Rabbits Are the New Gophers

Would you pay a stranger $36 to pick up three plants for you? How about $80 to organize your home office? These aren’t just hypotheticals; they’re two of the assignments recently posted on TaskRabbit, a website where overtaxed New Yorkers can job out household chores to prescreened helpers (a.k.a. “rabbits”). Overwhelmed by an avalanche of end-of-year duties, I decided to put the service to work. To start, I determined an amount I was willing to pay for each task. Then the rabbits placed bids for my jobs. I could either select the most qualified helper or let the system send me the lowest-­bidding one. I tried both options. The company then took its cut, using what a spokesman calls “a pricing algorithm that’s a win-win-win philosophy” (on average, about 15 percent of the task’s cost). I spent $407 to wipe out my to-do list, but was it worth it? A cost-benefit analysis.

Illustrations by Peter Arkle

Task 1: Hook up a borrowed printer
Winning bid: $29
TaskRabbit tells me the average price for “computer help” is $77. I’m busy, but not $77 worth of busy, so I offer $35. (The site’s “average price” calculator is all over the map, I found. It’s better to estimate a length of time for each task, then multiply by a fair hourly wage.) Four bids come in, from $29 to $48, the cheapest submitted by a recent college graduate and aspiring writer. He arrives at 9 p.m. and takes about twelve minutes to plug in the printer and download the driver from the HP website. Task complete.
Worth it?: No. If it takes longer to fill out the job form on the site than it does to complete said job, you should’ve done it yourself.

Task 2: Sort ten bags of used baby clothes
Winning bid: $43
My sister-in-law is in a hand-me-down trafficking cabal that results in one trash bag of clothing per week on my porch. I post this task at 4:24 p.m., and by 4:54, Rabbit Matthew is assigned. In a bio not unlike a dating profile, I see a bearded, argyle-sweatered actor-comedian-writer who considers himself friendly, organized, and “good at moving fast.” The following day, he makes quick work of the sorting mission, finishing in two hours. The piles are neat; his folding technique is exemplary. I’d like him to carry the bags to the attic, but I get nervous about his possibly falling off the ladder, so I climb up instead and have him hand me the bins. He doesn’t protest.
Worth it?: Yes. One appeal of TaskRabbit is that you commit to finishing a chore at a certain day and time. Hiring someone to assist simply keeps you honest.

Task 3: Empty, clean, and ­reorganize pantry closet
Winning bid: $76
Perhaps owing to the high price, this job fetches a whopping seven hungry rabbits. Offers range from $68 to $82. They include a food blogger, an avid recycler, and a “thinker-poet-artist Homerically tossing and turning on the waves of Terra.” I pick a woman with a nonprofit day job who claims to cook and bake a lot. Lacking my sentimentality toward musty grains and rescued takeout containers, she transforms my jumbled, crumby pantry into a well-organized ­culinary-supply center.
Worth it?: Absolutely. A day’s work for me is completed in four hours by her.

Task 4: Drop off donations
Winning bid: $36
I’m donating my cookbook collection to a salvage store and would like someone to drop it off. Two offers come in, one for $36 and one for $165. I make the obvious choice, which turns out to be from a part-time rabbit and church volunteer. “This isn’t nearly as bad as I expected,” she says, loading my four boxes into her Dodge Charger.
Worth it?: Not really. I could easily have piled the books into my own trunk until I passed a Goodwill.

Task 5: Attach handles to Ikea cabinets
Winning bid: $48 (including $15 for materials)
This seems fairly simple to me, so I bid low. Perhaps too low. The rabbit arrives, tool kit in tow, and dutifully devotes herself to what becomes a four-hour job. Nine of the handle installations go perfectly, but in the end there is an extra set of holes in one door (repaired by the rabbit with clear nail polish) and another handle placed too low. The rabbit slumps off in dejection, reattaching our askew house number on the way out to compensate. Her grim mood may also stem from her sub-minimum wages for this gig, all told.
Worth it?: For me, yes: The project’s completion ends untold hours of spousal nagging. I do feel guilty about underpaying the rabbit, though.

Task 6: Sand and repaint dining table
Winning bid: $175
It’s time for the granddaddy of my tasks, and the rabbit who arrives is, in fact, a granddaddy. He’s a retired Wall Streeter from Staten Island who does jobs “mostly to get out of the house,” and I hire him to spiff up the scuffed, rained-on farm table we rescued from our L.A.-bound friends’ backyard, which has been crowding our porch for two weeks. Where others would see an eight-foot monster, he sees “a real beauty,” and says so repeatedly as he lovingly restores it. The next day, he returns to disassemble it so he and my husband can cantilever it over the second-story balcony into our dining room. He devotes himself to the work with the kind of professionalism that impresses even my nitpicky spouse, who is ultimately TaskRabbit’s biggest beneficiary.
Worth it?: Yes. I could not have done this myself, and most professional furniture restorers would have charged us double or triple for the same work.

Rabbits Are the New Gophers