Wrong time for expensive house maintenance?
May 27, 2009 3:44 PM   Subscribe

Getting the exterior of my house painted: A dumb investment, given the economy? Or not?

(Anonymous due to details re: my personal finances.) I bought my house a couple of years ago, and if I sold it today, I would probably be able to get enough to pay off my mortgage. (It's an unusual house, and there isn't another to compare for value, but generally houses in my area have gone down just a little bit in value. However, I only put 9% down on my house, so I only have a small amount of equity in it.)

This summer I need to get my house painted (it's flaking off in some spots), which will cost somewhere between $6,000-$10,000, a big chunk of my financial cushion. The higher end of the above estimate includes re-doing (and improving) the screens on my porch, which is a definite improvement to my home, but the actual painting seems like basic maintenance and will therefore be a total wash (and not increase the value of my home). I can pay $10,000 without taking out a loan, but it will mean reducing my savings by a third (I have about $35,000 in the bank right now; my 401k is anemic and not worth considering). I am fully employed but work for an industry which is laying off people practically every day. I could, if needed, get a much cheaper job done for $2-3k -- basically, minimal prep work and a coat of paint slapped over it, which would of course have to be re-done sooner -- but I would rather have a really nice paint job done. I am 36 years old and do not have children, and I am not planning on selling the house in the next year or two. My gut feeling is that spending the big bucks is the right thing to do, but I am worried I will essentially be throwing $10,000 away. Am I? Is now a terrible time to do home improvements (ones you can't get awesome government grants or tax breaks for)? Please, either reassure me, or tell me I'm being foolish!
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I don't know about the practicality of the higher-end estimates because I'm not any good with money, but I would like to comment on the much cheaper job. I know you're not interested in pursuing that option, and I want to strongly support your instinct. My husband and I were recently looking at a house we thought we might be interested in purchasing based on the listing and photos we saw online; however, when we saw it in person, the exterior paint job was so shabby there's no way we could consider buying the home. The topcoat of paint looked fresh, but the prep work underneath was obviously quite shabby and the overall effect was lumpy and off-putting. If the advice here leads you to believe that it's not the right time to invest $10,000 in the paint job, all I can say is avoid the cheap job! It will hurt more than it might help.
posted by katie at 4:08 PM on May 27, 2009

If you're not planning on moving in the next few years, and you don't have a lot of debt (so you can weather the hit to your savings in case your job goes south), I would go ahead and do it now. We got a bunch of estimates on house painting about a month ago, and were very surprised at how low the estimates were.

A lot of house painters are hurting for business right now (at least in my area) - which means both a faster lead time and a lower price on your job. If you wait until next year or until your job situation stabilizes, that $10K might creep up to $12-13 or so.
posted by pdb at 4:11 PM on May 27, 2009

It's your money, so do what feels right. If you think it's worth it, it's worth it.

I'm picky to the point of OCD when it comes to seeing peeling paint and sloppy paint jobs. When I wanted a quality paint job but was low on money, I invested a little in the proper tools and learned to do it myself. It turned out great, and wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. I've painted indoors and out for friends and family-- no complaints!

Maybe you aren't willing to go that far, but in the long run you can save a hell of a lot of money. And if your job doesn't work out, you'll have another marketable skill under your belt, which never hurts!
posted by aquafortis at 4:18 PM on May 27, 2009

Basic maintenance is always a good investment. A quality paint job falls into that category, and also makes the property more visually appealing to not only the owner, but any potential buyers too.
posted by lobstah at 5:08 PM on May 27, 2009

if the house needs it, painting is a wise move. it is a big thing for maintenance and general up-keep, and it increases the real estate curb appeal.

the one thing that i dont understand is - $10K to paint your house? how big is your house?
i am contractor, an electrician. i had a 2-story, 2 family, 2500sqft home painted in jan-feb, for $2k. i am in central FLA, not the cheapest part of the country.

if i were you, i would read up on painting a house a bit. there is not too much to learn. scrap and clean the wall. caulk the hell out of everything. paint a sealant coat, like killz. then paint your color on thick.

once you have an idea of what to do, find a handy-man to do it. stay involved in the project, follow it step-by-step. pay him per diem, and stay on him to make sure he makes progress.

Pay him $100 per day. If it takes 6 weeks, that is only $3K in labor, and maybe another $1k in supplies and tools. There are TONS of skilled handy men, laid off contractors, who can do this job. And do it well. You could probably even find a guy who already owns ladders and rollers and other tools.

So many contractors are hurting for work. You can find a guy how will be HAPPY to do it for much less. And that guy can do a damn good job, especially if you are monitoring things.
posted by Flood at 5:38 PM on May 27, 2009

Is there any reason you couldn't doing it yourself? House painting is not exactly rocket science and you've got all summer (& fall, for that matter) to get the job done. Or you could just do the portions that really need it and put off the parts that aren't really all that bad 'til next summer.

Home maintenance is not something you want to put off - it's a pay me now or pay me later type deal where pay me later is *always* more expensive.

I was in your situation a few years ago & decided to take on the project myself. I learned so much about patching/replacing rotted eaves, doing prep work & home construction in general that I was able to tackle a project converting my carport to a garage and also rebuild a deck all on my own. Very empowering and saved me a ton of cash.

You'd be surprised how much you can learn from the Home Depot series of home improvement books (including, I'd be willing to bet, how to rescreen your porch)!
posted by torquemaniac at 5:50 PM on May 27, 2009

You'd probably find that most of the cost is due to time-consuming prep work; the actual paint goes on pretty quickly. Maybe you could do some or all of the prep work yourself and get a lower bid on the painting. Scraping and sanding are tedious and sometimes physically demanding but they're not hard skills to learn. Also, this is the part that a lot of contractors cut corners on (see time-consuming, tedious, etc) and it can really show in the finished job. If you do the prep yourself, carefully, you may end up with a better-looking paint job in the end.
posted by Quietgal at 6:25 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

What does "the times" have to do with this decision? It doesn't matter what the market is doing, you're not in it. If your house needs to be painted, get it painted.
posted by gjc at 7:07 PM on May 27, 2009

Your first question was whether or not you should repaint the house. If the present paint job is flaking and bubbling, you should get that paint off. Not only does that flaking paint look terrible, there's also a chance that things could be going on underneath the paint. There are three things that attack paint and stain: sunshine (UV radiation), moisture, and seasonal temperature fluctuation (causes expansion/contraction of wood). The UV breaks down the paint layers from the outside, the expansion/contraction cause the paint film to crack, and water slips down behind the paint causing the flaking and bubbling that you're seeing. The moisture could also be coming from inside the house via a leak or from water vapor. You need to get a look.

Read these two pamphlets:
Paint Problems on Exterior Wood
Finishing Exterior Wood Surfaces

Your second question comes down to how much the repaint should cost. You quoted a high-end price of $10k that includes remodeling porch screens, yet you later refer to the entire $10k as a throwaway cost. You didn't break out the cost of the screens, nor did you include details such as how old the present paint is (older lead-based paint will incur greater removal costs), what sort of prep work the painter will do (pressure-wash, sanding, caulking, priming, etc.), how big the job is, or even if the cost of the paint is included in the price. It's kind of hard to make a judgment on the price without knowing more about what's included.

One caution about doing it yourself: if this is your first time refinishing, there will be a second time very soon. Offer to help a friend do their house so you can learn from mistakes on their nickel.
posted by joaquim at 7:15 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Keeping up with maintenance on properties is always a good investment. The cost of repairing damage if you let it go is much greater than doing the job right. If your paint is flaking you are at that point. I'd also echo the comments to be careful about not getting too cheap a job.

With that said, the economy cuts both ways and you should be able to get a good deal on the project. With construction down there are lots of folks out there doing painting. You want someone with experience, but don't be afraid to get a few estimates and even if you like (read trust) one of the individuals better, give them a chance to negotiate if others come in significantly lower. You may get a lower price, or at the least more peace of mind that your investment is worth the money.
posted by meinvt at 7:25 PM on May 27, 2009

I'd recommend painting it. If the wood starts to rot underneath because too much is exposed, the job gets that much more complicated. If anything, try skimping on the quality you'd usually go for and do a better job next time when your finances are better.
posted by mccarty.tim at 8:40 PM on May 27, 2009

I agree with the recommendation that you paint to protect the wood, if nothing else. However, a freshly painted house looks great, and will improve your outlook and that of your neighbors. It is sad to see a house slowly declining because the owners do not think that it is worth it to do the needed maintenance.

Painting a house is hard work, if you do it right. You must scrub the exterior, to remove dirt, paint dust, and mold. One area at a time, consider the quality of the wood, and if anything must be replaced. Sand down anything that is not 100% solid. Caulk well, covering any nails that may be exposed. Prime bare wood and caulked areas. If the trim is a different color than the rest, and experienced painter can do a much neater job of keeping the two colors separate. The painter will be working in the sun, standing and reaching, and will earn his money.

Do not save money on paint. Contractor grade is crap, and you will regret using it several years after the job.

Once the job is done you will have a number of years where it will instantly appeal to a buyer, from the curb or as they walk up to it, due to the freshness. This will increase the price you get and reduce the time it takes to sell the house.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 6:19 AM on May 28, 2009

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