Andrew Lowrey of Precise Home Management
Ironically, those who have the largest estates and who are most in need of
comprehensive household help often don't have the time or proclivity to advertise, select, and fastidiously train employees. This is precisely why more and more people are hiring consultants like Andrew Lowrey of Precise Home Management to help them identify and properly train their domestic staff.
Washington Life: You've worked for various royals?
Andrew Lowrey: My career really started off as a butler/estate manager on a private yacht in Monte Carlo for a Saudi princess. You think you've seen it all, and then there is always something to totally blow your mind.
WL: The yacht was over the top?
AL: The cutlery had sapphires, and the tablecloths were hand-embroidered with real silver and gold thread. It was an incredible opportunity because they'd have lavish events and say, “Andrew, make it happen.” It's much easier when you know they're out to impress, so you give them white glove service. All the other crews on the yachts wore khaki pants and short sleeves, and we were in white tails and white gloves. And yes, people stared because we were putting on a performance. Everything we did was first class. If you have it, then why not impress, and entertain lavishly? It's a wonderful thing.
WL: Many people choose to help others in less fortunate circumstances rather than lavish money on themselves. But that's beside the point. You have a number of celebrity clients. Can you tell us some of them?
AL: I don't divulge names. We have a wide spectrum of clients from celebrities to major CEOs of corporations. About 10 percent of our business is based here in D.C. and Baltimore. The bulk of our clients come from Chicago, New York, Florida and Los Angeles.
WL: What are the most common misconception clients have when hiring a housekeeper, a butler, a cook, or a nanny?
AL: That the days of slave labor [i.e. low wages] aren't over. I think it's very difficult for clients nowadays to understand that if they want a real professional in their home they have to pay. They think, “It's just cleaning, I can pay $12 an hour and have somebody cook, clean, run errands, get the car serviced, and take the kids to school.” Wrong.
WL: But there are people who do that.
AL: Yes, there are people who do that. And there are clients out there (none of mine) who will buy people illegally. The old saying “you get what you pay for” applies to the domestic industry too. There's a lot of new money and young people who have amassed great wealth but are not used to having domestic staff. I had a young pop artist client who was building a 25,000-squarefoot home and thought he could run it with two people. No! He just didn't understand. So, part of my job is to educate clients about what will work and what will not work, and why you want to protect your investment with a qualified household manager, who has knowledge, will negotiate
contracts and save you money ten times over.
WL: When you are hiring people how seriously do you look into their backgrounds?
AL: We furnish our clients with a complete criminal background check with credit and social security verification. I have found criminal records on existing staff that I'm sure their employers didn't know about. In fact, I've had robbery, and kidnapping come up, and I've come across people who have a history of making workers compensation claims with former employees.
WL: Is it true that you create extensive manuals with photos and zones and schedules when you train existing staff or are hiring new staff for clients?
AL: I will go in and do a pictorial record of everything in the house down to how often each room and each item in a room should be cleaned and with which products. How to hang towels, where to put equipment, how often the equipment should be wiped down, how the big cushions should be placed on the bed, how to organize closets, clean silver or marble, use alcohol to clean telephone handsets, all these types of things.
WL: Everything becomes very uniform. What if a client has problems with someone after they’ve been trained and hired?
AL: I use only trained professionals. But let's say something isn't quite working. I don't just run off into the sunset once I've placed somebody. A client should absolutely utilize me to fine-tune the integration of an individual. It can take anywhere from six months to a year to integrate somebody into a large home.
WL: Is there a trial period when the client can make sure that it’s a good working relationship?
How often does someone not work out, and what’s your average retention rate?
AL: A standard warranty period is three months. Personally, I believe I can tell within two weeks if someone is going to work out or not. If a client decides after a few months that it isn't working, then I will find and train someone else for them. Ninety percent work out on the first try and 100% work out eventually. The reason someone doesn't work out is usually because the client or the applicant misrepresented the position and said, for example, that there would be no cooking when in fact they were having lavish dinner parties twice a week. On average, an employee we hire and train will stay at least two or more years.
WL: If you want to get a good qualified live-in who occasionally cooks and also looks after the kids three nights a week and one day a weekend, how much should one expect to pay?
AL: I would say $40,000 for somebody with a good track record who has made a career of doingit all. They're not going to work for $30,000 like the younger girls who will up and leave you to get married or to pursue other things.
WL: Please tell us what a butler does.
AL: In the traditional Old World of butlering I would say, watch Anthony Hopkins in the movie Remains of the Day. That's what I aspire to be. The butler oversees the daily running of the household and makes things happen. He's the one who's in charge of the chef, and everybody who works in the household. When I was a butler, I cleaned shoes, ran errands, organized dinner parties, served the family their evening meals, prepared breakfast, prepared lunch, helped hand-write Christmas cards — it's a multitude of things.
WL: What should someone expect to pay for a good housekeeper, or a live-in couple?
AL: Salaries always vary, depending on location, but the $35,000-$40,000 range is what you might expect to pay for a good housekeeper who is polished, doesn't come to work in sweats or jeans, and can speak English and drive. You might pay $80,000 for a live-in couple.
WL: For a good personal assistant?
AL: Well, we have a lot of personal assistants that come out of corporate America and are looking to become personal assistants in private homes. So, at the low end, probably $40,000 on upwards.
WL: A chef?
AL: I have more chefs than I'll probably ever place. At the low end, you'll probably pay $40,000.
WL: Is it difficult to find chefs who are versatile and knowledgeable about cooking healthy and
organic foods, as well as fattening foods?
AL: This is really important in California. Most clients want healthy cooking, and then they want the chef to pull out all the stops and be lavish, using as many sauces and creams as possible, when entertaining.
WL: What is your fee?
AL: Our fee is a one-time payment of 25 percent of the person's annual salary. It's a lot of money, but I go above what the other agencies do. I do these booklets and manuals, I integrate them into the home, I do site visits, I'm there after the fact, and I've got wonderful clients who will attest to that.
WL: What do you charge if you haven't hired the staff but come in to train the existing staff?
AL: It's based on an hourly rate of $100 after I meet with clients to better assess their needs with an estimate.
WL: What skill would you say most people are lacking when they start training with you?
AL: Polish. At restaurants, all waiters are not created equal, and the same applies to domestic
staff. The homeowner's are not looking for their next best friend. That's the way I was trained.
There has to be that separation.
WL: Is there a lack of pride in service today and a loss of formality?
AL: Yes, very much so. There's a great shortage here in America. In Europe, they still take pride
in being in the service industry, being a domestic, and working in a restaurant. Here in America,
there exists a sort of snobbery of not wanting to be known as a housecleaner or a secretary. There
is more pride in these professions in Europe.
WL: Why do you think Europe has maintained a respect for these professions, and therefore
professionalism in the domestic industry?
AL: I think it possibly goes back to schooling and discipline on the home front. You know—don't
chew with your mouth open, don't chew gum in public, speak when you're spoken to—just the
basics. And here in America, unfortunately, much of this has been lost.