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Its a cleaning business

I had to make a difficult decision recently when I fired a good cleaner.

She cleaned my rental till it sparkled and it was always set up beautifully.

So why did I fire her?

Simply put, she didn’t really understand the rental business. More of that later.

It’s a cleaning business

I learned many years ago that the vacation rental business is a cleaning business first and a hospitality business second.

Cleaning is the foundation.  No matter how good your marketing, no matter how attractive your rental, unless it is presented to a top standard, on time, it will fail.

Cleaning is particularly important if your rental is located a long way from where you live. Not only does the cleaner need to be organised and clean well, but they need to keep things running when things go wrong. And things do go wrong. The cleaner role often extends further into the role of a housekeeper and even a manager.

Over the years, I’ve put together a checklist of what makes a good cleaner.

My 8 point perfect cleaner checklist

The basics:

1 Able to clean every surface in a house efficiently
2 Good eye for detail and presentation to an agreed standard
3 Organised and able to read a guest schedule online
4 Have backup support for unexpected illness and holidays


No surprises so far, but here are the extra differentiators:

5 Understands the rental business

This is the key differentiator. Guests may want a last minute early check in or late check out. Can the cleaner cope with a last minute booking? The owner will need swift communication and a quick yes/ no decision from the cleaner.

6 Helps with logistics

A good cleaner helps organise the linen/ laundering; the rubbish bins; the feedback forms; keeping an eye on water, gas, firewood (this is a big deal in wilderness locations like two of my rentals); collecting lost property; ordering and stocking consumables.

7 Proactive at spotting maintenance problems

Everything can fail. A good cleaner anticipates failures and works with the owner for timely maintenance.

8 Helps in emergencies


So does the perfect cleaner exist? Yes, let me introduce you to:

Saint Lizzie – the perfect cleaner

I literally bumped into Lizzie about 6 years ago as she came from my neighbour’s house. Could she clean Alto – my city property – for me? ‘Of course darling.’ I was to learn that this mature lady with sparkling eyes would sprinkle her sentences with ‘darling’ – and nothing fazed her.

She and her partner Ange handled the basic cleaning effortlessly. (items 1-4 ticked off).

But it was the ongoing stream of suggestions that elevated her to sainthood status. I guess I encouraged her along the way.

The telephone conversations kept coming. “Darling, if tomorrow’s guests want to leave their bags while we are cleaning, they can have a coffee and I’ll call them when we are done.”
Over time, this progressed further. “Darling, I’ve called the guests and they are going to leave their bags with us while we clean” (Item 5, Understands the business, tick)

Logistics were next. “Darling, I’ve found a cheaper laundry, just round the corner, and she’s very good, should we change to her?”
“Darling, I’ve spoken to the guests and Ange will pop around tomorrow and put the bins out. How about we just do that in future?”
“Darling, the bins were overflowing, so we took a few bags home”. (item 6, Logistics, tick)

There are calls about maintenance: “Darling, the bedroom carpet is getting a bit grubby, there is a good steam cleaning man – should I tell him to go ahead?”
“The gate latch is playing up darling, would you like my man to fix it next Tuesday after the guests leave?” (item 7 Maintenance, tick)

But is when things go wrong, she thrives.
“Oh darling, just sharing, you wouldn’t believe it but the guests locked themselves inside! No matter, I just popped around and sorted them out..”
“Just letting you know darling, Ange posted back the scarf the guests left behind..”
“Oh darling, the guests needed a different bed setup than what you had on the list, so they had a coffee while we did a quick change. I hope you don’t mind, but we bought them a nice bottle of wine. ..”
As we all know, our worst nightmare is a double booking.
“Darling, I think there has been a muddle and guests have arrived who weren’t on the list. They are happy if I can book them into that nice Quest place. You might like to give them a call, and let me know if I should go ahead” (item 8, Helps in emergencies, tick)

Of course it is a two way street. Our job as owners is to make is as easy as possible for our cleaners to do their job and to empower them to make decisions on the spot.
If Lizzie asks for anything, she gets it. I tell her how much I appreciate what she and Ange do for me. At Christmas, they get a huge hamper from us and Gold class movie tickets.
When she has an medical operation, I call, and drop by to say hello.

When you find a Lizzie, you hang on to them like the gold that they are, and give them anything they want.

Your cleaner is your partner

I’ve seen owners who think that it is clever to chisel their cleaners on price, and keep doing it as their cleaners leave and new ones take their place. It is a dumb strategy. Your cleaner is a partner, and a cornerstone of your business.

It is particularly important in Australia, where cleaners are paid fairly, at a going rate of $30 and more per hour, cleaning is a big part of overheads. In countries where cleaners cost under $10 per hour, it may be a different story.

So , why did I fire the good cleaner?

She thought that a clean surface was what cleaners did. She didn’t bother with our checklist, I personally had to check on services and I refunded big money to guests who found the BBQ uncleaned, and some doggy doo under the outside table. She helped with some logistics, but not consistently. But worst of all when I needed to speak to her in a hurry about a guest issue, she rarely answered the phone, except later that day when her ‘cleaning’ was done.

And compared to Lizzie, and Jim (another gem), she didn’t measure up.

I’ve done my homework and our new cleaner IS another Lizzie, great.

Growing your cleaner

You may find your cleaner is good, but not yet the perfect cleaner. Have you empowered them to do the extra, knowing they will be rewarded for it?  Or are you holding them back?
If you have no good alternative you may have to accept who you have. But what is important is to know that great cleaners DO exist, and when you see one, grab them and shower them with attention. They will help you take your rental to the next level.

Have you found the perfect cleaner?

How does your cleaner measure up on the 8 point checklist?

Please share with us your story of a cleaner who goes the extra mile.


If you found this article helpful, please forward it to a rental colleague.  Here is the link:  http://holidayrentalmastery.com/its-a-cleaning-business/

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16 Responses

  1. Rex, this is my favourite post so far.
    I have been struggling with these issues, and have my own “Lizzies” in some properties but not in others. You broken it down perfectly and reinforced the need to focus on getting the ground staff right. Vital.

  2. Great piece of information, it made me feel good that I am not the only one with cleaning problems. Thanks again & keep up the good work. I need to find my Saint!

  3. Thanks for this article Rex. In the short time I have been running our holiday rental we have changed cleaners 3 times. The first told me that my expectations were too high, but they didn’t even meet the first 4 items on your checklist. I did doubt myself, but thanks to your article I now know I’m not crazy! We have started with a new cleaner, and so far so good. With some encouragement, and guidance from your article, we might have our ‘Lizzie’. Fingers crossed!

  4. Yes, Fleur thanks. I think the point is we all struggle with this and it is worth it in the end.

  5. Thanks Sheree. I didn’t mention, but it took me 3 prior cleaners and a lot of searching before I found Lizzie, but in the end it was worth the effort big time. It looks like you are on the same path, good luck!

  6. You might have a Lissie, but I have a Jodie.
    I own 4 rentals in the Victorian High Country and without my Jodie, I would not be the number 1 in the area. Jodie goes even further. Heating in winter, aircon in summer, owners pillows out when we come up, waters the garden on unexpected long spells of hot days. The list goes on and on. She is showered with gifts and thank yous at every opportunity. Her birthday, Xmas she get $1000 bonus and her whole family gets treats (2 kids and husband). She can also you the property on special occasions if we are not booked.
    Dinners out the list goes on.

  7. Thanks Suzanne, it looks like Jodie has indeed also achieved sainthood!
    What a great find. You have a good partnership and you are clearly doing your part, big time. Sadly, some owners just take their cleaner for granted.

  8. Excellent article, Rex, thanks. As you know we aren’t set up yet, but it’s handy to learn about things like this so that we plan ahead accordingly.

  9. Thanks Jill,
    While you are setting up is a great time to look around and find out what cleaners are around for the time when you are ready to start.
    You can diplomatically ask the cleaners’ existing clients how they measure up on the 8 point checklist.
    I hope the new setup goes well.

  10. great article…as always. I’ve just started in the industry and it makes perfect sense. after all, owners need long holidays at some point, so having a good “partner/cleaner” makes this possible. I’m currently searching for a lizzie, but sure it won’t be first time lucky!!! but will get there particularly now I know what personal characteristics I need to look for – besides the obvious cleaning qualifications.


  11. Hi Rex, a wonderful article and so well written. Such a huge weight lifted off my shoulders knowing that I’m not the only one who has such high expectations and expects excellence but will gladly reward an over and above achiever. I was curious about the pay structure though, how a Lizzie can do what she does and feels compensated enough to continue doing what she does. Do you stick to the standard award rates and associated penalties then go over and above with gifts and bonuses or is there a salaried arrangement your 8 point system fits into the salaried job description? I’m just wanting to get a gauge on what an affordable yet generous payment system could and should be. Thanks so much Rex!

  12. Well in this remote town cleaners are charging $55 an hour! I expect absolutely NOTHING but the best for that price. I dont expect to have to pull them up on anything. But my contract cleaner of 10 years thinks differently. So her company had all 30 of my managed homes, and now she only has 3. My lovely back packers and travelers that I have come through and work the season for me are amazing, and hard working, and willing, meticulous and just so eager for work that I cannot rate them highly enough. The bummer is that they move on, and then the training starts all over again! But worth it, just to get that WOW factor every time a guest walks into their accommodation. And at half the cost!!

Comments are closed.

My name is Rex Brown. I live in Australia, on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. I run two of my holiday rentals here on the coast, and another in inner Melbourne . They are all quite different, but they all run at high occupancy. They are the sandpit that I play in, running constant experiments about what works and what doesn’t.


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