How To Select The Best Painting Contractor For Your Job

Once you have decided on the scope of the job and have a basic description of your painting project, it is time to call some painting contractors for cost estimates. This can be the most time consuming and perhaps the most difficult part of your selection process. “Who do I call?” is the question that will likely come up. This is a good question indeed! Phone books are full of painting companies but perhaps a better question to ask is: “What company has the necessary expertise, and are they likely to use this expertise and do a good job on my project?”

The phone book is the last place that you will find the answer to the above two point question. If you must, use the phone book only as the last resort. The best way is to get a referral from a friend, relative or anyone else whose judgment you trust. If you are lucky, some contractor’s names will keep coming up. If so, put those names at the top of your list. But in whatever way you put together this list, you should ask your prospective bidders a few pre screening questions before you invite them to come and take a look.

At the very least, ask them if they are licensed and if they have a current general liability and worker’s compensation insurance. By law, all contractors doing home improvement such as painting are required to have a valid contractor’s license. To get this license applicants must verify their experience in that particular trade and must pass an exam testing their knowledge of that trade. If the person does not have a contractor’s license, it can be an indication that they lack the necessary expertise that you are seeking in a contractor. It is very easy to check if someone has a valid contractor’s license, just call the Contractor’s State License Board (CSLB) at 800-321-2752 or visit their website at

Here is a quote form the CSLB: “Contractor’s State License Board is the state consumer protection agency that licenses and regulates construction contractors. “Use only licensed contractors. If you file a complaint against a licensed contractor within the legal deadline (usually four years), CSLB has authority to investigate the complaint. If you use an unlicensed contractor, CSLB may not be able to help you resolve your complaint. Your only remedy may be in civil court, and you may be liable for damages arising out of any injuries to the unlicensed contractor or the unlicensed contractor’s employees.”

The value of insurance may not be readily obvious until something goes wrong. Still, the law requires that all contractors carry worker’s compensation insurance for their employees. This brings us to our second point. If the law requires that all contractors be licensed and insured but this prospective bidder is not, can such a person be trusted to do what is required on your project? You will have to decide that but, personally, I would take clues from the person’s record.

Like I said, you can easily check on the status of the contractor’s license. As far as insurance is concerned, the only way to be sure that contractor’s insurance policy is current is to require that certificates of insurance be faxed or mailed directly to you by their insurance carrier, for both general liability and worker’s compensation insurance. The insurance carrier will do this at no additional charge to either you or your contractor. This way, the insurance carrier can also notify you if your contractor’s policy is cancelled, in the middle of the job, for some reason.

Of course, being licensed and insured is not a guarantee that your contractor will perform but at the very least, having this knowledge early on, you can avoid spending your time with someone who perhaps is completely unqualified. Another good question to ask is about the length of time they have been in business. Do not ask how long they have been painting or how many years of experience they have. This can mean to them – their first finger painting experience in the Boy Scouts Camp. The question is – how long have they been in business as a licensed painting contractor.

You can quickly find out approximately when a contractor’s license was issued by looking at the license number itself. The contractor’s license number is six digits long. The higher that number, the more recently it has been issued. For example, in the 1980’s the numbers started with 4 or 5 as a first digit. In the 1990’s it was mainly 6 or 7. The last time I checked they were issuing license numbers that had 9 as the first digit. (When it gets to 10, I suppose, they will go to a seven digits numbering system)

Once again, the length of time in business does not guarantee good performance but it can be a good clue as to the contractor’s stability and more importantly it will indicate the availability of the contractor’s track record. When you meet with the contractor you should give them the job description and make yourself available to answer questions about the job. At this stage of the selection process, you want to make sure that every contractor knows exactly what needs to be estimated. Here you can also take a measure of the contractor himself. There are telltale signs. Did the contractor timely returned your phone calls? Was the contractor on time for your meetings? Is this person easy to communicate with? We have all heard stories about disappearing contractors that were impossible to get a hold of. Now is your opportunity to tell whether this is somebody you feel comfortable dealing with and having around your home.

After the proposal is received, there will be even more telltale signs. Did the proposal arrive in a timely fashion? Does it reflect your job description? Does it state clearly what will be done? Once all of the proposals have been received, you are ready to compare them. Carefully review all of the proposals and your personal notes, making sure that you are comparing “apples to apples”.

At this point you may have a clear winner and are ready to award the job; however, I recommend that you take it a step further and test your contractor’s track record. Check the Better Business Bureau to see if they have a history of complaints against them. Ask to speak to a couple of their past clients. If this is an exterior job, ask to see a few homes that they have painted in your neighborhood.

All of this may seem like a lot of work just to hire a painter. Actually, the selection process does not have to take very long and in fact can even save time. Besides, what is the alternative? You may have heard stories of jobs that have gone terribly wrong.

Perhaps you yourself have a story of a contractor from Hell. It makes me very sad that a few bad apples give a bad name to the rest of the industry. There are a lot of good contractors out there! I hope this will help finding them a bit easier, because I want your next story to be: “Oh, you are looking for a painting contractor? I have a great one for you!”

This Santa Rosa painting contractor services Sonoma, Napa, Marin, San Francisco and beyond.

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