I disagree with your criteria to hire a painter. A prompt returned call is nice but does not indicate the quality or fairness of the painter. As far as a written estimate, that should be more of a qualifier for the bid versus an evaluation criterion. I'm not sure one would have favorable results by hiring a painter on this basis. As far as the bidding process, change orders should ONLY be used if the customer requests additional scope (PMP 101). Angie's list should consider asking reviewers if/how much they were told to pay compared with the estimate. Unfortunately, there are a lot of contractors that are unethical and need to be accountable.

I was taught to paint by a professional and when estimating the amount of paint needed, I always allow for a second coat just to make sure of coverage. We interviewed a painter who tried to tell me I bought poor quality paint without knowing where I purchased it, and stated he would have to buy all new paint. He had not seen the cans and was just guessing so I asked him where I should buy paint from now on. It was the same place I had purchased my paint and he wanted to charge me an extra 20 a gallon more than what I paid for. Needless to say, I have interviewed numerous painters and they are not all honest. http://youtube.com/e/b6_WEt9k_Hw?app=desktop
Second: all the tricks of the trade in regard to "cheating" customers is for hustlers and cheaters and NOT established businesses. At the end of the project the job should come out looking professionally painted as specified in the contract. A selected color that takes multiple coats that was not calculated by the contractor should cost more money. It's not the fault of the painter.
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With that said, here's the reality of that particular scenario. Painters do put water in the paint, but not for reasons you would think. Some materials need to have their viscosity manipulated in order to slow drying time, allowing gravity to 'smooth' out the product for a better finish. It also prevents 'drags' and 'sausages'. I personally try not to do it too often, but from time to time I have to. I want my client to have a proper finish.
“Joining PDCA and working towards our accreditation has been hands down one of the best things we've done to help grow our business and ensure we're doing things right. It has been invaluable to be part of a group who is striving for excellence just like we are, and as a new painting business being able to connect and learn from others has been incredible. “
At ALLBRiGHT 1-800-PAINTING, we use only the best paints and preparation techniques, and pay careful attention to every detail. We fully prepare and repair each surface to ensure a uniform finish and proper paint adhesion, and are painstaking in our protection of your non-painted surfaces. Our experienced painters will be respectful, keep the work area neat and tidy, and work in a way that minimizes disruption to your home.

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Familiarize yourself with construction codes and regulations. All cities have laws that dictate things like how contractors can do business, what types of materials and equipment are okay to use and how professional contracts should be handled. It will be necessary for you to have a working knowledge of these regulations as a private contractor. You can study them on your own time while you’re finishing an apprenticeship or receiving on-the-job training.[8]

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My husband has been a professional painter over 30 years. He prides himself in his high level of work ethic and customer satisfaction. He stays up to date on techniques and finishes. He gives Very detail and accurate appraisals with contracts. At an alarming rate, as he starts to finish the last day or the day before, the client starts nit picking and being disrespectful towards his work when every day prior to that, they were very pleased, as he request ongoing satisfaction throughout the job. Then they don't to want pay remaining balance, bicker about final cost, or stop payment. He has a crew he has to pay whether the customer does or doesn't honor the contract as well as our own household expenses. Wasted time ,labor, money and effort lost. Now how do we fix this? Remind yourself and clients that a contract is based on honor.
If you’re a construction or renovation worker who specializes in painting, you might have given some thought to how you can go into business for yourself. Painting contractors not only need to be skilled in a variety of painting techniques, but also know how to bid on jobs, calculate project expenses and hire workers in order to be successful. Before you can begin working as an independent painting contractor in most states, you’ll first need to apply for licensing, carry liability insurance and file the right documents to have your business officially recognized. http://m.youtube.com/embed/b6_WEt9k_Hw
I am a painting contractor and have been since 2001. Make sure the estimate provides in writing: What is EXCLUDED as well as INCLUDED. It should state the manufacturer and type of paint going to be used. Estimate says ALL LABOR AND MATERIALS. My estimates to my customers say "guaranteed coverage" eliminates the conversations of 1 coat vs 2 coat. I have my customers submit colors 5 days prior to start date. Customers need to inform me if they are going to use pure white, dark reds, oranges, and bright yellows they need to inform me in that 5 day window, so I can adjust my pricing for 3 coats. Although this more uncommon now than years past because a lot of paint manufacturers have primer with paint products. Let the contractor know if your doing accent walls. This takes longer to cut in straight lines and it requires the contractor to purchase more paint. If you add anything on the scope of work have the painter write out the description and cost prior to them doing the work. Have the estimate say how many days it will take to perform the work. Ask how many workers will be doing the job. Make sure to enforce that number of workers their everyday until the job is complete. Do not give final payment until you do a final walk through. Walk the job when its almost complete and point out areas that you want fixed prior to the contractors final walk through. Its best to do while the workers are still in that particular area as they will have tarps down and areas covered and it will be easier for them to take care of. Purchase a roll of blue tape and stick it to areas that you want fixed. This is called a punch list.
Removing and installing wallpaper can be a tricky task. The crew at CertaPro Painters® is skilled in removing wallpaper and will make this time-consuming task, hassle-free for you. We will work with you to help you choose a wallcoverings style that’s perfect for your home, and then apply it to your walls. All you’ll have to do is enjoy the final look.
In some cases, professional painters may include additional charges for specialized equipment that homeowners can't purchase on their own. Because professionals have licenses and access to such equipment, it's simpler to let them get those themselves. But providing some of the smaller equipment and extras directly really can help to cut down on the total cost of your project.
Work with a professional painting contractor. If you haven’t done so already, sign on to work with a painting company near you. As part of a professional team, you’ll learn the tricks of the trade and work in a variety of different environments, both commercial and residential. There’s no better way to accumulate practical experience than to do it on the job.[7]

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I used to work at Sherwin Williams. The best thing to do is specify that you will purchase your own paint. If the painter objects strenuously, he was plaanning on making money in the ways this article outlines. You might pay a few dollars more for paint, but you will have control of the quality of what goes on your walls. Never skimp on paint quality.
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