Is it a bad idea to hire a co-worker to clean your apartment?
April 8, 2005 7:34 AM   Subscribe

I am moving out of my apartment this weekend, and will not have time to give it a thorough cleaning in order to get my security deposit back. I am willing to pay someone to do it. I mentioned this to some co-workers at lunch, asking if they knew anyone. (I'd prefer to pay an individual, rather than a service-- see this post.) An administrative assistant said that she would be interested in doing it herself. Is this a bad idea?

Here are my issues: I like the idea of paying someone I know (who says she could really use the money and that she loves to clean), but I feel weird paying someone I work with (who is already in a position at work "beneath" mine) to do my "dirty work." Should I just get over my bourgeois guilt and hire her? Am I just hung up on this because it's house-cleaning, a truly menial task or is the issue about hiring anyone you work with at the office for an independent, non-work-related job? Or does all of this reveal that I should just suck it up and find the time to clean the place myself. I suppose there is another awkward possibility: that she does a lousy job and I have to confront her about it. Also, how much should I pay someone for this? - 1 bedroom apartment, will be dirty but empty.
posted by picklebird to Work & Money (16 answers total)
get over your guilt and hire here. pay her more than the job deserves then worry about what that means for weeks. if the job isn't done well, either say nothing and hate yourself, or over-react and offend her.

all this is normal. it gets easier with practice (i had to deal with a lot more of this after moving to chile). in the end, it's better to give your money to others than not. you just have to learn how to. it helps to know that she's probably (1) a lot happier with this than you and (2) probably more than ready to "exploit" your guilt, to some (reasonable(?)) extent.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:40 AM on April 8, 2005

I used to clean houses for extra money as a student, mostly for acquaintances and friends. I can assure you that getting the money is good, that I never felt looked down upon by the people I cleaned for, and I never found myself snarking about them either. It's actually a type of work I quite enjoy - the sort of semi-manual labour that comes with a real sense of achievement (although it's obviously not as much fun as bricklaying:-) - and if the co-worker says she enjoys cleaning, why disbelieve her? I'd say go for it.

As for rate, well, most house cleaners are going to be on minimum wage. So pay something noticably over that.

I started off cleaning for one of my teachers, who insisted that she'd deal with certain areas of the house herself, so if you're partcularly hung up about particular bits of the apartment that might be an option for you.
posted by handee at 8:06 AM on April 8, 2005

Unless you have reason to think she's an unreliable person, I would go ahead and hire her. Give her a one-page written contract listing the specific cleaning tasks and the amount you will pay in exchange. Then pay her promptly in cash when she's done.

As for the amount, think about what it's worth to you in peace of mind and time saved. Good pay usually equals good results, in my experience.

She needs the money and likes to clean; you have the money and need a clean apartment. So you'll be helping each other out. In that case, nobody needs to feel guilty or exploited.
posted by naomi at 8:08 AM on April 8, 2005

You have no reason to feel guilty at all. She offered to do it herself (you didn't ask her), in order to pick up a little extra cash. You need her to do it because you are strapped for time, not because you are lazy or unwilling to do "dirty" work. This "dirty" work has to get done by someone - it might as well be someone you know. (When I lived in a building in Seattle I cleaned out a couple of apartments for a break on my rent; its really not such a bad job).

As for pay, find out about how much it would cost to hire professionals to come in, and pay her something comprable ($50-75?). Tell her ahead of time exactly what you want done (scrub the sink and bathtub, etc.). Make clear to her that you will come in and check the place out when she's done, and that her fee is contingent upon her doing what you want her to.
posted by googly at 8:11 AM on April 8, 2005

During my time as an administrative assistant, I gladly took any scraps my better-paid coworkers offered me. If she's going to resent you, it's probably going to be because you make more money, get more respect and have an intellectually more challenging job than she does (if you do) -- not because you're giving her a chance to make some extra bucks.

Just make sure she understands what she's getting into -- how dirty is the place, what kind of dirt? Also, be clear about what you expect the apartment to look like when she's done.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:13 AM on April 8, 2005

Well, it's unanimous. I will talk to her today and pay her well. Thanks for the comments.
posted by picklebird at 9:11 AM on April 8, 2005

I guess I'll go against the grain here and say don't hire her UNLESS she already cleans houses on the side. If so, then this is just another job for her.

If not, and this is just some extra cash for her, then to me there's a boundary being crossed there. I know I wouldn't be comfortable w/ a co-worker being kneedeep in my dirty kitchen. YMMV, of course. You also would have no guarantee that she does a good job. And if she doesn't, how would that affect your future relationship? I would not cross that boundary, myself.

When I was an admin, I frequently got offers to babysit the kids for some of the guys I worked for (they knew I had nannied in the past). I always refused because I didn't want them to get used to thinking of me in that light - I wanted to be taken seriously in my job and hopefully get promoted (which I did).
posted by widdershins at 9:18 AM on April 8, 2005

I'm glad you decided to go ahead with it. Admins (or any other clerical worker) aren't usually paid well. She probably really does need the money. I used to house sit for co-workers for a bit of extra cash.
posted by deborah at 9:22 AM on April 8, 2005

If your contract was like one of my old apartment contracts they itemized the cleaning cost. In my case it was pertinent because my roommate was a horrid slob and his bathroom was disgusting. I told him I didn't give a damn so long as he accepted that if they charged us to clean it he would pick up the cost.

My point is that perhaps you can accomplish two things - making it less 'demeaning' to your mind and avoiding the bad job confrontation - by "giving her some ownership" to use the horrid marketing phrasing. Set a fixed reasonable price for the job and offer her an additional 10% of whatever she saves you in cleaning fee, or something like that.

It may not be possible with your situation but it seems like making it more of a collaboration would make you feel better about it and provides a motivation for her to do more than phone it in. Perhaps there's some other way to accomplish this I'm not thinking of.
posted by phearlez at 9:35 AM on April 8, 2005

phearlez and picklebird - the point i was trying to convey (and what is also illustrated by the people here who have done this kind of work) is that only you care. for the person doing the job, it's no different to you doing whatever you do for a living.

there's this weird liberal guilt that somehow jobs that pay less than mine are bad, but mine and up are normal. it's arbitrary, self-inflicted, debilitating and unnecessary.

obviously, there's being a good boss, paying well, etc, but this is just a job, like the one you do.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:58 AM on April 8, 2005

I have a different take on this situation.

I move a lot, every year or two. Used to be I never cleaned the place, and got my full deposit back, but starting in the early 90s (in my experience) landlords started requiring the place be cleaned upon exit, or the deposit would be reduced.

So I spend all day cleaning the place, but it's never clean "enough" -- to them.

Since I'm not getting the full amount back anyway, I'm no longer inclined to bust my ass cleaning the place when I go. And who's to say whether some third party's cleaning job will satisfy your landlord? Take the hit and move on.
posted by Rash at 9:59 AM on April 8, 2005

Some landlords will arrange for a move-out cleaning - it may be worth asking (if not in this case, given the move-out is tomorrow, but in others). My experience has been that the cleaning seems overpriced (say, $200 to clean an empty 2 bedroom apartment), but of course the advantage is that the cleaning meets the "requirements" of the landlord, so the security deposit is returned in full (less the cleaning charge).
posted by WestCoaster at 10:07 AM on April 8, 2005

As for rate, well, most house cleaners are going to be on minimum wage. So pay something noticably over that.

Most house cleaners I know get paid considerably more than that. Of course, these are people who work for themselves or in family businesses, not larger cleaning services.

I don't clean apartments because I've never had a landlord that didn't screw me on the deposit and I figure if I'm going to get money withheld because my apartment is too messy than, by God, that fucker's gonna be messy. (Yes, I am a vindictive bastard.)
posted by IshmaelGraves at 11:11 AM on April 8, 2005

I wonder how much you could possibly save in terms of refunded security deposit, if you're going to pay someone well to clean your apartment for you.
posted by elisabeth r at 2:36 PM on April 8, 2005

I was an admin assistant, and I do clean houses for people I know as a way to make a little extra money. Going rate for housecleaning (at least where I live, mid-sized West Coast city) is about $10-15/hour.
posted by DebTabor at 3:52 PM on April 8, 2005

DebTabor-- Thanks for the rate suggestion. We agreed that I would pay her $60 (and will probably end up paying her more) and that I don't expect her to spend more than 3 hours cleaning.

elisabeth r-- My security deposit was over $700, so I think the $60 is well worth it.
posted by picklebird at 5:38 PM on April 8, 2005

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