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How to Select a Contractor for Your Painting Project


A common mistake that I see homeowners make, in shopping for a painting job, is to just invite a bunch of painters over, point them to the project and, without much preamble, ask them for a painting quote. Perhaps those homeowners simply did not want to offend contractors with excessive descriptions or maybe they thought that professionals will know best. It is true that professionals should know the best way to go about a job; however, modified by individual experience (or lack thereof), one painter’s approach to a job may be completely different from another’s. What will likely happen with these submitted proposals is that the price, job specifications and even the scope of work will be all over the place. This will make such proposals nearly impossible to compare.

For example, one bidder may include an extra finish coat -- maybe this is how his old boss always used to do it. Another bidder may entirely omit the prime coat -- perhaps this is the only way he can outbid the competition. Yet, someone else may not include a light well -- maybe they did not notice it or did not think it needs doing. Such job specification inconsistencies would make those proposals very difficult to compare, possibly leaving the homeowner with the need of completely redoing the bidding process. Or even worse, this can leave the homeowner with the need to revisit the bidding process again in the middle of the job, when it comes to light that something that the home owner wanted done was not included in the winning proposal.

Homeowners can easily avoid such confusions by simply providing all bidders with a project description. This description does not have to be very complicated and it can even be verbal, just as long as it is exactly the same to every bidder.

Here is an example of what I mean:
Paint exterior of 123 Main St., Any-town, U.S.A.
Please Include the following Specifications in the Estimate Proposal

  • Area Descriptions: All work at front, back, east side light well, partial west side (above neighbor’s roof).
  • Preparations: The type of “Preparations” you expect to be done to all surfaces to be painted.
  • Material Type used: will be “XYZ Paint Manufacturer” and the “Product Line”.
  • Material Application: in a "One Prime Coat" and/or "One or Two Finish Coat(s)" of Paint.
  • Color Specifications: A “Color Change” or “Existing Color(s)”, The front will be three colors, the back and sides - two colors.
  • Specifics: a “Detailed Description” of any other items you feel are relevant to estimate. 
  • During the bidding process, even with a project description in hand, you may find that some bidders will recommend something different from what was described. At this stage of a game, you must resist the temptation to stray from your project description and keep in mind your goal -- get “Comparable Paint Proposals”. So even if you like that recommendation of an extra finish coat for example, you should ask the recommending bidder to give you anAlternate Price” in addition to the “Regular Price” or a “Separate Price the Extra Coat” or the “Recommendation”. This way, when the time comes to compare proposals, you will not end up trying to compare "apples to oranges" or to some other completely different type of fruit.



  1. MAKE A LIST: Using the method as described in “How to Evaluate and Compare Proposals.” List all criteria pertaining to the job you would like to be estimated. This criteria will be used to generate all of the estimates and make it easier for you to compare proposals.
  2. CHECK CONTRACTORS COMMUNICATIONS: How a contractor responds to phone calls can be an indication of your ability to contact him after the work begins. If you must wait days for a return phone call, will the same occur after the job starts? 
  3. CHECK CONTRACTORS PROMPTNESS: A contractor who keeps the appointment for an estimate is more likely to arrive promptly for the job and complete the project on time.
  4. CHECK YOUR AWARENESS: Don't rush the time allowed for an estimate. It is in the best interest of both parties to take the time to go over the details. No two jobs are exactly alike. A professional contractor will seek to learn what you need and/or desire. He will listen to your comments and questions, and make recommendations suited to your purposes.

A WRITTEN PROPOSAL: Be sure to get a written estimate. A well written proposal will carefully describe what is included in the job, allowing both parties to clarify any omissions or misunderstandings before your acceptance.The proposal speaks volumes about the professionalism of the contractor.Don't accept a price written on the back of a business card or something scribbled on a piece of paper. Make sure the contractor's business address and phone number are on the estimate; If either one is not, you should wonder why they don't want you to know!

  • TO INCLUDE SCHEDULE DATES: Request them to provide schedule dates from the start to the completion of the job and if the days are going to run consecutively. There is nothing worse than a contractor showing up for one day and returning a week or two later to complete it. Leaving you hanging in the balance. Does the schedule include any weekends or holidays? If you are like most people these days are your time to relax, it’s totally up to you if want to sacrifice a day off.
  • TO INCLUDE WORK HOURS: Request them to provide a daily start and finish time (9am - 5pm). You don’t want a crew showing up at daybreak, slamming ladders on the house disturbing you and the neighbors or coming inside disrupting you/your family during the time of getting a shower, dressing, etc. and especially before you have had your morning cup of coffee.
  • TO INCLUDE PRICE: Bottom Line Pricing will enable you to choose the best price and make sure that you compare apples-to-apples. Compare written estimates (not verbal promises) regarding the amount of preparation, quality of materials, number of coats, etc. The lowest price is seldom the best price.
  • TO INCLUDE DEPOSITS REQUIREMENTS: Some contractors will request a deposit upon acceptance of the proposal. It's just the nature of the business! The normal amount is usually in the range of 10% to 15% of the total contract pricing. If you're leery about doing so, offer a smaller good faith deposit with the remainder to be paid on the day the work is going to be started. Established Contractors normally don't require a deposit. They have Material Credit Accounts set up to avoid leery situations, if you trust them in your home, they trust you to pay them.
  • TO INCLUDE REFERENCES: Request them to provide a few references. Although they don't usually give you bad ones, it will still give you an idea of whether they have any. Any contractor should be able to produce a list of good references. If possible, drive by a recently completed job and look at the quality of their work.


DO THEY OFFER A WARRANTY: A professional contractor will stand behind his work and will offer a written warranty. However, if the company goes out of business (or can't be located), your warranty is useless. The stability of the company is as important as the warranty.

  1. CHECK INSURANCE: Request them to provide their liability insurance certificate and workman's comp if they have employees. Adequate insurance is important for your protection.
  2. CHECK LICENSE: Request them to provide their State and Local Contractors License.
  3. CHECK BACKGROUND HISTORY: Check with the State Licensing Commission, local Better Business Bureau, or any other Consumer Agency available to see if they have any unresolved disputes.
  4. CONTRACTORS NEED TO GAIN YOUR TRUST: A contractor may be at or in your home for a week or longer. “First Impressions” in addition to your homework research should speak for itself.

“Be certain that you feel comfortable with him."
"Legitimate Contractors are people too and they understand the idea of someone checking them out, thoroughly."


  1. IT'S TIME TO CLOSE THE DEAL: If the contractor has met all of the criteria and you’re satisfied, It’s time to take the final step.
  2. ACCEPTING THE FINAL PROPOSAL: You must be sure you thoroughly read and understand all of the Legal Conditions and Job Specifications of the Proposal. These will be the guidelines the Contractor will use during the progression of the job. Once you Sign and Accept it, it becomes a Legal Contract.


Did You know that if You Hire an Unlicensed Contractor You are at Risk?



  • Class A Contractor - The total value of a single contract or project is $120,000 or more, or the total value of all construction or improvements undertaken by such person within any twelve-month period is $750,000 or more. The prerequisite for a Class A license is at least 5 years experience.
  • Class B Contractor - The total value of a single contract or project is $7,500 or more, but less than $120,000, or the total value all construction or improvements within any twelve month period is $150,000 or more, but less than $750,000. The prerequisite for a Class B license is at least 3 years experience.
  • Class C Contractor - The total value of a single contract or project is over $1,000 but no more than $7,500, or the total value of all construction or improvements within any twelve month period is no more than $150,000. The prerequisite for a Class C license is at least 2 years experience.

Each applicant shall meet or exceed the requirements set forth in this section prior to issuance of the license or certification card.

The applicant shall be required to take an examination to determine his general knowledge of the regulated activity in which he desires licensure or certification.  If the applicant successfully completes the examination, an application furnished by the department shall be completed.  The application shall contain the applicant's name, home address, place of employment, and business address; information on the knowledge, skills, abilities and education or training of the applicant; and a statement certifying that the information on the application is correct.  If the application is satisfactory to the board, a license or certification card shall be issued.


Every applicant to the Board for Contractors for licensure or certification shall meet the requirements and have the qualifications provided in this section.

  • The applicant shall be at least 18 years old.
  • Unless otherwise exempted, the applicant shall meet the current educational requirements by passing all required courses prior to the time the applicant sits for the examination and applies for licensure or certification.
  • Unless exempted, the applicant shall have passed the applicable examination provided by the board or by a testing organization acting on behalf of the board.
  • The applicant shall meet the experience requirements as set forth in sections 18 VAC 50-30-40.
  • In those instances where the applicant is required to take the license or certification examination, the applicant shall follow all rules established by the board with regard to conduct at the examination.  Such rules shall include any written instructions communicated prior to the examination date and any instructions communicated at the site, either written or oral, on the date of the examination.  Failure to comply with all rules established by the board and the testing organization with regard to conduct at the examination shall be grounds for denial of application.
  • The applicant shall disclose his physical home address; a post office box alone is not acceptable.
  • Each non-resident applicant for a license or certification card shall file and maintain with the department an irrevocable consent for the department to serve as service agent for all actions filed in any court in this Commonwealth.  In those instances where service is required, the director of the department will mail the court documents to the individual at the address of record.
  • The applicant shall sign, as part of the application, a statement certifying that the applicant has read and understands Article 3 (§ 54.1-1128 et seq.) of Chapter 11 of Title 54 of the Code of Virginia and this chapter.
  • The board may make further inquiries and investigations with respect to the qualifications of the applicant or require a personal interview with the applicant.
  • In accordance with § 54.1-204 of the Code of Virginia, each applicant shall disclose a conviction, in any jurisdiction, of any misdemeanor or felony.  Any plea of nolo contendere shall be considered a conviction for this purpose of this subdivision.  The record of conviction received from a court shall be accepted as prima facie evidence of a conviction or finding of guilt.  The board, at its discretion, may deny licensure or certification to any applicant in accordance with § 54.1-204 of the Code of Virginia.
  • The applicant shall report any suspensions, revocations, or surrendering of a certificate or license in connection with a disciplinary action or which has been the subject of discipline in any jurisdiction prior to applying for licensure or certification in Virginia.  The board, at its discretion, may deny licensure or certification to any applicant based on prior suspensions, revocations, or surrender of certifications or licenses based on disciplinary action by any jurisdiction.



  1. Obtain a Zoning Permit to Operate a Business.
  2. Be current with their County Business and Personal Property Taxes

I'm sure that you must have caught a news story from some media source describing an unsuspecting property owner who got ripped off by a contractor who either took a deposit and never showed up or did part of the work and never finished. Unfortunately, these kinds of incidents give the legitimate contractors an undeserved black eye. Moreover, the way homeowners can protect themselves is to do their homework when selecting a contractor.

Did you know that a supplier who sells materials on credit to an unlicensed contractor for your property can lien your property or sue the property owner for the amount of the materials if those bills aren't paid? In addition, did you know that sub-contractors / workers who work on your property for an unlicensed contractor can lien your property or sue the property owner for wages due them if the contractor does not pay them? You can reduce these risks by doing business with licensed contractors who are working within the licensing and Lien Recovery Fund requirements.

Before you hire a contractor, ask him to show you his contractor's license, in either the form of a wallet ID card or full size certificate. It will help you feel at peace knowing whom you are dealing with.


Make sure when hiring a contractor you ask to see a certificate of insurance for workman's compensation and liability.


  1. If you hire a contractor that has no insurance and one of his workers gets hurt the injured worker could sue the property owner for damages!
  2. And if the contractor has no liability insurance: guess who could be stuck with the bill if for example a ladder falls on the house or building next door or something gets damaged by a freak accident.

These things of course are not likely to happen to you, but they do happen!

"Be educated about who you hire to do a job. There are many people running around unlicensed and uninsured trying to undercut the legitimate contractor's prices. Don't be fooled by cheaper prices, there are risks involved. Hiring a good company will lessen the risks!"