Tired of spending your precious free time dusting, mopping and vacuuming? Want to arrive home to a freshly cleaned home that you didn’t have to clean yourself (or nag your cohabitants to clean)? To some of us, hiring housecleaning help is a luxury; to others, it’s a necessity. And it’s a very personal necessity: After all, housecleaners have the run of your home. So if you’re considering hiring help, you’ll 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 might prefer getting to know an individual to establish a trusting, long-term relationship for what is a very personal job.

You are also more likely to get better work from an individual than from a company. A survey conducted by Washington Consumers’ Checkbook found that area residents who employed companies were less satisfied than consumers who hired individuals. Individual housecleaners received “superior” ratings for overall performance from 83 percent of their surveyed customers; companies received such favorable ratings from only 49 percent of customers.

Among the companies, ratings varied dramatically. Six of the 64 companies evaluated were rated “superior” for overall performance by at least 70 percent of their surveyed customers, but another six got such favorable ratings from fewer than 30 percent of customers.

Prices also varied widely among local companies. For example, quotes obtained by Checkbook.org’s shopper-researchers ranged between $70 and $155 for the same cleaning work to be done in one specific two-story, three-bedroom house with two baths. And Checkbook’s shopping for other homes found equally large price ranges.

If you decide to hire a company, phone estimates can provide an idea about which ones are reasonably priced. Over the phone, be sure to supply detailed information about your home: number of floors, bedrooms, bathrooms, types of floor coverings, size, etc. Then be sure to have any company you are considering come out to your home to give a written estimate with a description of exactly what work is to be done. And try to arrange to have the same crew for each cleaning.

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, get referrals from satisfied friends and neighbors. Talk with them — and other references from the individual — about your priorities, your pet peeves and the strengths and weaknesses of the person they are referring.

When you’ve narrowed the field, have the candidate come to your home, explain and list tasks, describe your expectations, and invite questions and comments. 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 $10 to $40 an hour, with an average of $33 an hour.

Finally, remember that this person will be your employee. That means you’re responsible for verifying work eligibility, paying federal and state taxes, paying into unemployment insurance funds and carrying workers’ compensation insurance.

Whether you decide to hire a company or an individual, it is important for you to be home for the first cleaning visit. Do a full walkthrough of your home while describing your expectations.

And always store valuable or fragile items in a safe place.

Washington Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and www.checkbook.org are nonprofit, no-advertising resources that rate the quality and prices of local service companies such as auto repair shops, plumbers and tree-care services, and professionals such as doctors, dentists, and veterinarians.

On the Web

8 Free access for Washington Post readers For the next two weeks, Checkbook is giving readers of The Washington Post free access to its full housecleaners article, and ratings of 64 housecleaning services, at www.checkbook.org/washingtonpost.

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