I have a 70+ year-old house with cedar shake siding that is in pretty bad shape and is in desperate need of a paint job. I know nothing about house painting, so I've gotten a few quotes for the job.

Usually when you need a contractor, there's a ball park range of what you'd generally expect to pay for a particular job, and then you adjust your expectations when you get bids that are higher or lower than your budget.

In this case, however, I've received 3 wildly different quotes for the job. I had a $4500 budget in mind, but the bids range from $3200 by an independent carpenter, to $7500 by a professional painting company.

Why is there such a huge disparity between the quotes I've gotten? All have included power washing, scraping, paint, and materials in their quotes. I want the job done right and for the paint to last 15 years or more.

I'm hesitant to go with the low bid because it's just a guy, but I don't think it's worth literally 2.5 times the cost just for the implicit guarantees that come with dealing with a bona-fide painting company.

How can I know how much something like this is supposed to cost?

I did get a bid for $5000, which is closer to what I had in mind, but he can't start work until the fall.

  • painters are like speakers, you can pay whatever you want for them, and you still might not like the result.
    – dandavis
    May 24 '18 at 19:00
  • @dandavis I assume by 'speakers' you mean the stereo kind, not the motivational kind :-) But at least with speakers there is an objective quality difference between a cheapie pair of computer speakers vs. a premium sound system that you can know before you buy. Maybe not within a narrow price range, but certainly between vastly different price ranges.
    – Wes Sayeed
    May 24 '18 at 20:05
  • i had in mind the case between a $3500 pair and a $7000 pair, like your painters. a can of krylon isn't in the same ballpark, and neither are computer speakers.
    – dandavis
    May 24 '18 at 20:27
  • @dandavis; Fair
    – Wes Sayeed
    May 24 '18 at 20:33

There are many reasons why a job would cost the contractor more or less, which obviously affects the bid price:

  • Time spent ensuring an excellent application of the finish
  • Time spent being careful around plants, yard furnishings, wall features, etc.
  • Special equipment needs unique to your project
  • Insurance coverage
  • Employee salaries
  • Satisfaction guarantee
  • Finish warranty

More significant, though, is the level of demand for a particular contractor's work:

  • Brand awareness and familiarity
  • Reputation
  • Marketing prowess

The latter group of factors probably has more impact. A company that has a few dozen or a few hundred employees and is a top contender in the yellow pages will get more calls. Therefore, they can charge more. A little one-man operation may have to scratch harder for jobs, and therefore is willing to undercut the competition.

The inverse can also be true. A small shop with a reputation for excellence can develop an outsized reputation that puts them in demand greater than their ability to fulfill. Now they can name their price and walk away from jobs they don't want. This isn't unique to painters, of course. It's the fundamental law of commerce.

I'd select the lowest bid from a contractor that meets your standards for reputation, personal demeanor, etc. If a guy acts like a goof and slobbers tobacco juice on your driveway, that's a red flag.

Also note that 15 years probably isn't a reasonable expectation for the life of paint over wood. Even the best paint will fade significantly in that time, and the nature of wood means that the bond will be broken down by expansion and contraction, warpage, etc. Five to eight years is probably more appropriate.

  • It's been my experience with other jobs that quotes are all within 20% or so of each other. So you're saying it's normal for painters in particular to be so far apart?
    – Wes Sayeed
    May 23 '18 at 21:07
  • 1
    It's normal for many construction trades because any schmo can buy a paintbrush and suddenly he's a painter or buy a hammer and suddenly he's a carpenter. With other professions there is more to the credentials involved.
    – isherwood
    May 23 '18 at 21:19
  • "Special equipment" could be relevant, especially when it comes to health and safety. An independent tradesman might work from a ladder, a bigger company which has responsibility for its employees might be more risk averse and insist on scaffolding - a cost which they'd pass on to the customer. (For painting this is probably more relevant in the UK than the US, as most houses in the UK are multi storey.)
    – AndyT
    May 24 '18 at 10:49

In a word, scope. Your home is not prepared for paint. Repairs will be needed, rotted wood replaced, surface preparation will need to be done.

Ask the painters for a breakdown. I bet the expensive jobs will include a bunch of fix-up and prep the cheapie will not. Things the expensive outfit wants to stop and fix, which the cheap guy would just roll paint right over.

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