The best way to hire a painter is to ask lots of questions and get a reference from your friends, neighbors, and family. Most painters are too busy to post their work on social media. Yelp or Google reviews are great, but are usually for larger companies. You can also find painters in neighborhood social apps such as Nextdoor.
If you plan to hire a painter, they usually need to come to your house to measure the space and learn the scope of the project. This is a great time to interview them and learn more about their experience and scope of services.
Sometimes the painter can estimate a project from a real estate listing. This will work but ensure you still interview them by phone or video call.
I prefer to interview the painter in person, although that is old-fashioned. This guide has questions that provide insight into each painter’s expertise and level of service.
How long have you worked as a painter OR in been in business?
This is a simple question that will give insight into their experience. I don’t mind a painter with less experience as long as they have been well trained.
Do you do more Interior or Exterior Projects?
The purpose of this question is to learn more about their experience. There are painters that work on both Interiors and Exteriors, and others that specialize.
A painter that only works on Exterior projects may not understand how to do cut-ins for interior trim. Exterior painters don’t need to be as meticulous about taping or covering your furniture.
How do you protect our furniture and unpainted surfaces, and what is your clean-up plan?
If the painter says that they are so good that they never use tarps, then walk away. Every paint job should have tarps to protect your things. If the project is for a new build, then they should cover surfaces that won’t be painted.
Clean-up is the place where a project can go badly. No matter how hard you try to protect everything, there will be a drop of paint somewhere. Make sure that the painters have a plan to inspect thoroughly after the project, and clean thoroughly.
Which paint brand(s) do you use?
Some painters have preferred brands. A reputable painter will want to use a good product that is cost-effective. Some painters pick brands because that’s what they are used to, and others pick certain brands because of the price or a combination of those two things.
If you are very picky about this or have your heart set on a specific brand and color, it may not be something to compromise. Ask if they will use the paint you want if you buy it for them.
Don’t let the painter persuade you to match your paint color to their preferred brand. It’s an uncertain process that most often brings poor results.
Don’t hold it against them if they insist on a paint match. Even though we don’t recommend it, it’s a standard practice among painters. Just say no to paint matching. For more information about paint matches, link here.
Which quality level of paint do you use?
Every paint brand has different quality levels with a range of price points. The lowest price points are usually what they call the “contractor’s grade”. The contractor’s grade of paint is usually the lowest quality level and is formulated to help professional painters present a lower-priced quote. If they use the cheapest quality of paint in any brand, it can impact the quality of the paint job.
Most paint companies have both interior and exterior product lines.
For example, Benjamin Moore’s product lines, from highest to lowest quality and price include Aura, Regal, and Ben, with Ultra Spec contractor-grade paint.
The most expensive paints take less paint for two coats, are easier to work with, and often have many more sheen levels than the cheaper alternatives. They are formulated to last longer.
Cheaper paints can take more than two coats, resulting in more labor. They don’t necessarily end up costing less and don’t give as nice a finish. Lower-grade paints don’t last as long as higher-quality paints, especially with exterior paint projects.
Research the paint brands to see how they match up to your quote. That information is widely available.
Which prep work do you include with the service?
This is the type of prep I expect from most painters, and it should be detailed in the quote:
- Sand all woodwork and doors where appropriate.
- Caulk gaps and cracks and repair minor drywall issues.
- Tape and caulk all transition lines.
- Remove all the switch covers and outlet plates.
- Clean walls, especially bathrooms and kitchens. Cabinets should be thoroughly cleaned before painting.
Do you recommend primer?
The primer should always be used in a new build because the new drywall is still porous and soaks up paint. The primer seals the porous surface.
It isn’t always needed in older construction, but the painter should be able to tell you why it is or isn’t necessary. If you are painting cabinets, you should use a high-adhesion primer.
How many coats will you use?
You should always use two coats of paint, even if the manufacturer says you only need one coat.
This will prevent flashing and give you a nice consistent finish. Even if the finish looks good after one coat, it will look uneven the next day after it dries. Believe me, I’ve tried to just use one coat, and the next day it always looks unfinished.
The painter should always specify two coats of paint, even if they use a primer.
Do you use a brush, roller, or spray paint?
It makes sense to spray a new build because it’s faster, and few surfaces need to be protected. For an existing house, whatever time you save spraying the paint is consumed by the labor to cover existing floors and unpainted surfaces. Most interior painters will use rollers for walls and ceilings and brushes for corners and more detailed surfaces.
Most exteriors get spray painted, and that’s perfectly fine.
Methods can vary, depending on the painters, their experience, preference, and type of paint. I’ve seen great results from spray painting or brush painting. The key is that the painter should be experienced, clean carefully, have a clean-up plan, and use a high adhesive primer and the right cabinet paint.
When can you get us on your schedule?
This can be very important, and I’ve learned that sometimes you need to be patient. The painter that can start tomorrow isn’t necessarily the best painter.
They may have an empty schedule because they are new, or if you are lucky, they just had a cancellation. If they can start immediately, ask them why they have a gap in their schedule.
Do you have any references or photos of your work?
In today’s world of social networking, painters with social media are unusual because they are so busy painting. If they do have an Instagram account or website with a portfolio, it’s a great place to see their work. They may also have photos on their phones.
Ask for the names of satisfied clients to contact for references. It’s old-fashioned but works well.
How long will the project take, and how many people are on your crew?
This can vary, depending on the size of the crew. You can finish the project faster with more people or slower with few. Ask if they have company crews or hire contractors. If they have their own crews, they are usually better trained. If they subcontract crews, the price can be higher because the paint company acts as a middleman.
Are you bonded and insured?
This is important if you invite strangers to spend a week or more in your home.
Do you provide a warranty?
Some of the larger paint companies include warranties, and can really vary. This can be more important for a $10,000 exterior project. Generally the higher the warranty the more expensive the fee. Most paints include a warranty, but some larger contractors have a labor warranty.
The most important takeaway is that the painter needs to stand behind their work, whether they provide a written or verbal warranty. Word-of-mouth recommendations are an important way for painters to get new clients, and if they do good work, they will get more referrals.
How long will it take to get your quote?
The painter should be able to get your quote in one or two business days. Most professional and experienced painters have a template that is quick and easy to prepare.
The quote should be written on paper or emailed with a place for you to sign. Sometimes it can take a couple of rounds to negotiate the price or the work that will be included. If your quote is verbal or doesn’t have information about the scope of the job, then eliminate the contractor from your list.
A quote is a legal contract for a project that can cost you lots of money. It’s meant to protect both sides and outline the project scope and expectations such as clean-up.
The quote should specify your payment schedule as well as the price. Don’t pay for the entire project upfront. If the painter requests payment before the project starts, then walk away. Inspect the job thoroughly after completion and before you make the final payment to ensure the quoted scope was delivered, and the cleanup was satisfactory.
If there is a warranty for the paint job, it should be included here.
Ensure that you have quotes from at least two contractors, but ideally three or more.
If you have a quote for each painter, then you can compare. If someone gives you a low bid, ensure you understand what they include so that you can compare it with your other quotes.
Key Learning Points – Hiring a Painter
Whether you interview a painter in person or by phone, it’s important to get as much information as possible about their abilities, process, service, and price. Get detailed quotes to compare and evaluate.
One last thing – we always recommend that you stay in town for this type of project. At best, you can communicate much better. At worst, the contractor may cut corners, without your presence. Address any problems as quickly as possible.
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