News & Politics

Make Your Life Easier: Help With Anything

No time to wait at DMV? To clean the gutters? Here's who to call.

Eric Kay is a former editorial intern. Ellen Ryan is a Washingtonian managing editor.

They'll Plan Anything: Dates to Death

Fantasy Escapades, 301-717-6677, Too busy to even plan a date? Or want a very special evening? Cheryl Pressley plans romantic nights on the town. One client hired her to organize one evening a month for a year: One included a catered dinner at home, complete with saxophone player; another, at Christmas, took the family by train to New York to see the Rockettes, go skating at Rockefeller Center, to dinner at the View, and a return trip by limo. $450 to plan a date plus $1,500 and up for the package itself.

Funanza, 202-363-9540; Karen-Lee Ryan, another "fun organizer," offers packages like Washington Rediscovery Weekend–"little-known gems and forgotten treasures"–and Around the World in a Day–"explore tastes and treasures from Europe, Russia, and Asia." Have her plan a few hours or a full weekend; $99 and up plus costs.

The Question, 512-680-2169; Lilly Tade, an Arlington "wedding proposal planner," asks a lot of questions to get to know her clients. For one couple, she arranged for the college carillon to play Pachelbel's Canon in D as they picnicked on the quad; Tade had a limo take another couple around DC to the high spots of their relationship. $50 consultation plus costs and a percentage.

Organize Your Estate, Arlington; 703-522-5813. Norman Zalfa's business asks the hard "what if" questions. The 75-year-old Zalfa, former director of security for ITT Europe, sets up important documents so that everything's in order in the event of a death or accident. Zalfa will help you identify, locate, and organize bank statements, pension and retirement documents, deeds, and more. He'll provide you with a hard-copy report and a CD of all your personal information. In business since 1992, Zalfa also teaches classes on organization at the Arlington Adult Education Center. Working areawide, his base fee is $100 an hour; total is usually $1,000 to $2,000.

They'll Help With Elderly Parents

Who can help you research nursing homes, get aid for a faraway relative, assess a parent's condition? Your best starting point may be the Office on Aging in your parent's jurisdiction; there are 655 nationwide. Call 800-677-1116 or see for information.

For one-on-one help near or far, a geriatric-care manager can make a professional assessment and find the resources you and your parent need. You'll find a list of good ones around Washington in Guide to Retirement Living, which is distributed free in medical offices and assisted-living centers, or see its Web site:

They'll Run Your Errands

Buying a present, waiting in line at DMV, meeting someone at the airport–who's got the time? These businesses do.

Angels at Your Service, Alexandria; 703-924-3600; Brenda Siegel's four dozen "angels" can take care of your housecleaning; gutter and lawn care; shopping; gift selection, wrapping, and delivery; home organizing; packing and unpacking; party planning; house and pet sitting; and companion care. Around the Washington area, "Angels" are licensed, bonded, and insured. Rates: $17.50 to $45 an hour.

Budget Butlers, Falls Church; 703-485-4538; David Mentzer's new company walks dogs, tidies homes, plants plants, changes furnace filters, assembles furniture, runs errands, waits at the DMV, sorts mail, and pays your bills. For a client picking up his girlfriend from a trip, the firm even sprinkled rose petals from the door to the hot tub. Budget Butlers charges $19 an hour for errands, $29 an hour for personal assistance–discounted for ongoing contracts. Employees are insured and bonded.

Concierge America, 301-986-0418; Since 1993, Ellen Epstein's "problem-solving company" has done it all, including getting an exotic South American bird through customs. She'll work anywhere in the world. A professional organizer by training, she charges $100 an hour for organizing, research, or problem-solving.

CVK Group, downtown DC; 202-546-5468. Need to wait in line for a seat at a House or Senate session? Let CVK Group do it for you. The 14-year-old company, run by mostly students, charges $35 an hour and will arrive three to four hours before a hearing on Capitol Hill to reserve a spot. (Most courier companies offer this service, too.)

Dorsey & Associates, Northwest DC; 202-434-8189. Have a few parking tickets you'd like to contest? Michael Dorsey's 16-year-old company represents individuals and businesses at ticket-fighting hearings. Dorsey, who once worked for DC's Bureau of Traffic Adjudication, doesn't work in the suburbs. Look to pay $20 for a parking ticket, $75 for moving violations, and $100 for accidents–or 40 percent of the amount the hearing saves you, whichever is less. He helped one company with more than $55,000 in tickets.

Errands-4-U, Oakton; 703-938-3790; Former nurse Claire West not only picks up prescriptions but takes clients to doctor's appointments–and sits in to help explain the medical jargon. She'll also do light grocery shopping. Fee: $25 an hour, one-hour minimum, plus 25 cents a mile over ten miles.

Errand Specialist, McLean; 703-448-9748. Dot Woodbury's always on her feet, just sometimes in someone else's shoes. She'll do any errand except transporting people and pets. She once had a client who liked to get his riding boots shined at a stand in National Airport, so once a week she went to the airport, put the boots on–they polish better when on feet–and got them shined. She charges $25 an hour.

GOphers, Northwest DC; 202-298-5528; Suzanne Cavanagh's four-year-old company runs just about every errand: She'll shop for groceries, wait for repairpeople, take cars for inspections, and drive pets to the vet. Serving Georgetown and upper Northwest, she charges $20 an hour.

Lifestyle Solutions, Chevy Chase; 301-652-9383; Debrah Shaver acts like a personal assistant: She can arrange parties; do bookkeeping; file insurance claims; gather repair estimates and appraisals; and organize closets, kitchens, and offices. Rate: $90 an hour, two-hour minimum.

Medical Billing Advisors, Woodbridge; 703-583-0994; Linda Brandwin, former registered nurse and medical-office manager, writes a national newspaper column answering questions on medical billing. She also helps clients figure out medical statements, understand HMO and Medicare policies, and fix billing problems. $75 an hour; clients usually work with Brandwin by faxing or mailing materials, but personal meetings can be arranged.

Personal Attention, Bethesda; 301-571-0182; For 18 years Scott Kerman and his 80-person staff have handled DMV inspections, house- and pet-sitting, waiting for repairpeople, airport runs, assistance with parties, handyman work, home-office filing, and bill paying. One client requested that a whole wardrobe be shipped cross-country in order to pick out one outfit. Kerman's rates start at $30 an hour; he accepts credit cards and offers gift certificates.

Rent-a-Mom, Reston; 703-437-8571. Robin Sherman and her staff of "moms" will clean and organize your home, plan and staff a party, care for pets, and do laundry. Most tasks start at $75, parties $20 an hour per worker, three-hour minimum.

The Runaround, Potomac; 301-922-0196; Amy Goldberg, who is also a professional organizer, can shop, make post-office runs, get a car through inspection, wait for repairpeople, and plan a party. She does not transport children. Rate: $40 to $50 an hour for errands, $60 to $75 for organizing, in Montgomery County, DC, Northern Virginia.

United States Vehicle Registration Service, Takoma Park; 202-342-2558; This 14-year-old company handles car-related tasks such as registration, inspection, title, lost tags, and parking permits. It can retrieve a car from impound, get a boot removed, and take your vehicle to the mechanic. USVRS can't get your license; that requires a photo and signature. Turnaround is usually one day. Prices: $95 for registration renewals, $165 for DC inspection, $195 for boot releases; more-complex problems cost more.

They'll Fix Your Car–on the Spot

No need to take your car to the mechanic or car wash–these businesses will come to your driveway or office parking lot.

Auto Repair Anywhere, Beltsville; 301-595-1155. Former Toyota mechanic Eiji Yanagi fixes engines, brakes, and electrical systems and does maintenance on Japanese and American vehicles. He charges $36 an hour for labor, plus parts, and $30 a visit.

Bill Hamm's Car Care Center, Rockville; 301-294-9155. Free pickup and delivery of a vehicle from Rockville, Gaithersburg, and Germantown; no painting or body work. For an extra fee, Hamm's will wash your car and fill the tank.

Brake Masters & Mobile Service, Fairfax; 703-385-3453; Steve Newman fixes brakes throughout Northern Virginia, seven days a week. He charges $67.50 an hour plus parts, and estimates are free; he rarely charges for travel time. His 17-year-old service has earned ASE certification and a mention in the Wall Street Journal.

Detail Authority, Herndon, 703-978-7800; and Chantilly, 703-263-2268; Randy Coffey's vans have gone to Northern Virginia homes and offices since 1987 to wash, wax, and detail vehicles and fix dents and dings. Detailing $35 to $315, depending on vehicle; paintless dent repair $150 for first panel, $125 second; repainting bumpers $195 to $400.

Details, Details, Details, Rockville; 301-294-3050; This business will pick up your car, truck, or boat, shine it up inside and out, and whisk it back. If your vehicle needs an oil change, tune-up, or other maintenance, Details will take it to a mechanic. Working in Montgomery County and upper Northwest since 1977, the company's rates start at $25 for a wash or $175 for detailing, depending on vehicle; there's a $25 travel fee for work in DC (free in Montgomery).

Mobile One Services, Bethesda; 301-656-6004; Scott Martindill's family business can detail a vehicle in 1H to 2 hours. Mobile One charges $85 to $105 for basic wash/wax/interior cleaning; up to $210 for the works.

Mullins Mobile Auto Care, Haymarket; 703-754-2173. For 12 years, Charles Mullins's business has specialized in repairing Volvos–that's almost as long as he was a master mechanic at Don Beyer Volvo. He'll pick up and return your car anywhere in Northern Virginia. Most work is finished the same day, warrantied for a year. Rate: $70 an hour; no delivery or mileage charge.

William Ivins Automotive, Takoma Park; 301-585-8268. Bill Ivins can come to you to do tune-ups and to fix brakes, timing belts, exhaust systems, front-wheel drives, and cooling systems. Rate: $60 an hour; no transportation charge for work around Takoma Park, Silver Spring, and upper Northwest DC, but more than 20 minutes' travel means an extra $20 to $35.

They Do Laundry

Why drive to the dry cleaner each week when these offer home pickup and delivery of dry-cleaned clothing, usually for no extra charge? Mom's Laundry and Wishy Wash even do everyday washing.

For an idea of cost, a pound of clothes would be a pair of jeans or a few towels; a 13-gallon trash bag holds about 15 pounds.

Mom's Laundry, Northwest DC; 202-686-1300. For ten years Mom's has offered next-day, door-to-door laundry and dry-cleaning service in the metro area. Gregory Frank's business gives clients special bags–one for laundry, one for dry cleaning–and customers can pin instructions to any garment. Minimum order $18–about a week's worth of laundry for one person; rates start at $1.90 a pound. No need to separate whites from colors–Mom's does it for you.

Wishy Wash Laundromat, Silver Spring; 301-928-1965; Rick Mollica's company picks up laundry and dry cleaning and even makes paying easier with online billing. Serving Northwest DC and Montgomery County, Wishy Wash charges $1.05 a pound for up to 30 pounds; per-pound prices are less for larger loads. Prices for pressed laundry and dry cleaning are standard. There's no extra cost for pickup and delivery as long as you meet the $15 to $25 minimum.

Bergmann's Cleaning, six locations; 703-247-7600, This 87-year-old Washington dry-cleaning institution has 50 pickup routes in the area.

Besson's Cleaning, 1329 14th St., NW; 202-667-4556. Delivery in downtown DC, Georgetown, Capitol Hill, Chevy Chase, Bethesda, Potomac, Silver Spring, Crystal City, McLean.

Foxhall Cleaners, 4590 MacArthur Blvd., NW; 202-333-5556. Delivery in Spring Valley, Glover Park, Georgetown, Palisades, and parts of Bethesda, Potomac, and Chevy Chase.

Hershey's Cleaners, 106 N. Frederick Ave., Gaithersburg; 301-926-0771. This 52-year-old dry cleaner offers door-to-door service in Bethesda, Potomac, Rockville, Gaithersburg, and Germantown. Each dry-cleaned item costs about $1 extra when delivered; laundered shirts are 40 cents more.

Parkway Custom Dry Cleaning, 8402 Connecticut Ave., Chevy Chase; 301-652-3377. Parkway–long considered the place to take items that need very special care because it offers hand cleaning and pressing–offers home service in DC, Montgomery County, and most of Northern Virginia. At-home upholstery cleaning, too.

Regal Custom Cleaners, 5021 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-537-1846. Service in Northwest DC.

Rhode Island Cleaners, 4235 Wisconsin Ave., NW; 202-363-4652. This 71-year-old operation delivers in Northwest DC and the Maryland suburbs. Door-to-door cleaning costs 20 percent more.

Sta-Brite Cleaning Centers, nine Montgomery County and Northwest DC locations; 301-468-7303. This 54-year-old company offers home delivery of dry cleaning, laundry, shoe and luggage repair, and alterations.

Sterling Cleaners and Textile Services, 5909 Blair Rd., NW; 202-723-9535, Serves Northern Virginia; Northwest, Southwest, Northeast, and parts of Southeast DC, and Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

Zoots, 888-558-5588; This franchise, founded by the men who brought us Staples, uses distinctive purple vans and purple laundry bags and a perc-free cleaning method that doesn't have that chemical dry-cleaning smell. Zoots picks up and delivers dry cleaning throughout the metropolitan area; you can sign up and spell out preferences online and pay by credit card. It'll also pick up or accept clothing donations for Goodwill.

They Can Fix Things Around Your House

Need to replace a broken windowpane, install a fan, repair a fence? Here are good handymen–plus referral groups that can recommend other trustworthy repairpeople.

All Around the House, Olney; 301-924-4117; Rick Dillon, his wife, and three grown children do handyman services, furniture moving, pressure washing, painting, yard maintenance, and light hauling. Insured, bonded, and licensed, they charge $65 an hour for one person, $110 an hour for two.

Barbara Adatte, Reston; 703-834-0762; With nearly 25 years' experience working at Sotheby's and Launay Antiques, Barbara Adatte knows how to clean, restore, and repair furniture–and she travels to homes throughout Washington. She does not repair cane or upholstery but can refer you to people who do. $75 an hour; free estimates.

Case Handyman Services and Case Design/Remodeling, Bethesda, Falls Church, Chantilly, and Annapolis, 800-513-2250; In 1992, Case Design spun off a handyman service that can tackle jobs large and small. Serving most of the northern metro area, Case Handyman Services tackles gutters, painting, shower stalls, caulking, carpentry, and more. $89 an hour for handyman services, $95 for plumbing or electric work, two-hour minimum, plus $30 a visit.

Delbe Home Services, Northwest DC; 202-237-0187; Whatever the problem, Delbe has more than 250 contractors for the job and a central office that takes care of billing. For $125 a year plus labor, David Burka's company manages household maintenance as needed around the clock, including one disastrous New Year's Eve when a customer's pipe burst. All work is guaranteed.

Fisher HomeWorks, Northwest DC; 202-232-3781. Wayne Fisher does projects you might be able to do–if you had the time and tools. Insured and licensed, he works within the Beltway and charges $60 to $75 an hour, two-hour minimum.

Home Solutions Connection, 703-360-8222; This three-year-old firm offers free referrals to plumbers, roofers, and other home contractors who do work on homes in Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, and Montgomery counties. Home Solutions screens each firm–checking things like licensing, insurance, references, and complaint histories–then follows up with clients. Contractors pay a commission.

Lifesavers, Potomac; 301-424-0664. Nearly 25 years in business, Karen Johnston knows property management–and 400 contractors. Lifesavers can oversee home projects: She'll gather samples, buy materials, hire workers, and minimize mess. She covers upper Northwest DC and lower Montgomery County. $75 an hour plus $75 for each contractor referral.

Minor Maintenance, Northwest DC; 800-995-0390. For 15 years David Huff's company has hired skilled workers to do carpentry, light electrical and plumbing, drywall, tile, painting, glazing, siding, wallpaper removal, and cement work. $38 a visit plus $76 for the first hour, then prorated by the half hour; one-hour minimum. No markup on materials, but he does charge to shop if needed.

MowerMan, Laurel; 301-384-6290; Lawnmower on the fritz? Chris Suser and his crew, who used to do repairs for Home Depot, visit homes to fix lawnmowers, snowblowers, and tractors. Homeowners sign a yearly maintenance contract, which starts at $64 and includes routine maintenance and unlimited repairs. Serves Montgomery County, Columbia, Ellicott City, and parts of Prince George's including Bowie, Laurel, Beltsville, and Adelphi.

Neighborhood Handyman, Northwest DC; 202-744-3647. Donald Davidson serves DC residents by repairing windows and screens, installing locks, resetting flagstone, building and repairing decks, handling crown molding, and doing minor tiling, painting, electrical, and plumbing–jobs that take less than a day but are too small for a contractor. $75 an hour, two-hour minimum; then prorated to the quarter hour.

One Call Handyman Services, Silver Spring; 301-933-9600; No job is too small for Andrew Korzan's 17-year-old service. Korzan and his staff of four or five will tackle plumbing, electrical, painting, power washing, computer and telephone wiring, and minor home remodeling. Licensed, insured, and bonded, he charges $75 an hour, two-hour minimum.

Pro Home Care, Rockville; 301-330-4036; Stan Hummer's company does work outdoor and in, from mulching and power washing to electrical work, tiling, and caulking. Serving Montgomery, Prince George's, Frederick, and Howard counties for 14 years, he charges $35 to $65 an hour plus $35 a visit.

Urban Referrals, 202-332-0848; Urban Referrals screens home-repair help–verifying licensing, insurance, and recommendations–and then offers referrals to homeowners looking for reliable electricians, kitchen remodelers, and other contractors who work in the District. The service is free to homeowners; contractors pay acommission.

They'll Walk or Wash Your Dog

Can't get home during the workday to take your dog for a walk? Is your 80-pound retriever a handful to wash and clip? Here are services that will pamper your pet.

Animal Magic, Springfield; 703-971-0998. Former competition groomer Marcie Schubert's salon on wheels grooms most animals except very large dogs. Haircuts for small dogs start at $85; a cut for a golden retriever runs about $100.

A Walk in the Park, Bethesda/Chevy Chase, 301-654-7275; Potomac/Rockville, 301-765-2275; After learning there are as many dogs as children in Montgomery County, marketing veteran Jolie Brown and her pet-loving sister-in-law, Rachel Newman, started their business five years ago. They have more than 500 clients, and handle requests from dog walks to "please turn off my coffeepot." Daily walks are $14 to $19, pet sitting $17 to $21.

Cruisin' Canine, Annandale; 703-642-0758. Terry Wood has offered mobile grooming of small dogs for 11 years. One loyal client offered to fly him to Texas to cut a dog's hair. Rates start at $60., Alexandria; 703-838-5898; Since 1999 has offered Northern Virginia pet owners daytime dog walks and overnight pet sitting. Rates start at $16 a walk for one dog; more for more dogs, and early-morning and late-evening visits; pet sitting from $60 a night.

Dog Paws 'N Cats Claws Pet Care, 703-548-6888; A former Baltimore Zoo employee, Kimberly Riedeman and her staff offer dog walks and pet sitting. They can administer medicines, and they walk dogs one at a time. Walking typically costs $12 to $30; pet sitting visits are $16, with each additional pet an extra $3; overnight visits start at $65 a dog.

Rosa's Mobile Pet Grooming, Bethesda; 301-946-0040; Serving Bethesda, Chevy Chase, and part of Northwest DC, Rosa's is the choice if you have two or more dogs. The van parks at the curb; inside your dogs are bathed and have their nails and hair trimmed and ears cleaned. Most shorthaired breeds start at $50.

Wags n' Walks, Rockville; 301-806-6575; Since 1993 Wags n' Walks has offered midday walks, vacation packages, a pet taxi service, and opportunities for your pet to meet others in Rockville and Potomac. They're not limited to just cats and dogs. Dog walks are about $16 to $18.

Zoolatry, 520 Tenth St., SE; 202-547-9255; Kathleen Murray's Zoolatry employs 15 walkers who serve 1,000 clients. Zoolatry, meaning the worship of pets, offers walks from 9 AM to 5 PM. A 30-minute visit is $15 to $20; each additional dog is $5. Cat sitting, $20 a visit. There's also a $25 registration fee.