Estimating a Painting Job
Nobody wants to work for nothing, but many painter do when they don't charge for all the things that are part of each job. If you intend to do a complete job, and your customer is asking for a complete job, then you should be charging for a complete job. Leave something off of the estimate and you are working for nothing. Doing a complete and thorough estimate involves everything that takes time whether it be screwing that switch plate cover back on or painting the altar in that church. Many painters brag about what they describe as an almost mystical experience, like walking into a room and a price comes into their head. I never liked that because it is inaccurate, lazy and likely to end up poorly, at best you will just miss something and work for nothing on that part of the job. Another reason why this lump sum magic is bad is that someone is always surprised when the customer finds something that wasn't done and they thought it was part of the job. And they tell you do it or don't get paid. I talk about this when I discuss the Proposal itself.
Setup - Whether it be driving 100 miles to the job or 2 days setting up scaffolding or 20 minutes unloading drops, ladders and paint, it is part of every job. And because it is part of the job it is included in the cost of the job and needs to be estimated. Some thought should be given to special circumstances as mentioned above, or keep a percentage to use as a formula for each job. For example: if you are scaffolding out that church steeple to scrape and paint, then you need to figure everything involved with this stage including take down. This type of setup is likely to be much more costly than the actual paint job. Whereas painting the interior of your average customers home can be done room by room as a percentage of the total hours. For example: if you are dropping out a room, removing switch plates, moving furniture, etc. Then an easy way to do it is to take the total hours painting and multiply by .1 or .2 or whatever you think is an average time. Estimating setup, prep, and cleanup as a percentage on average jobs saves time when estimating.
Preparation - Lots of times this costs way more than the paint job. For example: we did a paint job on a big 1840's wood clapboard monster of a house. 15 weeks removing paint before one drop of paint went on the house, the painting itself was about 3 weeks. Not only time but lots of sanding disks, respirators, disposable coveralls, cleanup daily, and removal of all dust and chips was all a big deal because of the size of the job and because of the old lead paint. The opposite is the average home interior that can be estimated like the setup example above using a percentage. Most of the time interior prep is just small surface repairs, and some caulking, the stuff that is the same from job to job. Special repairs or problems should be itemized.
Painting - What amount of time does it take to paint 5 wood casement windows on ground level without a ladder? How much time does it take to paint those same 5 windows at 40 feet on a hill when each window is 8 feet apart? Probably more than 2 times what it takes to paint the ones on ground level, each time moving and setting up the ladder on uneven ground most likely involving 2 people to move and setup the ladder for each window. So an easy formula to use on heights above 25 feet would be 2 times or 2.2 times or whatever the time it takes to paint the same window without ladder. Most of the time estimating painting costs can be done with a formula that works pretty well from job to job.
Cleanup - This part of the painting job is likely to be glossed over or ignored from an estimating position. This is a big mistake because it can take more time that the actual painting, depending on the job. If this part of the job is not done well the client may view the entire job as poorly done. And if done really well it may just put the crowning touch on the job. Estimating the time to properly cleanup after each job is critical to your estimate. If you short this part of the estimate, by not allowing enough time, then something has to give and the outcome is likely an unhappy customer. Average jobs can use a factor to estimate time. Example, an 8 hour interior job can be cleaned up in 8 hours x.1 = .8 hours.
When I watch some of these “home remodeling" shows blow through the painting as if it is nothing, I laugh but then I think how much ignorance they create. When Norm does his woodworking magic it is an event to behold; but, when Carlos spends 3 hours vacuuming, dusting and cleaning windows after a paint job, it is nothing, it is not even mentioned. Some many home owners tackle paint jobs and are totally clueless as to what is really involved. Like the time when we were called in to touch up walls in this multi-million dollar mcMansion following a $25,000 audio system wiring job where the technician cut holes in 11 different rooms. Each room had a different color, so we cleaned rollers, brushes, cut buckets etc. after each color. The owner gave me a big argument about charging her for the time to clean our tools. If it is part of the job and you wouldn't be doing it except for their job, then they should be paying you for it.
Patrick Cavanaugh has 30 years running a successful painting business , and helping others improve their business, and raising the standards of painters everywhere.