items, too. Ask if they are willing to lower the cost if you do. Even if they refuse to reduce the price, it may be worth your peace of mind.
18. The service usually does a thorough job for the first few visits. If you notice them cutting corners or skipping things over time, politely point it out. They may offer a checklist, but just because the item was checked off, it does not mean it was performed. If you find things left undone, notify the agency.
19. If they are to perform the services when you are not home, they will require a key or keypad access. However, you don't really know who will have access. Some services assign specific workers to accounts, but that's not a guarantee that the same person will always clean your home, or that acquaintances of the employee won’t have access to your home. If you have concerns, install security cameras inside the home or have someone at the home when they visit.
20. If you do not want them in your cupboards and drawers or closet, say so up front. If you catch them looking inside them, you'll know there is a problem.
21. Ask for references. Word of mouth is often the best recommendation, especially if someone has had a long-term relationship with the service.
22. Ask how long they have been in business.
23. Do they offer a money-back guarantee?
24. What is their cancellation policy if you have to cancel or change an appointment? How much notice do they need?
25. What is the procedure if they have to cancel or change an appointment? How much notice will they give?
26. Will you need them weekly, twice a month, once a month?
27. What kind of payment options do they offer? On day of service only, monthly, weekly?
28. Do they accept checks or credit cards? It is always best to have a paper trail proving you paid them. If they insist on cash, buy a simple receipt book and have them sign for the cash.
29. Ask them about whether or not they expect a tip. If you are getting great service, you should tip anywhere from 15-20% of your service for the week. If you have the same person long term, you might want to consider a Christmas bonus.
30. Look them up on the Better Business Bureau website.
31. If the patient is bedridden, if possible, have someone home with them when the service arrives. At least until you establish a rapport and level of trust with the individuals.
32. Lock up all valuables and medications, particularly if you will not be home when they come.
33. Consider putting a keyed lock on a closet door to store things such as medications and valuables while you are out.
34. Consider a service such as Angie's list for vetting (membership is required). Random Internet sites are not a good way to find the right professional. Craig’s list is not always the safest place to find service providers. Look the company up to see if they have a web presence. Their website should look professional and offer multiple ways to contact them: phone, fax, e-mail, address.
35. Individuals hiring themselves out are a higher risk than professionally run services. Only consider an individual if they come recommended by someone you’ve known and trusted a long time who has known and trusted them for a long time. You may be able to get references from local churches or charity/senior/disabled persons organizations.
Examples of service companies:
36. For miscellaneous repairs, maintenance services such as changing furnace filters, lightbulbs you can’t reach, attaching rails, and touch-ups around the house, consider a handyman service. Use the same criteria in selecting one. Visit Angie’s list. Make sure they have an internet presence with multiple ways to contact them. Get references and check them. Check the Better Business Bureau. Ask people you know for recommendations. Check with your local home improvement store.
HIRING A SERVICE