Nine Steps to a More Successful Painting Project
Pam Estabrooke recently took on the 22-story Atlanta-area luxury Buckhead condo complex project. Some might argue that by doing so, the ProTect Painters franchise owner stepped into a disaster. A designer was fired, then a new one was hired. HOA board members changed their minds about colors. Stops. Starts. Restarts and repaints of already repainted walls. These have all been part of the experience.
“Working in these situations where there’s a designer, a property manager, an HOA—it’s a layered community. And the more layers there are, you can anticipate it being a struggle,” she added. Estabrooke saw some of the problems coming and created contracts to protect herself. Some changes did surprise her, but on the whole, she can still call the project a success. And she’s happy to share some insights that could help other paint pros and property managers enjoy a more successful project.
1. THE PROPERTY MANAGER’S ROLE AND YOUR CONTRACT
A property manager is not a paint expert, but more a liaison to an HOA board that makes final decisions on colors and contractors. Depending on how well that property manager communicates with his or her board plays a role in the overall project. “We did the first two or three floors and they halted us. They changed colors, they changed lighting. They liked the corridors, but not the inside of the elevator,” Estabrooke recalled.
The painter must see his role as an educator, said Chris Wheeler, A CertaPro franchise owner in Rockville, MD. “We oftentimes get an opportunity to educate the property manager and spend the majority of the time answering questions of clarification,” Wheeler explained. “The downside to that is the property manager walks into the condo board meeting full of information … but they’re not always in position to speak intelligently to the condo board.”
Estabrooke says painters can protect themselves from being blindsided by HOA/property manager miscommunications by setting a progressive payment schedule and even asking for a down payment before the project starts. “It gets the customer to have some skin in the game,” she added.
2. HAVE A PREP TALK
Paul Rhodes, National Maintenance and Safety Instructor with the National Apartment Association, says a property manager must understand the true prep involved in a job. Some surfaces need more sanding than others, some require a lift in order to reach them, and others may require light carpentry or masonry work. But a property manager may not even know to ask these questions, Rhodes said. The painter must communicate clearly what he or she is seeing. “A lot of times, a property manager doesn’t understand that it takes more time to prep the surface than to put the color on,” he added.
3. SPOT LOGISTICS ISSUES
The Buckhead complex is a pet-friendly community. This means Estabrooke’s crews can’t just knock on doors to paint the inside of a doorjamb. Management needs to communicate schedules to residents so pets can be contained or moved before painters enter. “Fine details like that must come from the property manager. They need to let everyone know what’s going on.”
Wheeler prefers to work with a property manager who has extensive experience in a particular market segment. If not, the learning curve could be tough for both the property manager and the painter. “If you think of a senior living facility, which we do a lot of, these things can be very disruptive,” he added.
4. TAP YOUR REP
Sometimes, a property manager might seek input about color choice from the contractor. Estabrooke, however, prefers to defer to the true color experts. “Develop a relationship with your vendors and use them. Drag them out to the project. Get them involved early,” she offered. She also recommends the HOA see a large color sample, like a poster-sized board, or even paint in an inconspicuous place on the actual wall.
And once a color is chosen, make sure the contract indicates the owner owns the paint, regardless of a color change. A contractor doesn’t want to have 100 gallons of a pretty rouge left in their warehouse after management changes its mind. “The property manager must communicate that to the board, and get the sign-off on the color. Make sure the board members say ‘yes.’”
5. REVIEW CURRENT PAINT FAILURES
It almost sounds too obvious, but far too often, crews just clean and repaint without having a deeper conversation. Sometimes the way a roof drains or sun exposure may be causing more wear and tear on an area of a building than expected. Maybe a higher-quality paint is the solution. But that may not always be the case. Think about how the layout of the building impacts the job as well as the paint’s long-term performance, says Debbie Zimmer, a paint and color specialist with the Paint Quality Institute.
“You really need to take a holistic view of the property and the various types of surfaces involved,” Zimmer noted. “The property manager and painter should do this together. The contractor can offer some suggestions for how to resolve the issues.”
6. HAVE AN ROI TALK
Often, a property manager is dealing with an HOA board that is watching the bottom line very closely. But with, for example, an exterior repaint on an apartment or condo complex, high-quality paint is a must, said Rhodes. It lasts longer, and that means a longer interval between paint jobs so the property manager doesn’t have to deal with those disruptions again.
Rhodes takes into consideration the position of ownership, too. “There may be some who are flipping the property and opting for the ultra-inexpensive paint,” he said. “But for most who aren’t planning on selling, maintenance starts at the end of that first year. My experience is that I’d rather see the owner put some money into the paint now.”
7. BRAND, QUALITY, PRICING
For property managers, Wheeler also says to be leery of painters trying too hard to sell a certain brand. “If you know you’re buying a $20 a gallon bucket of paint, quality-wise it’ll be the same regardless of brand. There’s no need to pay more. But some guys will try to sell a brand for $10 more and there’s no real value,” he said. Wheeler likes to give the board and property manager “good, better, best” options as far as paint quality and pricing. His estimates are driven by quality level—and not dictated by brand.
8. COATS, COLOR CHANGES
A refresh is different from a complete color scheme change, adds Zimmer. And it could impact the number of coats on the job. Too often, this conversation goes overlooked. Painters need to communicate why a second coat is needed and what the community gains by getting it.
9. DON’T PLAY WEATHER GAMES
An often-fatal flaw for contractors is to work through bad weather, Estabrooke said. Even on days with high humidity, she holds off on painting. “We pay super close attention to prep. We wash, we caulk and use appropriate dry time,” she said. “Nobody wants to raise suspicions and have someone say, ‘Remember that day you painted and it was really wet out? Is that why the paint’s bubbling?’ You don’t ever want to deal with that knuckleheadedness.”