Perhaps it’s been a while — like, 15 or 20 years? You’re starting to see a little paint peeling or fading on the trim around your sun-drenched doors or chipping on the stucco. Or you’re ready for an exterior face-lift to complement an interior renovation or new landscaping.
Whatever the reason, you’re ready to paint your house, and that means hiring a professional to do the job. But with thousands of dollars on the line, you can’t hire just anyone.
Or can you? When architect Kristin von Zweck decided it was time to paint her Encinitas home, it was providential that a painter literally showed up at her doorstep.
“The hilarious thing was that he came knocking on my door and it just happened to be at a time in my life when I was thinking about painting my house,” von Zweck recalled. “I said, ‘Well, gosh, you knocked on the right door. Let’s talk about this.’ And we walked around, and he gave me a bid right then and there.”
Of course, this can be a dicey approach. He could have been a scammer. But von Zweck didn’t just book a date and hand over money. Before committing, she went online to make sure he had an actual company and was insured, bonded and licensed. California painters must have a C-33 license from the California Contractors State License Board for projects of $500 or more. She got a reference, whom she checked with. And she signed a contract, which listed the painter’s license and noted that he was bonded. Then she gave him a deposit.
“They’re on ladders and scaffolding,” she pointed out. “There’s a good chance that they could injure themselves. So, you definitely want to get somebody insured and bonded.”
But there is a lot more to hiring and working with a house painter than practicing self-defense.
The first step is to educate yourself in the process so you can ask better questions and assess the job, during the process and upon completion. A good way to do that is to visit a local paint store — but not on a weekend, when they’re slammed — and ask an associate there about the paints used for different surfaces, how many coats it usually takes, what kind of primer is used, whether rollers or spraying is better for your home’s surfaces and height, how sun exposure affects paint color and fading. Do they recommend a type of paint for your house’s various surfaces?
“And while you’re there, buy a quart of paint for each paint color you’re considering, and do test swatches,” von Zweck suggested. “That’s what I have my clients do.”
She also has a hint for homeowners.
“I think the paint always seems to go on a little darker than you expect,” von Zweck said. “So, if you’re in doubt, go with a lighter tone. And remember that dark colors, like a deep nautical blue, are going to fade much quicker than lighter colors. Dark colors are also going to be harder to cover up, if that’s what you’re doing. It will definitely need a primer and may still take two coats.”
For education, you can also check out the websites of residential painters. Many have comprehensive descriptions and blogs about the process, from estimates and preparation to the painting itself, paint trends and cleanup.
When it comes to hiring that person, ideally, you’re going to hire a professional who knows the different types of paints suited to different types of surfaces, who can work with homeowners association requirements, if they exist, and who is thorough and skilled in prepping the surfaces ahead of applying paint. And you want someone who shows up when scheduled, has an experienced crew, is careful with your landscaping and lighting, cleans up and properly disposes of trash, and fixes any mistakes.
How do you find this seeming unicorn? Word-of-mouth referrals are a good source. So are paint stores and review sites like Angi, Yelp, NextDoor, HomeAdvisor and Houzz. Interview more than one, perhaps up to three or four.
What do you ask? Here’s a starting point:
- How long have you been painting houses, and how experienced is your crew?
- How long have you been in business?
- Do you belong to a local trade or business group?
- Can you show me your C-33 license from the California Contractors State License Board and proof that you’re bonded and insured?
- Do you offer a written warranty or guarantee?
- What kind of prep work will you do? Caulk and fill cracks? Pressure wash? Sand or scrape? Prime?
- How many coats of paint do you expect are needed and what kind of paint do you recommend?
- Do you provide the paint and is that part of the bid, or can I buy what I want? How does that affect the warranty? How long should the paint job last?
- How long do you expect the job to take and how many hours a day are you here?
- What happens if the paint gets on the roof or walkways?
- Can you give me references and do you have other work I can look at?
Carlos Cancino, owner of La Jolla’s CertaPro Painters, emphasized that any person you are considering hiring should give you a written proposal.
“It should specify the scope of work as well as the brand and quality and line of paint,” he explained. “Sometimes companies don’t use the best quality paint. There should be detailed information about what kind of paint they’re using for windows, doors, siding. There should be notes about accent areas that specify those colors. Make sure there are pictures that show what’s to be done. Request their license and proof of insurance and that they’re bonded. And that their crew are employees.
Check them out
To verify whether your painter is licensed, visit the website for the Contractors State License Board, part of the California Department of Consumer Affairs.
“Additionally, the painter should provide a notice of cancellation,” he said. “You’re entitled to cancel. There should be a limited warranty. I think it’s super important to have crystal clear information about the cost and the scope of work. And the proposal should stipulate payment conditions for the down payment and payment of the balance.”
You also need to discuss with the painter you hire what your responsibilities are prior to the job. Cancino said that in his company’s proposal, they request a clear area where they can work.
“We ask the customers to leave (the exterior) as clear as possible … so we can have room to work and focus on our work instead of moving stuff; so we can do the power washing, the prepping and the actual painting.”
Prune any landscaping and remove weeds that abut the house, from shrubs at the base of the house to tree branches above. Move anything that you have leaning against the house, like garden equipment, bikes, or surfboards. Move hoses, potted plants on the ground as well as hanging plants and garden art, and dog toys or bowls. Close patio umbrellas. In general, make it as easy as possible for the painters to navigate around the house. Plus, who wants to deal with damaged plants?
Von Zweck took some precautions before painters started at her home.
“There was a planter bed that’s right up to the house and I didn’t want them to kill anything, so I laid boards over it that they could stand on,” von Zweck said. “It’s really on you to protect your own things that you don’t want to get damaged.”
Finally, consider the timing of the job. According to Cancino, there are high seasons for house painting when you may find a scarcity of painters and higher costs.
“The high season for painting starts in May and goes to September,” he said. “If you don’t have any urgency, it’s best to start after Christmas, or even in October and November. And, sometimes you’re going to get a better deal.”
Golden is a San Diego freelance writer and blogger.