Sooner or later, every homeowner needs to hire a painter to paint the exterior of the house. New paint not only looks good, but it protects your home from the elements. It's also one of the more expensive things you'll do for your house and the results could last a decade. It is wise to make the choice carefully.
The Right Paint
Begin with paint selection. Good quality paint can save you money in the long run. If cheaper paint saved you 20 percent but only lasts half the time, you haven't saved any money.
According to the Paint Quality Institute, using better quality paint will reduce the likelihood of peeling and flaking. It will also hold color better and be more resistant to mildew. The institute also claims quality paint is easier to apply.
The best way to find a quality paint is by checking the ingredients in the paint, not by the company who made it. Quality paints have better binders. These binders not only affect how well the paint sticks to the surface being painted, but also how resistant it is to stains and cracks. Look for latex paints with a high percentage of acrylic binders.
Look for prime pigments, too. The most common is titanium dioxide. Prime pigments are better at covering old colors.
Finally, make sure that the paint contains a mildewcide. This is especially important for exterior painting.
The Right Painter
The best way to find a reputable painting contractor is to talk with other people. Ask co-workers, neighbors, and friends.
It's easier to compare bids if all the painters use the same quality of paint. Ideally, the homeowner will have made a choice and notified each bidder what paint he wants. It's always good to get three bids for any large job. Most of the time you'll find that two of the bids aren't very far apart. That's probably about what the job is worth.
Sometimes one bid is significantly lower than the others. You'll be tempted to take this bid. Don't do it without thoroughly checking out the contractor. Ask him why his bid is lower than the others. It could be that he's going to skimp on materials or permits, or cut other corners that could cause you trouble later.
You don't want to arbitrarily reject the highest bidder. It’s not likely you will pick him, but it can't hurt to ask why his bid is higher. Perhaps the service justifies a higher price. You'll need to decide whether the extra money is well spent in your case.
Sometimes a contractor will bid a little more or less depending on how much work they have lined up. If your job isn't urgent, you might get a better price by allowing the contractor to use your house as a fill-in between other jobs. This is more likely if yours is a smaller project. The downside is that the painter might make only sporadic progress on your house.
Once the painting begins, you may want the job to move quickly from start to finish. Ask each bidder if he intends to stay with your job once started. Some are notorious for beginning a number of jobs to collect partial payments. After this initial burst of activity, things begin to drag.
The Right Stuff
The contractor should have proof of insurance and any necessary licenses. A good one won't mind you asking about their training and experience.
Check references. You'd be surprised what you can learn from people who have already worked with a contractor.
Expect a good contractor to need to schedule your job a few weeks or even months in the future. Good contractors are busy and it’s rare that one can start your job right away.
There are also certain warning signs of a painter who might not be up to the job. Beware of a request for a large deposit. Ten to 20 percent is sufficient
Don't be pressured into signing anything. Reputable contractors won't make offers that are good for “today only.”
Selecting the right paint takes a little work. Finding the right contractor is a matter of balancing quality, service, and price. But, the combination of the right paint in the hands of a good painter should have your home looking beautiful for years to come!
Gary Foreman is a former certified financial planner who currently edits
The Dollar Stretcher Web site www.stretcher.com/save.htm.