Cleaning, Maid Services, Housekeeping, Domestic Services…. Whatever you want to call it, getting it right is fundamental to a Holiday Property Management business. Even a relatively minor slip-up on arrival can make the difference between a client heading straight to the fridge for a beer after they walk in through the door, or spending the first hour checking every corner and under every piece of furniture long enough to gather sufficient evidence to come to the conclusion that the place “was filthy when they arrived” and “nothing has been checked”! Sadly, this can sometimes lead to the start of a far from perfect stay for both client and Holiday Property Manager alike.
We have already looked at the difference between what a Holiday Property Manager actually does in reality against what people think they do in the article ‘Holiday Property Management – that’s just rentals and cleaning isn´t it?’. Following on from this, as “Just Cleaning” is a phrase that is banded about a lot, we thought we would look at some of the options available to a Holiday Property Manager when it comes to choosing how to get this right for their style of business and their types of clients.
Firstly, not all Holiday Property Managers are the same, and again in our article ‘Holiday Property Management – that’s just rentals and cleaning isn´t it?’, we also covered some of the different services that are provided within this area of the market. However, even within Holiday Property Management itself there are different levels of service to consider.
A Property Owner should of course expect a noticeable difference in standards of service between a Professional Holiday Property Manager and an unregistered, uninsured person claiming to provide property management services. This may not be so obvious when everything is going well, but the gaping canyon in between becomes very obvious when damages happen, or problems arise and the ability or inability to respond appropriately is exposed.
When it comes to cleaning, the services that are provided by a Professional Holiday Property Manager will vary depending on the Property Owners requirements and the Properties that need to be looked after. There are services provided aimed at the higher volume end of the market where fast turnarounds without any detailing is appropriate. There are also those that cater more towards the opposite end of the scale where the properties have to be constantly maintained with regular cleaning whether the property is being used or not and a 5 star hotel service is required.
However, at each end of the scale and everything in between, you will find some common considerations and themes throughout.
Subcontract or Manage Direct?
It would be great to find a cleaning services company that worked to your standards, provided the services you needed as and when you needed them, took care of the training, employment issues and insurance, ultimately providing good quality, consistent, careful, honest and reliable cleaning staff without you needing to step in. This is often difficult to find so you may have to consider the next question…
Employ or use Casual Labour?
Employing staff means that you need a lot of experience to know how many and what type of cleaners you need to provide the cleaning services that are required for the number of bookings you have across the different types of properties. This should be easy really, after all, it´s not exactly rocket science.
Fair enough, but that does not mean it is easy.
Employing your cleaners can be difficult to get right when you have a range of properties that are used by a mix of owners and their friends or family along with rentals, especially when a lot of bookings are made last minute. There are varying levels of predictability of occupancy year on year and then there is the phasing of work to deal with when a lot of activity has to happen on some days of the week, but much less on others. This, is just one part of the equation! You also have to think about the complexities of the different types of employment contracts you should use to ensure that annual, monthly, weekly and daily limits are adhered to.
Apart from the above, there is also the problem about what to do during off peak times when there isn’t sufficient work to cover the salaries. Do you let some people go and lose the value of the training that you have invested in these people and risk starting again from scratch next year? Or do you keep them on, accepting that the financial loss to the business is worth the efficiencies and reliability that comes with a permanent team?
The Casual Labour approach has less financial risk. However, quality and availability of good people are in short supply, especially when the best people are snapped up early in the season with short term contracts and agreements, so the options here are often limited. Employment requirements, social security and insurance for damages and accidents also needs to be considered carefully with this option.
None of the options are perfect.
Sickness and Reliability
People get ill, especially when working under pressure in the heat of the summer. You cannot plan for this, you just have to deal with any issues as and when they come up. In addition, the lure of the sun, sea and sand can tempt some people to be “overcome with a 24 hour bug” when you need them the most. This can be much more of a risk with the Casual Labour approach, as the very nature of the work being offered can leave you with more risk of being let down and finding yourself with 4 properties to get ready and no one available to do them!
Damages and Theft
This can be one of the most stomach lurching aspects of providing cleaning services. Damages and accidents can happen, but letting the client find this out for themselves without any prior warning is probably the worst outcome you could wish for. Having open and honest relationships with cleaners and not punishing them over genuine accidents provides the opportunity to put things right in an up front and honest way. This breeds trust and respect with both clients and your team.
Items going missing are just awful things to manage. There is no glossing over it or making this better than what it is. However, the cleaner can sometimes be the first to be blamed as they are the easiest target to point the finger at. A strong relationship built on trust with clients and with regular cleaners will make this much easier to manage and allow this to be looked into properly, without jumping to conclusions. Problems like this can be more difficult to deal with when using subcontracted or new/irregular cleaners as the trust has not been built over time.
Pricing, Expectation and Value
No matter what, a cleaner will always appear to take longer to clean than a Property Owner would imagine it should take. Without even noticing that they are doing it, a Property Owner will make judgement calls to spotlessly clean areas that are important to them and not clean areas where they don’t see the need.
A cleaner does not have the benefit of this insight so when a professional cleaner is brought in, one that has to clean up to 20 different properties a week and sometimes with little more information to work with than “you have 3 hours to clean this property and be at the next one by 11.30am”, they often don’t know what should be left ‘as is’, or what needs more attention.
A lot of cleaners may however, have had the experience of what it is like to clean properties where clients have hidden coins or similar items down the back of sofa cushions, under furniture units or similar, and then count them afterwards to check that everything has been moved and cleaned properly!
Trying to get the balance right is difficult, especially when the pressure of the next arrival, next job, next service clean is on. This is without even taking into consideration the “surprises” that cleaners can discover and have to deal with after the departure of some guests, alongside turning the property around in as close as possible to the agreed number of hours that have been allocated.
Nonetheless, when it comes down to it, most cleaners see a property as a property, large or small, very dirty or in good condition. There will always be instances of bad employees in workplaces, however most Holiday Property Managers who have been running their businesses for a number of years know that once you find a good cleaner, one that you can trust to work to a good standard, be honest about the amount of time that it takes (as most want to get back home to their families rather than dawdle wasting time), let you know when something has gone wrong or is not working as it should – you hold onto them, as they are gold.
So what are our hints and tips for happy clients and happy cleaning staff?
Trust is something that takes years to build and moments to break. This applies to both clients and staff alike. In addition to this, it is also worth remembering that:
- First Impressions Count:
- “Smell test” your products. Try using a floor cleaner with a really fresh smell and give the floor at the entrance a last minute go over as you are leaving, so that when the clients arrive, the property smells clean and fresh from the moment they open the door.
- Clean the windows! Even if you don´t clean these at each and every arrival, check the view as you open the door and deal with any smears and streaks especially on any windows that are in the direct sunlight… and check for any fingerprints around the handles and lower down if there were any small children staying last time!
- Little Details Matter:
- Check the fridge! Throw out anything you wouldn’t want to arrive to yourself and try to line up and arrange any welcome pack contents nicely in the fridge with the labels facing front.
- Ask for clear instructions and give clear instructions:
- If a property or client is particular about the amount of time/cost involved and what should or should not be done, ask for clear guidance from the client and pass this on to the cleaner to make sure the expectations are met and the cleaner can focus their effort accordingly.
- Last minute problems happen:
- It is better to warn the client before they find anything not working themselves, apologise for any inconvenience and promise to get it fixed ASAP. Most people understand that things sometimes go wrong, but not many people like to arrive to a much needed holiday to find a nasty surprise!
- The same applies if something breaks or gets damaged. Accidents happen but hiding them hoping no-one will notice doesn’t work.
No matter what anyone says or thinks, cleaning is not easy and how this is delivered has a direct impact on everything else a Holiday Property Manager does. You could spend a huge amount of time and effort making sure that everything is working perfectly, deal with a big administration issue or headache for a client, deliver a fabulous new kitchen installation, pull on every string you have to get the last hire car available at short notice in August, but all of this is not noticed or appreciated if the cleaning is not right on arrival.
With a good cleaning team, whether subcontracted or direct and within an environment that doesn’t punish genuine mistakes, and rewards honesty and effort, everyone is happy. A quiet client is a happy client – one that has walked in, found the fridge and is happily relaxing on the terrace with a beer or other bevvy of choice!