Pressed for time?
Why not pay someone to water the plants and pay the bills, suggests Ross Clark
It’s a good job Neighbours isn’t set in modern Britain, because there wouldn’t be much in the way of dialogue. In many neighbourhoods the days when you could ask the nice couple at number 23 to look after your cat while you went on holiday are over. In place of neighbours, we now pay “lifestyle-management” companies to deal with the tedious aspects of running a household.
“People don’t mind paying us £20 an hour just to sit in their house watching daytime television while we keep an eye on the builders,” says Andrea Osborne of Cushion the Impact, A London-based agency that does household chores for 100 regular clients. “We had a client who had the decorators in. I asked him: “Are you sure you really want us to sit in your house for the whole 10 hours that they will be there?” And he said ‘yes’. It cost him £200, but he said it gave him peace of mind.”
The increase in professional working hours and the growth of single-person households has made it difficult for many employees to deal with minor household chores. It may seem a little extravagant to pay somebody just to sit in your house and open your door to a tradesman, but the cash rich and time poor are prepared to spend a lot of money not to waste a valuable day’s holiday.
“We have several clients in the York area who commute to London,” says Angela Lawson of Helping Hands, a Huddersfield-based agency that offers a lifestyle-management service for £1200 a year. “They love living in Yorkshire, but the commute doesn’t leave them much time for domestic chores. When they do have free time, they want to spend it enjoying themselves, not sorting out problems. Sometimes, it is just a case of wanting someone to pop down to the post office to pay a few bills. But we will organise all manner of things. One client asked us to accompany her on a blind date. Another lost his contact lenses on holiday. He asked us to put a replacement set in the post.”
There are one or two services that Andrea Osborne refuses to provide. “When gentlemen have asked us to provide them with ladies we say no,” she says. Neither does she offer manual services such as cleaning or ironing. “We will find a cleaner for you, but we don’t do it ourselves.”
Otherwise no errand is too menial. “One client rang up from New York saying that his lavatory brush had broken and could we go to Heal’s to buy him a new one. On another occasion a businessman asked us to go to Selfridges to buy jelly beans. His wife was pregnant and had a sudden craving for them.”
Once or twice she has been unable to fulfil a request. “Somebody wanted us to arrange a video-conference link so that her relatives in Poland could watch her father’s funeral. I did look into it, but it would have cost about £30,000. I told her that for the same money she could fly a plane-load of relatives over from Poland.”
Lifestyle-management companies barely existed five years ago. Then up-market property developers had the idea of offering concierge services along the lines of room service at top hotels. They would unpack shopping, sort out dry-cleaning and book restaurants. Having proved popular at new developments, there has been an explosion in companies offering similar services. “At the moment we’re getting three or four calls a week from people al over the country thinking of setting up their own companies and wanting advice”, says Angela Lawson.
It is hardly surprising so many people want to enter the business when the going rate for sitting in an armchair or popping down to the shops is £20 an hour. In fact, a good number of the people employed by lifestyle-management agents have themselves given up high-powered careers because they were fed up with the long hours and the stress.
“I was a project manager in IT,” says Angela Osborne. “I employ a lot of people who worked in dotcom companies or in advertising and were laid off. I’ve even had graduates applying to me for a job, and seeing this as a long-term career.”
Who needs banking or management consultancy when there is a good living to be made from watering other people’s plants?