If you're juggling work with family responsibilities, one way to ease the squeeze might be outsourcing household tasks. Paying somebody else to do the jobs you love least could give you back some valuable quality time with the family …or with the TV, treadmill, or local publican.
We look at how you can outsource cleaning, home maintenance, childcare, dog-walking and even shopping for your next outfit.
Longing to come home to a sparkling house after a long day's work? Consider outsourcing the housework.
Cleaners advertise in the paper, online and on community noticeboards, or you might be recommended one. It's also worth checking out cleaning companies online. Generally, cleaners employed through companies or franchises provide their own cleaning equipment, have their own insurance and have had police clearance checks. You can pay between $18 and $45 per hour for a cleaner, depending on their experience and whether they have insurance.
Can't find your desk under the pile of papers? You can pay someone to declutter and organise your home office, linen cupboard, wardrobe, kids' rooms, or wherever else there's chaos. There's even an industry body for declutterers called the Australasian Association of Professional Organisers (AAPO), which has a code of ethics for members to follow.
To find a declutterer in your area, try declutterhome.com.au (Melbourne), homeofficeorganiser.com.au or clutterfree.com.au (Sydney), or clearspace.net.au (Adelaide).
Got leaking taps? Have a few rooms that could do with a lick of paint? Do the gutters overflow when it rains? It might be time to call someone who knows their way around a toolbox.
While there are no official qualifications for handypeople, you might prefer to choose someone with building or other trade qualifications. In any case, some states require a handyperson have a licence and contract to carry out work that costs more than a certain amount. In New South Wales, a licence is required for work costing more than $1000; in Victoria, it's $5000; while in Western Australia it's $7500. At the very least, check that your handyperson has the appropriate insurance/s.
Be especially wary if someone knocks on your door offering to do maintenance work around the home – there have been reports of scammers who have asked to be paid upfront and have then done a shoddy job (or done a runner).
To find a handyperson, check online franchises and directories, such as hireahubby.com.au or mrhandyman.com.au – an Australia-wide handyperson franchise.
Got a small job you need doing quickly? You might want to try posting your job on airtasker.com – an online service that works like a virtual community noticeboard. It connects you with people living nearby who can help with any number of tasks from housework and IT to being a rent-a-crowd for events.
It works like this: post your task on the Airtasker website stating what you need doing, when you need it done, and how much you'll pay.
Airtaskers near you will get in touch, and you check their online profiles before choosing the person you think is best for the job. Once they've completed the job you can leave an online recommendation for them – much like eBay.
While the company says it has installed safety features – it takes Airtaskers' credit card details and checks them out – exercise caution when you're meeting people online. Ask for identification and check their online reviews.
If you want to feel like a superstar with a personal assistant (even if only for a day) you can use a concierge service - or "lifestyle manager" as they're sometimes known - who can do all of the above and more such as booking appointments, shopping and organising your five-year-old's birthday party, or even your wedding.
For more information on companies that offer these services across Australia, visit the Institute of Concierge and Lifestyle Managers.
If you need someone to watch the kids occasionally, and you've used up all your favours with family and friends, you'll need a good babysitter. Babysitters should enjoy working with children, be capable and responsible, and hold a First Aid Certificate. So, where to start the search?
As well as the usual word-of-mouth recommendation from families and friends, a nanny agency may be able to help you find a babysitter. While an agency will charge you a fee, the plus side is that they'll also have done reference and background checks on potential babysitters.
You can also check one of the following online directories:
As well as interviewing the babysitter, arrange for them to spend some time with you and your children, and check that they are all comfortable together. Remember to provide the babysitter with information about your children's routines and any medical conditions they may have, as well as rules about TV, bedtime and computer use. Make sure they know where to find things such as nappies or medicines, and leave them your mobile number plus contacts for other family members and other emergency numbers.
If, for whatever reason, you can't or don't want to use a childcare centre or family day care, employing a nanny might be a better option for you. You get more say in what your child does each day, and it may suit you better if you need flexible childcare arrangements. It might also be more economical if you have more than one child.
Before you start looking, decide:
- whether you want full-time or part-time nanny
- whether you'd like a live-in or live-out nanny
- whether you want them to have childcare or teaching qualification
- whether you want your nanny to do housework, such as cooking and cleaning
- whether they'll need a licence and if they can use your car
- what level of experience you'd like the nanny to have.
What to look for
While a word-of-mouth recommendation is a good place to start, you should also do an internet search of nanny agencies in your area. Check how long the agency has been around and find out what their screening process is. You should check that the agency belongs to a professional organisation like the Australian Nanny Association. Consider your family's values and lifestyle, religious or personal beliefs and styles of parenting, and find a nanny who fits in with those. Contact a number of agencies, and ask them whether you can have a trial period, to make sure the nanny and your children get along.
You'll need a few forms of insurance. You should also check that your nanny has her own insurance if she is taking care of your children outside of your home and property. Check nannysure.com.au to see what your nanny's insurance does and doesn't cover.
If your nanny is a registered carer, you may be eligible for financial help from the government to cover your childcare costs through the Child Care Benefit. To be eligible, your child will need to be immunised (or exempt from having to be immunised) and you must meet the income test.
If you're a dog owner working long hours, you can make it up to your neglected pooch by hiring a dog walker to give him the exercise and TLC he needs. Check ozdoggy.com.au or google "dog walkers" for a list of people who are ready and able to walk your dog.
Before you hire a dog walker, you will need to ensure your dog is vaccinated, desexed (if over six months) and not aggressive. You'll also need to meet the dog walker to determine if your dog is comfortable with them and that you trust them, as you may need to give them your house key if your dog is indoors. While there are no official qualifications for dog walkers, you could check if they are registered with the Pet Industry Association, the body responsible for pet services.
If you find putting together an outfit more challenging than assembling an IKEA coffee table, you might want to consider outsourcing your wardrobe decisions.
A stylist can help you decide which colours work best for you, update your personal style and give you a "wardrobe audit". Best of all, they can shop for you, saving you hours of time, frustration and the misery of struggling in and out of an assortment of garments in poorly lit fitting rooms.
There are hundreds of personal stylists listed on the internet, offering variations on services including a body shape and lifestyle assessment, a wardrobe audit and a shopping service. To determine which stylist's fees and approach suits you best look at their client testimonials (and make sure they don't all end up looking the same). Larger agencies with consultants in several capital cities include thestyleagency.com.au and stylewithcindy.com.au. Fees can range from $75 an hour to upwards of $1000 a day.
Department stores such as Myer and David Jones (and even some high street chains like Topshop and Sportsgirl) also offer personal shopping and styling sessions in many of their larger stores. Selected Westfield shopping centres also offer a personal shopping styling service, starting at $200 for two hours with a stylist in Sydney City Westfield and up to $400 with a senior stylist.
Your rights when outsourcing
Regardless of what service you're using, you're within your rights to ask for a repair, replacement or refund if it was not up to scratch. In other words, if the work you paid for:
- was done carelessly,
- wasn't completed,
- was done by a person without the necessary skills for the job,
- wasn't in line with what you asked for (for example, you asked a handyperson to install a dog door but it's too small for your dog to get through),
- didn't give you the results you asked for (you asked for your windows to be cleaned, but they dried streaky), and
- wasn't completed within a reasonable timeframe (if you didn't ask for the job to be completed by a certain date).
…then, under the Australian Consumer Law, you've got the right to complain.
The first thing to do is approach the business or provider directly, explaining why you are unhappy with the service and what you'd like them to do about it. If the person you're dealing with won't help you, ask to speak to someone in a position of greater authority – such as the manager.
If you don't get any joy from them, it's time to contact the ACCC (accc.gov.au / 1300 302 502) or get in touch with the consumer protection agency in your state.
Your responsibilities when outsourcing
If you're employing people to provide domestic help, such as cleaners, handypersons or even assistants, most states require you to have Domestic Workers Compensation Insurance. Contact WorkCover in your state or territory to check whether you need it, how to arrange it and what you can expect to pay. You might also want to take out public liability insurance to cover yourself in case a worker has an accident on your property.