selecting your painting contractor

Questions to Consider When Selecting your Painting Contractor

By Timothy B. Chesser, Armor Tek Coatings President

Q: Why do different contractors charge different prices for the same project?

A: There are many reasons. Here are a few to keep in mind:

• Not all contractors carry workers’ compensation insurance and general liability insurance, leaving you open to possible lawsuits or financial loss should someone get hurt or an accident occur. Not providing coverage keeps overhead lower for these contractors, but exposes you to huge financial risk.

When selecting your painting contractor, verify contractor info at www.cslb.ca.gov/consumers .  It will reveal: licensing, insurance (but not general liability or vehicle), bonding, and legal-status information.  Unlicensed Painters end up in jail if they contract for work over $500.  In addition, the consumer can be slapped with heavy fines, as many found out last year during a sting operation in San Diego.  It’s not worth the hassle to go with unlicensed painters.

• Not all contractors use their own employees to perform the work they are contracted to perform. Many use subcontractors or casual day labor. In either instance, the contractor saves the costs associated with attracting, selecting, training, and managing their own full time staff of painters and foremen. While the quality of the work these groups perform might be solid, it is much harder to guarantee top quality with these types of workers.

Ensure the painters and foremen on your project are employees of the contractor you hire.

• Not all contractors take the time to get a true understanding of the customer’s needs for the project before putting a proposal together. These contractors hope to win projects based solely on price, and provide a “lowball” figure for the project. The relationship then becomes contentious as the contractor tries to cut corners so as not to lose money, and the customer is put in the awkward position of having to police the job and request rework for shoddy work. Quality endures, but quality isn’t free.

Make sure the contractors you ask to bid on your project understand the type of job you are asking them to perform: is it “clean it up for sale,” “make this a showcase for my life,” or somewhere in between?

• Not all contractors will define in detail the work they will perform and the products they will use. The three areas you should pay attention to are preparation, priming, and painting.

  • Preparation – what tasks will be performed, for what purpose?
  • Priming – spot prime or full prime coat? Appropriate primers for the substrate being primed?
  • Painting – exactly what will be painted, with what color, sheen and what type of paint?

Make sure the proposals you receive detail these items in a clear and simple format that does not use too much industry jargon.

In summary, if a group of contractors are all licensed/bonded/insured, use their own employees for the work, have a true understanding of your expectations for the job, and are willing to write it all down in detail that is organized and easy to read, there should not be very much difference in their prices. Those contractors whose quotes are low in comparison to the group are probably cutting one the corners described above, or they have missed something in the scope of work.

Q:  Besides those items mentioned, what other attributes should you be looking for when selecting your painting contractor?

A: Three additional areas to look closely at include 1) the training employees receive, 2) the processes used to ensure the job runs smoothly, and 3) “customer service” – reliability, promptness, accuracy of the proposal, respect for your time and possessions.

Very little time is spent teaching the physical skills of painting, let alone the softer skills associated with safety, job site management, and communication with the customer.

A few contractors, however, realize that training their employees pays dividends by drastically reducing the occurrence of accidents; improving the quality, cleanliness, and customer satisfaction of each project; and minimizing the costly and frustrating repercussions of miscommunication.

Contractors with regular training sessions for their employees are more likely going to run safe, clean, on-budget, and hassle free projects. Investing in training shows that the contractor takes pride in his employees, and that the employees are “career professionals” who take pride in their craft.

Performing quality work is only half the battle.

We have all heard horror stories about projects that run way over schedule, require large amounts of rework due to differing expectations, and leave the homeowner feeling exhausted, frustrated, or worse.

Usually, these problems can be avoided by using processes and systems the contractor has put in place to specifically address issues of coordination, clarification, and communication.

When selecting your painting contractor, ask your contractor how the employees will be managed on the job site, how the job supervisor will know exactly what to do, what tasks will be performed in what order, and how best to communicate with the crew. Good contractors will have worked these issues through and have honed systems and processes in place to ensure the job run smoothly.

Customer service should not be an afterthought

– the contractor should be focused solely on understanding your specific needs, designing a tailored solution to meet those specific needs, and executing that solution with respect for you, your time, and your possessions. When selecting your painting contractor, use the list of questions below to evaluate your experience with each contractor so far.

How was my first call handled?
  • Did I talk with a human or a machine?
  • Was I able to schedule an appointment right away, or did I have to play phone tag?
How responsive was the contractor?
  • Was my appointment scheduled for this week, or sometime in the future?
  • Was the appointment scheduled at a convenient time for me or for him?
  • Did the contractor show up at the appointed time, or was he late?
  • If late, did he bother to call ahead to let me know he’d be late?
How attentive was the contractor?
  • Did he seem genuinely interested in my project?
  • Did he ask the right questions to understand my needs?
  • Did he answer my questions in a way that I could understand?
  • Did he offer meaningful suggestions or options?
How professional was the presentation?
  • Were references and insurance certificates offered?
  • Was the scope of work in the proposal accurate?
  • Did it feel like a high pressure sales pitch, or a well-thought out proposal with the necessary supporting information?

You’ve now done your due diligence and for those contractors who remain, each should be able to provide you a quality job and a pleasurable experience at a fair price.

For more information about  selecting your painting contractor, call Armor Tek Coatings at (858) 504-1001.

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