With the exception of hardened DIY-types (you know who you are!), just about all homeowners will hire painters at some point—whether to prepare their home for moving in, or for a sale, or perhaps to kick off a remodel with a new color scheme.
But homeowners tend to get nervous around painters. What if they spatter the new carpeting or shatter the china cabinet window? What if the colors you’ve painstakingly selected don’t work out?
Take a deep breath. You’ve hired a professional. Here’s how to help them do their best job.
Painting is art—let the pros do it
Think of painting as not just a skill, but also an art: You wouldn’t hover behind Michelangelo as he completed the Sistine Chapel, fretting the whole time, would you?
Yes, it’s true that your bathroom wall will never be one of the world’s premiere masterpieces, no matter how skilled your painter, but that doesn’t make back-seat painters any less annoying.
“Painting is something that’s more subjective than objective,” says Kevin Palmer, a painter in Simsbury, CT. “A good paint job involves a lot of artistry—besides product knowledge and great prep work, you’ve got to get a guy who seriously knows what he’s doing.”
And once you’ve found that, trust means letting painters do their job.
“People need to chill out a bit,” says Ryan Benson of Benson Painting Services in Apple Valley, MN. When customers hound, it’s “almost insulting,” he says. “Let me work.”
Prep can take a long time
According to Benson, at least 30% of a good-quality paint job will be prep time.
“That’s where less-qualified painters lower their bids. That’s where problems come with paint getting on things it shouldn’t be,” he says.
The differences between a rushed paint job and one done properly are enormous: paint on the walls and everything else; uncleaned walls leading to a splotchy paint job; your favorite couch ruined by a misguided spatter.
“It’s easy to not put a dropcloth down. All that stuff takes time,” Benson says.
Keep an eye out for the painters that skimp on prep—the best way to find detail-oriented contractors is to ask previous customers for a reference.
Make sure your home is ready to paint
Don’t leave all the prep work to the painters, though—they’ve got their hands full. Things will go much smoother if you make sure your home is truly painter-ready, and Benson estimates that this could save you up to 10% of the cost.
For interior jobs, make sure you’ve cleaned all of the awkward spots, including behind the toilet, and picked up any knickknacks that might get in the way (e.g., soap containers, loofahs, and kitchen organizers). Removing the switch plates and outlet covers from the walls also goes a long way toward speeding up painting time—and painters’ time is (your) money.
For exterior jobs, Palmer recommends trimming bushes and shrubs away from the house, leaving at least 18 inches of clearance. Making sure your gutters and downspouts are in “tiptop condition” can also speed up the painting process, he says.
Ask for touch-ups right away
After the paint job is finished, ask for a walk-through. Most painters should offer this regardless.
“Take all the time you want,” says Benson. “Pick us apart. We want to get it all done while we’re there. Don’t be afraid to have a list of touch-ups.”
That doesn’t mean most painters are willing to provide endless touch-ups, though—especially if it’s not a result of poor workmanship. Feel free to call back about something you noticed only when the light hit the wall in just the right spot—but if you scratched the wall while moving in your heavy dresser, be prepared to pay for a touch-up.
Sit on the toilet
Yup, after getting your bathroom painted, sit your butt down on the toilet and stare. This is something Benson says he does after every job, because it’s a great way to catch tiny, missed spots you wouldn’t see otherwise.
“What you see in a bathroom when you’re painting it isn’t what you see when you’re sitting down,” he says. “Look around in the areas where you’re going to notice stuff.”
Compare the specifics of the bids
It’s tough to over-emphasize the importance of hiring painters who provide detailed bids. Deciding between two or three contractors is hard enough; it’s more so if you’re relying on pure guesswork. A bid that is “scribbled down on a napkin” is “not even comparable,” says Benson.
Look at the material costs. You don’t need to go with the painter who buys the most expensive caulk, but don’t go with the cheapest, either. Since painting is an art, materials are its medium—and cheap paint shows.
“People confuse price with value,” says Palmer. If you have to repaint your house twice as often than you would with a good job, “that’s not really a great value.”
Don’t be scared to ask for a discount
If you’re comparing two bids and you really love the more expensive painter—but your budget just won’t allow it—don’t hesitate to ask for a discount.
Sure, if the difference is astronomical, you and your painter might not be able to find a comfortable middle ground. But it never hurts to try.
“I try as best as I can to come to a meeting of the mind,” says Palmer.
Benson agrees, and recommends that homeowners get at least three bids—or more, if they haven’t found a good fit yet.
“Always call the guy you like the best, no matter where the pricing came in at, and give him a last look,” he says. “As long as the other contractor is legitimate and using good products, I’ll work with the customer. A lot of people think I’ll get insulted, but I don’t. It’s business.”
And when business is also art, it’s worth taking the time to find a contractor you love.