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8 Tips Homeowners Should Follow to Hire a Good Painting Contractor

These tips were generously provided by Nigel Costolloe, owner of Catchlight Painting.

As a long-time painting contractor, he knows the ins and outs of how to hire a painting contractor.

In the old days, hiring someone simply meant asking a neighbor or friend for a referral to a craftsman or woman – this was usually the only resource we needed. That, or wait for Dad to visit – he seemed to be able to do everything around the house!

These days we tend to turn to the internet for almost everything we need and this includes finding trustworthy service providers. There is no shortage of options, and the almost daily arrival of new referral sites can make the research process overwhelming. 

Can you trust a referral from Houzz, Angie’s List, Yelp, Porch, HomeAdvisor, Thumbtack or any of the multitude of other sites to list reputable contractors? 

The answer is yes and no, of course; these companies will typically boost the profile of contractors who use the sites’ advertising to increase/advertise their profile, and so attract more of the visitor’s attention. But this feels disingenuous.

So how do you then double-check or qualify the merits and background of a contractor who manages to catch your browsing eye?

8 Tips for Hiring the Right Painting Contractor

1. Investigate how a brokerage site qualifies the companies it promotes.

Some sites like Angie’s List and HomeAdvisor recently began allowing (not requiring) the owner to submit to a national background check – just the owner, mind you, not their employees.

Are the company’s employees actually employees or are they casual laborers, hired to work on your project? 

These sites require you to perform your own due diligence on this. Make sure to ask each contractor you speak with for this information.

2. Carefully analyze their online testimonials.

Look for the details that belie a sincere and thoughtful assessment of a painting contractor’s service and skill.

  • Does the testimonial feel personal and specific, or general?
  • Does it include the name of the contractor or one of the craftsmen who worked on the project? 

Once you make contact with the contractor, make sure you contact some of their past customers to confirm the legitimacy of their online reputation. As an example, view painting contractors AP Decorators.

3. Google the company and owner

Look past page one of search results for the more critical reviews that can show up on the less visited sites. This can include the civil or criminal cases local municipalities may post.

4. Ask and look for proof of experience.

Visit state websites to verify years in business. Ask the  painting contractor’s insurance provider how long their worker’s compensation and liability policies have been in effect. A good contractor builds relationships with vendors that should last years. If a contractor won’t provide you with a certificate of insurance, this contractor is very likely operating under the table.

5. Ask to speak with customers both recent and in years past.

What remains in the customer’s mind is the experience – both highly positive and negative experiences will be remembered long after the paint is dry. A key advantage of talking to customers in years past, is that it is an opportunity to hear how the project looks a year (or two or three) down the road.

6. Verify all licensing is in order.

Check with your state for help to determine what licenses are necessary. These can include state and EPA licenses to work around lead-based paint, a significant concern for families with small children living in buildings that pre-date 1978.

7. Beware of the broker/contractor arrangement

An emerging business model is the company with the prominent online presence (usually the very top of the page) that purports to send its employees to your home but actually subcontracts the work to another company.

What’s the risk? 

Your project is usually sold on to the subcontractor for 50% of the amount you are paying to the primary contractor, so you get 50% less service, experience and skill. No one wins in this arrangement except the brokering company.

Wait, it gets worse!

The subcontractor might even turn around and sell the project to another subcontractor for even less.  Verify the people who show up actually work for the company you have diligently researched and qualified.

We include photographs of our employees on our website with a brief bio, so you can see who is showing up at your door.

8. Association membership matters

The contractor who cares enough to join a professional trade association like the Painting and Decorating Contractors of America, shows professional sincerity and investment in their continuing education. In a crowded marketplace where every company trumpets its excellence, this qualifier will immediately eliminate up to 90% of the so-called dedicated professionals!

I apologize if I have painted an overly bleak picture of the marketplace, but I promise I am not making this up.  My final advice is to proceed with all caution and take nothing for granted. By all means trust your impression when you feel you have found the right company, but then verify. Good luck!

Catchlight Painting is a residential and commercial painting contractor serving Greater Boston. Each member of the Catchlight crew is a full-time painter, EPA lead-safe certified, experienced, and personally motivated by a desire to preserve the beauty the homes and businesses of New England.