The first step to getting someone to do your dirty work is choosing to hire a company or an individual. If you’re going with an individual, a major downside is the additional legal responsibilities you’ll take on as an employer. Many families who hire domestic workers are unaware of these obligations or choose to ignore them. Hiring a company relieves you of your responsibilities as an employer. But you may prefer to get to know someone with whom you can establish a long-term, trusting relationship.
You will also likely get better work from an individual than from a company. A survey by Washington Consumers’ Checkbook found that DC-area residents who employed businesses were less satisfied than consumers who hired individuals. Individual housekeepers received “superior” ratings for “overall quality” from 69% of clients surveyed; companies received such favorable ratings of only 58 percent.
Prices vary greatly from one local business to another. For example, quotes obtained by undercover buyers from Checkbook ranged from $80 to $183 to clean a two-story, three-bedroom house with two bathrooms on a weekly basis. For bi-weekly cleaning of a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo, prices ranged from $83 to $225. Most companies reported that they charge more for an initial cleaning session than for follow-ups, which isn’t surprising given that the first visit can require taming downright misery.
Before contacting the companies, decide what services you want to perform. All will perform basic tasks such as dusting, vacuuming, taking out trash, mopping floors, and cleaning kitchens and bathrooms. If you want other tasks done, such as folding the laundry and changing the sheets, check to see if potential companies will take care of that.
Before hiring a service, provide detailed information to several companies about your home — number of floors, bedrooms, bathrooms, types of flooring, size of your space — and collect estimates from each. To help guide your search, Washington Post readers can access Checkbook’s unbiased reviews of Washington-area cleaning services for free through April 25 at Checkbook.org/WashingtonPost/Housecleaners.
Decide how often you want service. Companies generally prefer to schedule regular periodic cleanings, but some are willing to come as needed. Some only offer weekly or bi-weekly service. If you want them to come on a certain day, ask about availability, especially if it’s a Friday or Saturday.
Ask companies to provide certificates of insurance, including both liability and workers’ compensation. If a company tells you it’s bonded, know that doesn’t mean much: the bonds housekeeping services buy protect the company, not you.
Once you have narrowed your search to one company, ask them to send a representative to your home to provide you with a written proposal with a description of the work to be done, how often and at what price.
If you prefer to hire an individual, keep in mind that paying someone to help with the housework is significantly different from hiring a company. You need to negotiate salary and benefits. Get recommendations from friends and neighbors. Discuss with them – and other references of the individual – your priorities, your pet peeves, and the strengths and weaknesses of the person you are considering.
When you have narrowed the field, invite the candidate to your home, list and explain the tasks, outline your expectations, and listen to questions and comments. Describe jobs that you are picky about or that could be considered out of the ordinary. Discuss the terms of employment – salary, hours, benefits – and put them in writing. Specify a trial period, so you can get to know each other.
When it comes to how much to pay, Checkbook found no solid rules of thumb. Consumers surveyed who employ individual housekeepers reported paying approximately $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 housekeeper over the course of a year, you may be responsible for verifying work eligibility, paying employer payroll taxes, unemployment insurance, purchase workers’ compensation insurance, and manage various other requirements set by the state. and local governments.
Employer payroll taxes are paid annually by completing a Schedule H on your Form 1040 tax return. Failure to pay these taxes can lead to penalties and the obligation to pay both the employer’s and the employee’s share. (For more information, see IRS Publication 926 (2022), Household Employer’s Tax Guide.)
Although you are not required to withhold federal income tax, you must file Forms W-2 and W-3 annually with the Social Security Administration. The SSA records the income and sends the information to the IRS.
In DC, employers of domestic workers become required to pay unemployment insurance tax and contribute to the universal paid vacation program if they pay employees $500 or more in a calendar quarter. Maryland and Virginia require employers to pay unemployment insurance tax for domestic workers who are paid $1,000 or more in a calendar quarter. In all three locations, unemployment insurance tax rates vary based 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, plan to be home the first time you clean. Take a tour of your home and describe your expectations. Try to have the same team for each cleaning and always store valuable and/or fragile items in a safe place.
Kevin Brasler is editor of Washington Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and checkbook.org, a non-profit organization whose mission is to help consumers get the best service and the lowest prices. It is consumer backed and does not take any money from the service providers it reviews. You can access Checkbook’s unbiased reviews of Washington-area cleaning services for free through April 25 at Checkbook.org/WashingtonPost/Housecleaners.