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Choosing a house painter: It’s about more than what’s in the can

The painter is more important than the paint, one expert says. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

WASHINGTON — If you’re thinking of sprucing up your home with a paint job, you’ll find an endless variety of paint options and price ranges. But a local consumer group warns that what you choose won’t necessarily affect the end result.

“Really, what we found, and what other testers like Consumer Reports have found over the years, is that it really doesn’t matter so much what’s in the can; it matters who is doing the painting,” said Kevin Brasler, executive editor at Checkbook.org.

Brasler recommends asking a painter you’d considering hiring about how involved they intend to get doing prep work, such as whether ” they’re diligent about scraping away old paint and filling cracks and all these other problems before they even start working.”

Checkbook’s secret shoppers found there can be huge price differences among companies giving price estimates for the same work.

For example, prices for a fairly typical inside painting job, including a living room, dining room, family room, bathroom and kitchen, ranged from less than $2,000 to more than $6,000.

“It is a pain to shop around and have multiple painters come to your house and quote prices and [for you] to vet them,” Brasler said. “But it’s time well spent.”

Advice from Checkbook about painting:

Make space — “It’s fine to ask them to move heavy furniture like a sofa,” Brasler said. “They’re used to that kind of thing.” But clearing off bookshelves and moving knickknacks is something you should take care of in advance, Brasler said, so the painters can get to work right away.

Communicate — “If you can, talk every day with workers to see how things are going,” Brasler advised. Keeping daily schedules and communicating about those schedules will reveal whether you can expect the work to be done on time.

Have realistic expectations — “If you’re painting every room on a floor of your home, including ceilings and trim, it’s going to take a couple days. If they’re doing just the walls of your living room, that should be done in about a day,” Brasler said.

How long a paint job takes can depend on how much repair work needs to be done to surfaces before painting begins. Outdoor work might stretch out longer based on weather, Brasler said.

Some painters prefer to supply materials themselves; others want paint ready and waiting for them to arrive.

“I don’t think there’s a big advantage to either,” Brasler said. “When you’re getting proposals from painters, make sure to specify whether you’re supplying the paint or they’re supplying the paint.”

Also, as with so many services evaluated by Consumers Checkbook, what you pay may have no correlation to what you get.

“Don’t assume a low price means lousy work,” Brasler said. “We find that good painters just as often quote lower prices as bad painters.”

Through a special arrangement with the nonprofit Washington Consumers’ Checkbook, WTOP.com readers can have a look at Checkbook ratings and price comparisons for painters for a limited time.

Consumers’ Checkbook/Center for the Study of Services is an independent nonprofit consumer organization founded in 1974. It has for more than 40 years been an innovator in providing information to help consumers make smarter choices.


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