Five Steps to Hiring a Painting Contractor

Ready to paint?  Well...not that ready.  You've decided that DIY is not for you, so you need to hire a painter to do the job.  Here are five steps to finding and hiring the best professional.

#1 Assess the Job

First, consider the goal of the work to be done.  Are you putting your house on the market any time soon?  Or is this your forever home?  Knowing what you want out of a paint job - whether it's a quick spruce-up that will likely be painted over by new owners, or a job that needs to last a long time because you considered your colors carefully and just want to live your life - is really important.   

It's also important to think about a budget up front.  Many homeowners have no idea what it will cost to paint their home and you'd be amazed at the range of prices you'd be quoted if you asked a handful of painters you find in the phonebook.  Here is a little calculator that may help you start to think about what this project will cost.

#2 Ask Around

It almost goes without saying....but I'm going to say it.  Ask your friends, family and neighbors for recommendations.  Likely, your Color Consultant or Interior Designer will have a list of trusted contractors, but your  friends and family know YOU best.  If you are familiar with your neighbor's standards, and feel they are similar to your own, using her painting contractor would probably be a good bet.  

#3 Make the Phone Calls and Start the Process

Once you have a list of 5 - yes FIVE - painting contractors you want to consider, make the calls and ask the following questions over the phone:

How long have you been in business?  (You want someone who's been around a while.)

What paint brand do you use the most?  (Big Box Store brands need not apply.)

Will you send out a crew and/or be here on-site personally?  (How long will the job take and how many people will be buzzing around your home?  And who's going to be watching?)

Remember, this is the Courtship Stage of your relationship, a time when your prospective contractor should be going to great efforts to win your confidence.  Is she courteous?  Does he call when he says he will?  If he does not return your calls now, just think about how the relationship will go once he has landed the job.  I always tell my clients they should never have to beg someone to work for them.  If a contractor - any contractor - doesn't bother to call you back, scratch them off the list!

#4 Time to Meet In Person

Having determined that several painting contractors might be The One, it's time to have them over to see the house and talk about their process.  Ask them about prep and clean-up.  Ask about how they deal with problems when they arise on a job.  (It is a rare project that doesn't bring up an issue or two.  Mistakes happen, but how they're handled is what distinguishes the pros from the hackers.)  Ask them how they determine price, by the project or by time and materials.  Ask them how often they come in on time and on budget.  (The sad truth is that some contractors will land your job with a lowball price and then once they are there they'll start adding on all those extras that they kind of forgot to tell you about.) 

The most important part of this step is to figure out how you will feel about having this person, and his or her crew, in your home for the duration of the project.  Even more important than what it will cost in dollars, you need to be certain you're comfortable with the team you hire and won't pay an undue emotional cost because they are not professionals.  

Now for a radical proposal!  I am going to suggest that you do not automatically ask every contractor who visits your home for an estimate.  Your goal is to compare apples to apples, which means that, having assessed your specific needs (see #1 above) and figured out which of the contractors can best meet those needs, you then ask for quotes ONLY from contractors you'd actually hire.  Apples and apples.

If you are not happy with the way the painting process has been described - maybe it feels like they're going to cut corners, and this is your Forever Home - then a price from that particular contractor is irrelevant.  It is likely that he or she will come in low, which will skew your sense of what the job, done properly, should cost.  Similarly, if you're just painting to sell, then the guy who talks about his meticulous prep will probably not be the right choice and that price would also be irrelevant.

Building an estimate is time-consuming and I think the flow respect should go both ways between a homeowner and contractor.  If you really don't think this is the guy for you, and therefore the price he quotes is irrelevant to your decision, please don't ask him to waste his time or yours.

#5 Last Step: Ask For a Price

Finally, when you have decided which of those first five painting contractors might be right for you, it's time to ask for an estimate.  You may have ruled out all but one in steps #2 and #3, and I think that's okay.  So long as you did your due diligence back when you created the list, it really is just fine to just get one quote from the one contractor you truly feel most confident about.  Hopefully, you can work together to satisfy your budgetary requirements and find that sweet spot where the job will feel like a success on both sides.

Last but not least, remember this old adage from the construction industry...

Good luck and please drop me a note to let me know how it goes!