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A Guide to Choosing the Right Paint Contractor

If you are like most people these days you probably don’t have all the time you need to work on your home improvement projects. Painting is an easy way to improve the look of your home or business, but certainly takes time to complete correctly. The good news is there are many painters out there who can get the job done for you. The bad news, with so many painters and contractors vying for your business it can be difficult to find the right person. To help in your decision making process, we have made a guide to support you in your search.

As you go through this guide don’t hesitate to reference each section more than once.  We are confident that if you are taking the time to read this, you are likely doing your due diligence and talking with more than one company.  Take a second before each conversation to refresh yourself on the important questions to ask and essential documents to ask for. This preparation and knowledge will allow you to feel confident during the estimate gathering process and even more confident in your decision. 

Table of Contents

  1. Why Hire a Paint Contractor?
  2. Know Your Options: Ask Around
  3. What to Expect at Your Estimate
  4. Avoid Verbal Agreements
  5. Are they Reputable? Check the BBB
  6. Follow Up With References

1. Why Hire a Paint Contractor?

We are going to be very honest right from the get-go in this guide; you do not always need to hire a paint contractor. As much as we may like to get call after call from potential clients, there is a lot of painting that the average DIY-fan can take on themselves. Projects like changing the color of a front door, painting a small room in the house, or even painting a porch or basement floor are all perfectly reasonable for a homeowner to complete.  There is a high likelihood that someone with a decent attention to detail, patience to complete any prep-work and ability to read product application directions will have great success in projects like these, or ones similar. There are also very good reasons, and situations, where a paint contractor may be the more suited option. Let’s explore a few of these reasons below.

  • Scale: considering the scale, or scope, of work you are looking to complete is very important in determining whether or not you have the skill and time to complete all the work needed. Whole home re-paints, changing stained baseboard to white, or painting a large set of kitchen cabinets are all projects that require a significant amount of time and may be a good time to gather the opinion (and price) of a professional.
  • Difficulty: this may be a bit subjective, but really try and assess the steps of a project from start to finish and examine the level of difficulty it takes to end with a quality result.                                       Things to consider,
  • How intricate are the cut lines I would have to make? (A bad cut line along woodwork and ceilings can make a job look poor very quickly).
  • Must I be able to safely mask of windows, trim, or cabinets to keep from getting paint on unwanted surfaces? Can I effectively complete this?
  • Is the area being painted going to be hard on my body if I paint it myself? (Back, neck, shoulder and knees often get sore quickly while painting).
  • Do I have all of the required tools/equipment needed to do the project the right way? If not, is it difficult and/or expensive to obtain these tools for myself?
  • Risk for Harm: PLEASE consider this before taking on a painting project alone. Even if you complete a project without a contractor, if there is any risk of harm, please have someone work with you that could help in the event of injury.  The obvious consideration for this point is the use of ladders. What height ladder is required to complete your work and are you safely able to ascend and descend the ladder with required tools. Painters are trained and far more comfortable with the use of ladders than most homeowners. This is an excellent time to reach out for advanced help. Other risk considerations to take into account could include: the cleaning products/chemicals that may be needed to prepare a surface for paint, products needed to complete the project, use of any sprayer/hose line/compressor in the project, and the risk of harm (damage, rather) to belongings that may need to be moved in order to appropriately apply paint. There is absolutely no point in risking harm for the sake of a painting project so if you are unsure, call a contractor. 
  • Paint Failure: Is your current paint peeling, cracking, rusting, or chipping? While we may see these things fairly often, they are not necessarily common, certainly not expected, and are always considered a paint ‘failure’. This simply means that some factor, whether environmental, product, architectural, or user-error, has caused strong adhesion to fail between the paint product and it’s applied surface. Most commonly this is a result of poor surface preparation or inappropriate product use during the last paint application. Before you just apply a new product or another coat of old paint, get some expert help on WHY the last endeavor is now failing. Paint professionals should be able to help identify substrate concerns, preparation needed, and best product selection for your individual painting need.

2. Know Your Options: Ask Around

If you have never had your home painted before, where do you even start? This is a great question! Start just like you would with any other ‘first-time’ event you may experience in life.  Engage in a little water cooler talk with your co-workers, bring it up in conversation with friends, or call family members that have gone through the painting process before. Previous experience and word-of-mouth referrals is what the painting industry is made on. People, generally, are not afraid to share their good, bad (and from time to time, even ugly) experiences. 

Focus on a couple important questions as you navigate these conversations.

  • Have you ever used a painter or gone through a home remodel process? 

Even if your conversation partner has never used a painter you may still gather important information regarding the process of having a trade company in and out of your home for the duration of a project. During this beginning stage of the conversation take note of your partner’s tone of voice and facial expressions. If they are enthusiastic and encouraging about this process, great! You will definitely want to continue talking with them and even check back in with them as you move forward in selecting the best company. 

On the other hand, if they are rolling their eyes, sighing heavily or shaking their head pessimistically, your course of conversation is quickly going to change.  Definitely get their story and see what you can learn from their experience, but you will now certainly need to find more people to talk to as this cannot serve as your only gauge for decision making. 

  • What company did you choose and why?

If your acquaintance has used a painting company, dive into a deeper conversation on who they chose and what sold them on that company.  It is important to listen to these answers and decide if their reasoning aligns with your project needs and/or your values in a company. Take these 3 examples as a demonstration about the importance of truly hearing the answers at this stage of conversation.

Example 1: “Man, painting companies are so expensive. They were the cheapest company I could find.” 

Unless you, too, are looking to find the cheapest option on the market, you may want to disregard further conversation about this person’s experience.  Your friend is absolutely correct that painting prices can cover the gamut and it can be daunting if you try to understand the thousands of dollars that can separate bids. BUT, it is also very important to understand cheaper is not always better.  The theory is no different than buying clothing, houses, or cars-you get what you pay for. Not all, but many of the ‘cheapest’ painters may just be starting out, lack advanced knowledge in the field, be struggling to find work, or take significantly longer to complete a job because they are a small one or two painter crew.

Example 2: “When I want something done I don’t want to wait. I picked my painter because they could get to my project the fastest. I wasn’t about to wait 5 weeks to get this done!”

We won’t totally knock this statement, but there are a few key things to consider when looking at scheduling and lead times with companies.  If you are getting a standard residential painting project completed, anything from a couple of rooms to a full ceiling and wall re-paint, you can expect a reputable company to be booked out roughly 2-4 weeks. You may not want to wait a few weeks for the work to be completed, but this shows that your selected company is busy and has at least a handful of trusting clients lined up ahead of you. This is not a bad thing!

(Please remember we are talking from our experience only and stories we have heard from customers).

If you receive timeframes outside of what we mentioned previously (2-4 weeks) you may want to start questioning the contractor a little bit. This particular contractor may very well be in the midst of a huge home remodel project or a large-scale woodwork package on a home that justifies being booked out a bit longer. BUT…they may also struggle to keep to a set schedule and be significantly behind on completing projects in a timely fashion. Contractors like this often get near the start of your expected project start date and then call to let you know that it will be another 3 weeks. This cycle of delay and re-scheduling will likely become an immediate frustration.

Likewise, a contractor who tells you they could start the project tomorrow (especially during the busy Spring/Summer seasons) may be struggling to find trusting clients and has little to no work lined up. If you get this sense you may want to discontinue further conversations, or at the very least do extensive reference checking before signing a contract. 

Whether you are willing to wait for your project or not, the most important thing is that your contractor is able to give you deadlines and expectations and then follow through on them. You can start examining this ability as soon as you attempt to make initial contact. Do they answer their phone or return calls in a timely manner? Did the estimator arrive at the time they said they would? Etc… Start assessing follow through and company character immediately. This is important!

Example 3: “When I met my contractor, there was no question. He/she was so kind, answered all of my questions and was honest about what to expect.”

Yes! This is exactly what you want.  If you get this answer from your friend or family member, run with opportunity to explore this company further. Just like a good company will hire painters based on character and integrity, they will convey positive and honest character to their clients as well. There is no question that obtaining clients is a ‘sales’ process, but a good company focuses on the customer’s comfort with the process, providing a fair and honest price, and setting reasonable expectations.  The other benefit to a company that sets this tone from the beginning is that they are often great collaborators and problem solvers throughout the full paint process. Should anything go wrong, the client ends up disliking the color they chose, or schedules get off track for unforeseen reasons, the good companies are going to be collaborators, communicators and partners in making sure everything is resolved appropriately. 

3. What to Expect at Your Estimate

Well the time has finally arrived. You asked around, gathered information, listened to experiences and reached out to a couple of companies to come and provide you a quote. Now what? There are a few listening skills you want to practice throughout your estimate appointment to make sure you are able to make the best decision possible.

  • Listen for Questions: an experienced company wants to hear from you! This project is all about your wants after all, isn’t it? Your estimator should be asking you questions about what you are looking to have painted. If you are going for a custom or trendy look, they may even ask you for your inspiration photos (…Pinterest is acceptable!) Your estimator will want to know your time frame for project completion. They may even want to know about what paint you have used in the past and/or prefer. This is a great way for them to gauge your paint knowledge and help you understand the products they select or the products suited best for your job, if it is helpful for you to hear about such things.
  • Listen for Interest/Passion: we have stated it before in this article and we will do it again-we are going to be very honest with you. An estimator or field rep’s job is to also be a salesman. We know that may make you cringe, but it is the honest truth. Estimators want to make a connection with a client in order to gain a potential sale by your acceptance of a forthcoming quote. BUT, in our opinion, this should NOT feel like a sales pitch. Your appointment should be conversational. The estimator should be eager to see your project and engage in brainstorming with you because they care and they love awesome clients. Not because they simply want your money. Aside from hounding you for you money, why else is this interest and passion critical? Great questions! Those estimators who value what paint can offer to clients. They understand the joy a freshly painted home can bring a homeowner. They appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship in being a painter, these estimators want your project to be perfect. They aren’t looking for a quick sale, an easy job and some quick cash. They want to provide quality work and collaborate with their clients in achieving optimal satisfaction. A love for what somebody does can pay off a million more times throughout this painting process.
  • Listen for Knowledge:

  1. In Person Estimates

    Nobody can give an accurate painting estimate without seeing the job in person. If someone tries to give you an estimate over the phone or through email without taking a look for themselves, chances are this is not the painter for you. Now, it is possible to receive general information about the estimate over the phone, such as: standard square footage pricing, availability, and expected paint costs; however, giving an exact estimate can, and should, only be done after seeing the space and the condition of the surface(s) to be painted in person.

  2. No Verbal Agreements

    Only accept written agreements and never accept verbal pricing. If the painter is not willing to provide you with a written contract for the job it could mean bad news or a massive misunderstanding in the long run. A written agreement will protect you in case the job is not done correctly or if there is paint failure down the line.

  3. Check Out The BBB

    Don’t be afraid to do some research on your painter. You can consult the Better Business Bureau to find out if the company has any complaints against them. Keep in mind, the BBB isn’t going to have information for those painters that don’t operate under a business. The BBB is a good place to start and one more way you can narrow down the competition.

  4. Ask for References

    You may have found your referral from family or friends, but step #5 is much different than receiving a relative’s advice. This step requires you to ask the painter or contractor for a list of 3-4 professional references. A quality painter should be able to provide you with a list of current/former customers who you can contact; they should even be willing to offer up some pictures or testimonials from previous projects. If they can’t provide you with these things then cross them off your list!

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