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In Search of a Gal Named Sue

Updated: Oct 30, 2021

"I had a gal named Sue" (truly), who operated a house cleaning service in Waikoloa Village on Hawaii Island’s west side. Sue efficiently cleaned my home in 3.5 hours and charged $35/hour, which was fine. She was not perfect, but she was a good pal, and we enjoyed our chats, as we called them.

Sadly, Sue and her husband took advantage of rising prices and sold their condo, but as a result the pair found themselves priced out of Waikoloa Village, where real estate has gone up well over 33% in one year. The only affordable house Sue and her husband could buy is in the South Point area, almost 90 miles from me on the slopes of Mauna Loa.

I truly miss Sue, not only because I’ve been cleaning our home myself lately, but also because I made a mistake by hiring a guy I'll call "Remington" who told me he charged $30/hour. Quite a few reviews raved about his services, so I signed up thinking he was cheaper than Sue.

What a deal! $30/Hour for Six People = $180/Hour

What I didn't know was that Remington charged a "deep cleaning" fee for the first visit and brought six people with him, each of whom he billed at $30/hour. I doubt Remington actually paid his helpers $30/hour, but he charged me that. The total for his "deep clean" of three hours was about $600 including tax.

I was shocked. $180/hour plus tax for house cleaning? After I told him that was too steep, Remington promised he would charge me his usual flat rate of $185 plus tax the next time, or about $200, which I still thought too high. Good ol’ Sue usually finished out at $122.50. When I suggested Remington come every three weeks, not every two, he told me he charged an additional $75 for that due to the additional cleaning needed.

Holy cow! Our home is 1,800 square feet but only two of us live here, and we're somewhat tidy people. It's not as if you need a blow torch to clear out the place. But the next time Remington and his team came, he texted me an invoice for $250 plus tax.

What happened to the quoted $185 plus tax? Remington told me there were several windows remaining from the original “deep clean” for which I’d paid $600. He also said three people had spent well over two hours at my home.

Thank Heavens for Security Cameras

I checked the video history on my Ring cameras and saw Remington’s truck arrive at 9:00 a.m. and leave at 10:45 a.m., or 1.75 hours on the property. Needless to say, everybody was not cleaning all that time. After my challenge, Remington reduced the bill to $200. I paid it, but decided this guy was not coming back. Although he and his team did a good job, I felt he was taking advantage of the well-off folks in our community. I also thought his pricing structure was designed more for rental condos than for well-maintained residences.

After letting Remington go (to many protests on his part), I phoned several cleaning teams I found online, but was quoted similarly high prices. What was going on here? One gal called “Lady and a List” was highly recommended, but she quoted me $60/hour for two man hours (which means $60/hour for each person), or $120/hour. If they spent two hours at my home, I’d owe $240. If they spent four hours that would be $480. Yikes. I called another cleaning team and got the same reply.

$120 to $180/Hour for House Cleaning?

That's called price gouging. The Big Island is reopening to tourists after Covid, and the many rental condos desperately need people to clean after tourists basically trash the place. Although Bill and I always followed the listed rental condo rules about washing towels, taking out trash, and cleaning food out of the fridge, one condo owner I know said that is not often the case. Evidently, people on vacation do nothing more than bask on the beach, so they essentially pollute the condos before heading back to their lives, where hopefully they don’t destroy their homes like they do the rental condos.

Another problem on the west side is a lack of humans to do jobs that not many want or need to do. The population on this side is mixed, but there are many middle- and upper-class folks, rental condo owners, and in some cases lah-dee-dah movie stars. House cleaning is not an occupation those populations want to do.

Heck, I’ve posted several odd jobs online, paying from $40 to $50/hour, but found few takers, even high schoolers. Maybe they don’t need to work or are busy with school and sports. Likewise, there are few college-age kids living on this side. This might be different in Hilo where there is a University of Hawaii branch, but on the west side, you don’t see a lot of college age kids hustling plates of food at restaurants, and I sincerely doubt they’d want to clean houses.

There is Hope, However

In spite of my arthritic body and dislike of housework, I’ve been cleaning our home myself, but I cannot do it in one day. As a perfectionist, I simply spend too much time. Another problem is that I get distracted and wind up sifting through old photos or cleaning out files. Because of this, I decided to divide the house into five sections that are cleaned at least once every two weeks. Trouble with that idea is, the house is never fully clean.

One of my neighbors recently found a person I'll call "Rhonda" who will clean for $35/hour, using two people, but not requiring another $35/hour for the second person. I guess Rhonda is not aware of the astronomical prices other cleaning services are charging, so my neighbor and I are trying out Rhonda, splitting a day. Will this work out?

My body and I are delighted to have some help, but Rhonda can’t come for another two weeks. Until then, my robot vacuum named Herbert will be busy cleaning sections one through five.

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