Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Painting Estimates: Look Beyond the Number

I admit it: sometimes I get frustrated. We often do estimates for people who say they want the best possible job, so we thoroughly discuss what they want to be done and prepare our estimate on that basis, only to be told we weren't the low bid.  

I'm not surprised to hear it. Our professional standards and our personal definition of high quality work are likely very different from our competitors, but the homeowner doesn't know this and chooses the low bid on the assumption they were prepared on the same terms, and that price is the only point of comparison. Unfortunately for us, it's never true. To compare estimates accurately, you need to know how they're calculated. 

Cost Elements of a Painting Estimate

Labor, materials, supplies, equipment, and overhead (office expenses, vehicle expenses, insurance, taxes, licenses, web site, dues, and memberships, etc. etc.) are the main cost elements of a painting estimate. The biggest factor is the time needed to do the quality of work specified because of the cost of labor. It takes longer for a professional to prepare a surface for painting the right way, which can involve several steps, and then apply the paint correctly, than it does for an amateur working at a low wage to do little or no preparation, or incorrect preparation, then slap on a coat of paint. Which do you think yields attractive, long-lasting results? And which approach do you think costs you less over time? You can either save money today and get poor or at best mediocre results, or you can have work that looks great, adds to the beauty, enjoyment, and value of your home - and will last. 

If you hire an individual who doesn't operate as a business with associated overhead you might pay less, but you take a much greater risk because they've chosen not to be visible and accountable. 

If you want to compare painting estimates more accurately, here's how:

How to Get Comparable Estimates        

First you need to decide what you want to accomplish. If you've just moved in and plan to stay, doing things correctly is smart, even if it means you do the work a little bit at a time. On the other hand, if you're doing a quick clean up to get your house ready to list, your goal might be low cost rather than high quality. Be sure to discuss your goals with the bidders who might have valuable suggestions. Make certain that everyone knows the final strategy so that the estimates are comparable. Require detailed written estimates.

We always provide written estimates, as much for our benefit as for yours, and we specify exactly what we're going to do and the materials we're going to use so that you know what you'll get for your investment in hiring us. I have yet to see a competitor's estimate that takes such a detailed approach, so how do you compare them with us?

Questions to Ask Each Bidder

  • Who will do the work and what are their qualifications? Unskilled or temporary workers may keep costs down, but you could pay a high price for their shortcomings.
  • Does the company carry workers' compensation insurance? If not, you could be held financially responsible if someone is injured on your property. 
  • What steps will be taken to prepare the surface?  Get every detail in writing so you can make comparisons.
  • What materials will be used?  Paint manufacturers offer several grades, and you will get what you pay for. If you want the best, specify it by manufacturer and product name.
  • How many finish coats will be applied in addition to a primer, if needed? Some painters will slide by with primer tinted to the finish color (it's cheaper) and one finish coat after stating they bid it for two finish coats. 
If our number is higher, it's usually because we were going to do more work and use better materials, or the competitor planned to take shortcuts, or didn't understand the job and underbid. It's that simple. 

Comparing the Estimates

Once you have the estimates, it's time to make a systematic evaluation. 
  • Compare the scope of work and the steps to be taken. If you weren't given enough information, you can't rely on that estimate to be accurate.
  • Review the qualifications of the workers if you care about clean work habits and want to have paint applied to professional standards, such as crisp lines and no paint where it shouldn't go, like your wood floors, cabinets, driveway, patio, plants or windows. Sometimes paint can't be removed without doing damage. 
  • Confirm the exact materials each bidder is using and tell them you will verify the materials if they're hired. 
  • Confirm the number of finish coats in the estimate. 
  • Your impression of the professionalism and integrity of the company. Are you comfortable at the prospect of having them at your home? Do they have references or a web site where you can learn more about them? Are they established in your community? How long have they been in business? 
  • Professional color consulting services. We believe that using well-chosen colors is essential to a successful outcome, so Sandy LeRoy provides a free color and detailing consultation to every painting client. Sandy is a Certified Color Strategist who uses color science and the latest technology and methods. If you need help with colors, this service is invaluable. Do any of the other bidders offer something comparable? 
  • Price.

Set up a grid and enter the information from each estimate. Notice that the price is the last basis of comparison because it depends on the preceding items. If you're not comparing apples with apples, you're in the dark about the estimate that represents the best value.

Beware of the Low Bid

Beware of an unusually low bid because it normally means the bidder:
  • didn't understand the scope of work
  • intended to take shortcuts, usually in the preparation phase
  • uses unskilled or temporary labor and pays them cash
  • plans to use lower grade materials
  • isn't operating as a reliable, accountable business

In Conclusion...

Painting done correctly can have many significant, positive effects on your house, far beyond what the work costs, so it's well worth hiring the right people who are going to do things the way they should be done. It's the best value for your money in the long run. 

If you require professionalism, high standards, integrity and work that looks great and lasts, please call me at 828-692-4355. We'll talk about your project and I'll schedule an estimate with Roger. On the other hand, if the most important thing is to find the lowest bid, we're probably not the best choice.

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