10 Key Questions to Ask an Interior Painting Contractor Before Hiring Them

Gemma Johnstone
Written by Gemma Johnstone
Updated October 9, 2013
luxurious baroque style living room
Photo: malkovkosta / Adobe Stock

Steer clear of a slapdash finish—transform your home’s interior with a quality paint job from a vetted pro

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Whether you're looking to hire a painting contractor to freshen up a small guest room or transform every wall inside your new home, getting the right pro can save you time, money and, above all, ensure you end up with the best finish possible.

Asking interior painting contractors near you the right questions helps you find a first-rate pro. We’ve listed some key questions to ask your interior painting contractor below to help get you started.

1. Can You Provide References and Examples of Past Work?

A good painting contractor should be happy to provide you with at least three references from past clients and a portfolio of examples of completed work. If you have a large job with technical paint finishes, check that the contractor has done this type of work before. Ideally, you’re looking to hire a well-established contractor with a demonstrable work history.

Don’t forget to do some online research, too—you’ll get a more objective picture of the quality of their work and their level of customer service.

2. Do You Have a License and Insurance?

Don’t let any painting contractor start on your walls until you get reassurances that they have all the right qualifications and paperwork in place. Ask to see evidence of:

  • License. The requirements for licensing vary from state to state, but typically include proof of liability insurance and appropriate experience (sometimes in the form of an exam). 

  • Insurance. All contractors should have general liability insurance. It’s a bonus if they also have a surety bond (usually referred to as workers’ compensation), as this will protect you and any subcontractors financially if the main contractor doesn’t pay them.

3. What Are Your Costs and Payment Terms?

The painting contractor should clearly outline the costs and how and when they want payment when they provide a quote. Establish whether they include prep work, paint, and any other materials in the price. Costs can increase if the contractor needs to paint tall walls or ceilings, more intricate things like crown molding, or extras such as baseboards. Labor costs are typically broken down by square foot or as an hourly rate. The average cost of painting a house interior is $2 to $6 per square foot (not including materials).

As well as a breakdown of costs, check how the contractor wants payment. If they are looking for 100% payment upfront, this is a red flag. Typically, you pay 25% to 50% of the costs upfront and the rest upon completion. Depending on the size of the project, the contractor may request payment installments throughout the project.

4. In Addition to Costs, What Do You Outline in the Contract?

If you are happy with the quote and their background, get a written contract before proceeding with the work—especially if it is a major project. This step helps with communication and offers a degree of protection if things go awry. If the contractor is hesitant about providing this, it’s another red flag, as this step is common practice in the industry.

As well as cost breakdowns and payment terms, the contract typically includes things like:

  • Exact job requirements

  • The type of paint (semi-gloss paint used in high humidity areas, for example, can be more than double the price of flat, eggshell, or satin)

  • The type of finish (a textured wall effect, for example, can cost up to 50% more than a standard finish)

  • Number of coats (and whether a primer is needed to cover dark walls)

  • The level of prep and clean-up work

  • Timescales

  • Home access

  • Action if there is any property damage

5. What Materials Will You Use?

Discuss paint quality and finish with your contractor before work begins. A higher-quality formula can mean fewer coats and better paint job longevity. A good contractor will provide recommendations, but if you have something specific in mind, make this clear from the outset.

6. What Preparation Work Will You Do?

Prep work makes all the difference when it comes to painting finish and longevity, and a contractor should never neglect this aspect of the job. A good painter will outline what prep work they will do. This might include:

  • Making surface repairs (including scraping or patching)

  • Removing old, thick coats of paint

  • Washing walls

  • Removing rot, mold, or mildew

  • Protecting the space from paint splashes

Some contractors work around furniture items, and others may ask you to remove them before work commences. Be sure to discuss this ahead of time.

7. What Is Your Expected Work Schedule?

Delays inevitably happen, but it can certainly be inconvenient if a project takes much longer than expected, especially if you have to be out of the house or are relegated to certain rooms. Reputable contractors provide a breakdown of their anticipated timelines and their daily work schedule and communicate clearly if any delays come up and explain why.

8. Who Works on Your Crew?

Two painters prepping room to paint it
Photo: Photographee.eu / Adobe Stock

Depending on the size of the project and the contractor you are using, your painter may bring in subcontractors. These pros may work with them for specialized finishes, prep work, or clean-up. For large jobs, you may hire a general contractor who employs specialist painting subcontractors. 

If the contractor is fuzzy on the details or won’t have a supervisor present during the entire project, this may be a cause for concern.

9. What Clean-Up Will You Do at the End of the Job?

It’s unlikely a top-notch painting contractor will leave any mess for you to clean up at the end of the project. However, it’s always worth checking the contract to make sure it outlines that all tools, equipment, and debris will be taken off-site when they complete the job.

10. Do You Provide a Work Warranty?

Work warranties are more common for exterior paint jobs because of the exposure to the elements. Not all painting contractors offer this type of warranty for interior jobs. It’s still worth asking, however, as it can provide further peace of mind. Usually, it is only for one year and only covers provable defects in work.

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