The Biggest Home Painter Pitfalls To Watch Out For

Candace Nelson
Written by Candace Nelson
Updated August 20, 2021
 Professional painter painting interior wall
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Avoid these red flags to ensure you get the best paint job possible

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Most local interior painting companies you come across will be upstanding, but when looking for the right home painter pro for your project, it’s important to keep an eye out for red flags. The best way to avoid a scam—or even a miscommunication—is to ask your potential painter lots of questions. You’ll also want to get a contract that details what exactly they’ll be doing, who will be doing the work, what paint will be used, and how they will protect your furniture and floors. 

Below we’ve outlined some best practices for hiring a home painter and some red flags that should make you think twice before hiring a particular pro.

How to Hire a Home Painter

  • As with any professional, it’s best to get quotes from three painters before choosing one to work on your project. You can ask friends or neighbors for their recommendations or read online reviews. 

  • Meet the contenders. State your requirements (we’ll help you develop them below).

  • Get a price estimate from each.

  • Check their credentials. See if they have a license (if applicable in your area). Ask about their insurance. Check the Better Business Bureau or state attorney’s office for any complaints.  

  • Negotiate the contract. It’s common practice to give a reasonable deposit before work begins, but make sure to withhold final payment until you’re satisfied. Ask the painter about touch-ups after a week or two if necessary. 

Make Sure the Bid Is Detailed

First, the painter should go to your house to look at the project and estimate the painting details to give as accurate a price as possible. They can’t accurately assess the work over the phone.

Be wary of a vague bid. If it just says "two coats, flat,” this is where some people can get an unpleasant surprise. In this case, the pro didn’t mention the kind of paint they'll use or how damage will be handled. The bid also didn’t even mention protecting flooring or furniture. 

This can be trouble for a few different reasons. A less-than-reputable pro can take advantage of a vague bid and may aim to give you a low-ball bid to get the project. Then, suddenly you’re hit with upcharges that you never expected on your final bill. 

But this lack of communication can spell trouble for any business relationship. If you’re not upfront about the work you need to be done and they’re not clear about exactly what it will take to get your walls looking beautiful, this can lead to trouble during the project. That’s why it’s so important to talk about the painting job in detail before signing.

Before Hiring a Home Painter

It’s best to know what you want from your project, so you can articulate it to your painter and make sure everyone is on the same page. When the painter does the walk-through to give you an estimate, you’ll need to know the square footage and whether you want walls, ceilings, trim or all of the above painted. Be sure to also point out any repairs you’d like.

Here are more factors to consider.

Ask About Wall Repair

Many painters have the training to make small wall repairs. So, now’s your chance to get the warped trim in the bathroom replaced and the dent in the wall from your oversized couch fixed. Just make sure your painter knows exactly what you want to be done and that the quotes include the repair cost. Mark any repairs with colorful tape, so there are no misunderstandings.

Also, discuss with your painter what repairs are in their wheelhouse. If you need to get someone else to replace the trim, you’ll want to know that before your painters leave your house.

Be Clear on Your Finishes

Know what sheen you want and make sure it’s in the contract. The difference is usually around $1 per gallon per sheen upgrade. Flat paint is the cheapest, then matte flat or eggshell, satin, semigloss, then gloss. Don’t leave it to your painter to decide.

Paint also gets much more expensive the darker the color you choose. A can of white or neutral paint color can be as much as $20 less expensive than a dark color. 

Here’s why it matters: Say you give the painter a deposit, then email over your final interior paint color choices a day or two before the work starts. Your painter will go to the store and figure out they are all dark colors, and may charge you more than was in the original plan.

Similarly, if you choose light colors where you previously had dark walls, you might need a primer coat. Your primer coat may be much higher than what you anticipated since it’s on top of what you already agreed to pay.

Again, being as specific as possible upfront can help save you from some unwelcome surprises later.

Determine How Many Coats

Most of the time, a professional painter can look at the condition of a wall and its color and tell if the new color will cover it in two coats. However, this isn’t foolproof. If your contractor is almost finished with a project and realizes that your walls need another coat, that additional coat of paint that wasn’t in the original contract can increase the overall cost in a big way. 

Make sure you specify the exact price of additional coats in the contract before this comes up.

Professional painting a wall with a paint roller
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Check Your Home Painter’s Qualifications and References

Ask your painter how much experience they have, especially in projects like yours. You can also ask for references or to see the work they’ve done previously. Sometimes they can point you to a house in the neighborhood where you can check out their skills. At a minimum, make sure they have a valid business license and insurance.

Questions to Ask Your Painter

By now, you can probably tell that asking lots of questions can help mitigate problems later. Reputable painters are also likely to ask you some questions before they submit a price. Make sure your expectations match. For example,

  • Does the painter expect that you will be out of the house for the duration of the project? They might be able to work faster if you (and the pets) aren’t living in the space they’re painting. 

  • Do you need to move the furniture and pack up items around the house? If you’re paying by the hour, it might be worth your time to pack and move things yourself, so you’re paying the professional painters to actually put paint on the walls. 

  • Will the painter handle cleanup and haul away trash from the project?

  • Who will be doing the actual work? Is it subcontracted? How experienced is the crew?

  • How many days will the project take? Will the painter be there every day it is done?

  • How will you protect the floors, furniture, or other surfaces? Will they provide these coverings, or should you?

  • Do they offer a guarantee?

Don’t forget to talk about when and how you’ll pay the painter. You might have to pay a deposit, a payment when the work starts, and upon completion. Negotiate that last payment to come when you’re satisfied with the work.

Keep Records of Your Home Painting Project

If you can, make sure to save the leftover can of paint or at least note the name and finish. You never know when your wall might need a small touch-up, or you want to match it again in the future.

Know Your Rights and Avoid Painter Scams

While most painters are reputable, there are a few common tactics you should look out for to make sure you’re getting a quality paint job.

Mixing Pricey Paint With Cheap Paint

The company sells the project with premium paint, and they charge you the full price. They purchase a can or two of the good stuff and the rest in the cheapest stuff they can find. They mix or box the cheap paint in with the expensive paint and only let you see the expensive paint cans.

This one can be tricky to catch, which is why paying attention to reviews and references from previous customers can help avoid this situation altogether. If you’re still worried, you can also ask to see the paint cans before they get started to ensure it’s what you were expecting.

Watered-Down Paint

This tactic involves watering down paint by 25 to 50% before bringing it into your home. When you mix paint with water, it more than doubles its coverage area but makes it vulnerable to chipping, peeling and cracking. This trick is hard to catch unless you're paying close attention.

Take a look at paint cans as they come in. Make sure they look new and don't have paint on the rim of the can. If it's a 5-gallon bucket, check to see whether the lid is still sealed with the plastic strip. The only reason to mix water in is when you're using a deep primary color, which is composed almost entirely of tint. Otherwise, no painter should be watering down colors.

After Your Home Painter Has Finished

Do a walk-through and make sure your rooms and hallways look good before making the final payment. If you had doors painted, it’s a good idea to open and close them to make sure an additional coat of paint didn’t make them too tight for their frames. 

You should have also negotiated a return visit for any touch-ups you notice after a week or two. Even pros occasionally miss a spot. If you’re happy with your home painter’s work, be sure to leave a favorable review online or share the name with neighbors.

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