When spring sun turns your thoughts to cobwebs

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The Independent Online
AS MOST of the domestic cleaning agencies confirm, one of the first things to be sacrificed in a recession is the luxury of having a lady who does.

But when the spring sunshine shows up the grime on the windows and the cobwebs in the corner it may be time for some tough decisions. Can you afford the time and effort to tackle the spring cleaning yourself - or would it pay to bring in the experts?

Most agencies will insist on coming to view your property and discussing your requirements before giving you an estimate of what a spring clean would cost.

Poppies, set up 13 years ago, is the country's largest domestic cleaning agency and has 45 outlets throughout England and Wales. The managing director, Sue Rorstad, explained: 'Different people have different standards and different needs. One customer may want the walls washed down. Another may just want the paintwork done. You need to know whether you are expected to clean out the cupboards as well as the cooker and the fridge.

'Some people want all their books taken down, dusted and put back. Other people prefer to do that themselves. But we always do things like light fittings and switches, tiles in bathrooms and kitchens, the tops of cupboards, picture rails.'

The type of property you live in and the amount of clutter can also affect the price. Bathrooms and kitchens take the longest to clean, so a second bathroom will put up the bill more than an extra bedroom (unless, of course, the extra bedroom is inhabited by a child who has covered every available inch of shelf space with soft toys and rock collections).

Pushed into giving a figure without seeing the property, Ms Rorstad estimated that the cost of sping-cleaning a four-bedroomed, one bathroom, 1911 north London semi with stained glass windows and leaded lights in the front, enough books to furnish a small library, fitted carpets, two school-age children and a cat, would be somewhere between pounds 150 and pounds 180 including VAT.

However, she added: 'If you told us you only had pounds 100 to spend, we'd work out what we could do for you for that.'

For your money you would get a team of three or four cleaners who would bring their own cleaning materials and equipment. 'Most houses only have one vacuum cleaner,' Ms Rorstad said. 'And if the Poppies are going to get up ladders we'd rather know they are safe and sturdy ones.'

Finding a cleaning agency to do a spring clean is usually a matter of checking the Yellow Pages or the Domestic Services column of the local paper. However, Ms Rorstad suggested that it is important to ensure that the agency specialises in domestic work. 'The standards you'd expect in your own home might be different from those you'd expect in an office.'

A trawl through the London North Yellow Pages produced a number of companies offering domestic spring cleaning. One is Lisa Jane's Contract Cleaning Services based in Enfield and supplying services across north London.

The company was set up two years ago and prices are usually based on an pounds 8 hourly rate, although every spring clean is estimated individually. None of the cleaners is expected to work more than five hours at a time. So if a job looks as if it will take 20 hours, then a team of four will tackle it.

The staff are all vetted, the company is insured and all the cleaning materials they use are ozone-friendly.

Handihelps Ltd advertises in local papers and the Lady. The company, which has been going for 10 years, offers permanent and temporary staff to help with a range of domestic jobs from dog-walking to ironing and says that its spring- cleaning service is popular all year round.

Joy Russell, a partner in the company, said: 'For a one-off spring clean we charge an introduction fee of pounds 15 plus VAT. We will then introduce the client to a cleaner who will carry out the work. The client pays the cleaner direct at a rate of pounds 4 an hour.'

Clearly, employing just one cleaner for a day will not give the same results as getting a team in, but it should work out cheaper and the worst of the chores will get done. But cost is not the only factor to take into account.

If you are not going to be there when the work is done, you need to be reassured about security. So it is important to check that the company vets its staff and is insured against breakages or accidents. They should also be able to supply references.

Ms Rorstad said: 'We clean a lot of second homes and holiday lets, so we are used to holding keys or collecting them. We always take up the references supplied by our staff and we never let anyone go unsupervised into someone's home until we are sure of them. All our staff fill in forms for tax and National Insurance and they carry identity cards. In 13 years we have only had four instances of theft - we have more problems with dishonest customers who try to make fraudulent insurance claims. Sometimes people are very quick to accuse the Poppy, but Poppies are the salt of the earth.'

Poppies (UK) Ltd: Craigmount, 2 Stanhope Road, Darlington DL3 7AR; tel: 0325 488699.

Handihelps Ltd: 30 Rushgrove Avenue, Colindale, London NW9 6QR; tel: 081-951 5827.

Lisa Jane's Contract Cleaning Services: Rose House, 73 Glenville Avenue, Enfield, Middlesex; tel: 081-363 7703.

(Photograph omitted)

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