The first step to getting someone to do your dirty work is choosing whether to hire a company or an individual. If you go with a person, a major drawback is the extra legal responsibilities you take on as an employer. Many families who employ domestic workers are either unaware of these obligations or choose to ignore them. Hiring a company relieves you of employer responsibilities. But you may prefer to get to know someone with whom you can build a long-term trusting relationship.
You will also probably get better work from a person than from a company. A Washington Consumers’ Checkbook survey found that residents of the DC area who employed companies were less satisfied than consumers who hired individuals. Individual cleaners received ‘superior’ ratings for ‘overall quality’ from 69 percent of their surveyed customers; companies received such favorable ratings from just 58 percent.
Prices vary widely between local businesses. For example, the quotes from Checkbook’s undercover shoppers ranged from $80 to $183 to clean a two-story, three-bedroom, two-bathroom house weekly. For a semi-weekly cleaning of a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, prices ranged from $83 to $225. Most companies indicated that they charge more for an initial cleaning than for follow-ups, which is not surprising given that the first visit might require taming utter misery.
Before contacting companies, decide what services you want performed. All will perform basic tasks such as dusting, vacuuming, taking out the trash, mopping floors, and cleaning kitchens and bathrooms. If you want to have other tasks done, such as folding laundry and changing linen, check if future companies are willing to do this.
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Before hiring a service, provide detailed information to various companies about your home — number of floors, bedrooms, bathrooms, types of flooring, how big your space is — and collect estimates of each. To help you in your search, Washington Post readers have free access to the unbiased reviews of cleaning services in the Washington area until April 25 at Checkbook.org/WashingtonPost/Housecleaners†
Decide how often you want service. Businesses generally prefer to schedule periodic cleanings on a regular basis, but some are willing to come if needed. Some only offer weekly or bi-weekly service. If you want them to come on a particular day, ask about availability, especially if it’s a Friday or Saturday.
Ask companies to provide you with insurance certificates, including both liability and workers’ compensation. If a company tells you it’s bonded, know that it doesn’t mean much: the bonds that buy cleaning services protect the company, not you.
Once you’ve narrowed your search down to one company, ask it to send a representative to your home to provide a written proposal describing what needs to be done, how often, and at what cost.
If you prefer to hire a person, keep in mind that paying someone to help with the cleaning is significantly different from hiring a company. You must negotiate wages and benefits. Get referrals from friends and neighbors. Talk to them — and other references from the individual — about your priorities, your annoyances, and the strengths and weaknesses of the person you’re considering.
When you’ve narrowed the field, invite the candidate to your home, list and explain tasks, outline your expectations, and listen to questions and comments. Describe jobs that you are picky about or that could be considered extraordinary. Discuss the terms of employment – wages, schedule, benefits – and put them in writing. Provide a probationary period so that you can get acquainted.
As for how much to pay, Checkbook didn’t find a hard-and-fast rule of thumb. Consumers surveyed who employ individual cleaners reported paying anywhere from $15 to $50 per hour.
Finally, remember that this person will be your employee. Depending on where you live and how much you pay a cleaning lady per year, you could be responsible for verifying eligibility for work, paying employer taxes, paying unemployment insurance funds, taking out work accident insurance, and handling several other requirements. those set by the state and local authorities.
Employers’ payroll tax payments are made annually by completing a Schedule H on your 1040 income tax return. Failure to pay these taxes can lead to fines and the obligation to pay both the employer’s and employee’s share of the taxes. (For more information, see the IRS’s Publication 926 (2022), Household Employer Tax Guide.)
Although you are not required to withhold federal income taxes, you must file Forms W-2 and W-3 with the Social Security Administration each year. The SSA records earnings and sends the information to the IRS.
In DC, employers of domestic workers become liable to pay unemployment insurance taxes and contribute to the universal paid leave program if they pay employees $500 or more in a calendar quarter. Maryland and Virginia require employers to pay unemployment insurance taxes for domestic workers who receive $1,000 or more in a calendar quarter. In all three locations, unemployment insurance tax rates vary depending on wages paid and previous unemployment claims against the employer. New employers must register with their local agency: the DC Department of Employment Services, the Maryland Division of Unemployment Insurance, or the Virginia Employment Commission.
No matter who you hire, make sure you are home during the first cleaning. Walk through your house and describe your expectations. Try to have the same crew for every cleaning and always keep valuable and/or breakable items in a safe place.
Kevin Brasler is editor-in-chief of Washington Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and: Checkbook.org, a non-profit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. It is supported by consumers and does not charge any money from the service providers it evaluates. You can access the unbiased reviews of cleaning services in the Washington area for free until April 25 to Checkbook.org/WashingtonPost/Housecleaners†