Who should get the job painting my house?
May 5, 2010 3:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm having my 200 year old house in New England repainted, and some significant carpentry work done, mainly to replace wood that has rotted. I have narrowed several bids for this job down to two. How do I decide which bid to accept? This is a very big job, is going to cost a significant amount of money (five figures), and will have a very large impact on the value and integrity of the house, especially if its done wrong. The job is complicated by flaking, alligatory lead paint on many parts of the house, which will require special handling.

The two bids are pretty much in the same ballpark, dollar-wise. Bid one is a national, franchised painting company that also does some carpentry. They seem extremely knowledgeable and the owner was very aggressive in selling their services. This was a little off-putting for me, but the day-to-day work will be managed by his employee, not him. This manager will handle both painting and carpentry.

Bid two is from a local building contractor who specializes in old house renovation and construction, and will more or less sub out the painting. I've checked with him on the products and processes, and it sounds like he's planning on having his crew use similar products and techniques as in the first bid, though he did not provide as much detail. The amount is slightly lower (say 1K lower) and the proposal includes a couple more carpentry projects than the first bid. I liked this person more on a personal level, and his business is based nearby.

Our house is large enough that we will end up spending a lot of time with the crew of whomever gets the job. I work from home.

If this were your house, what would you do?
posted by mneekadon to Home & Garden (19 answers total)
It's totally within the realm of reason to get more detail -- what materials, where they get them from, what kind of warranty the materials come with, etc. Ask to see other jobs, interview previous customers, ask about their relationship with the sub and employees. Do they hire day laborers or are the workers full employees? Do they both carry liability and workman's comp insurance?

Take a drive past the local guy's business. Ask neighbors, if there are any, about them. Maybe even go to the local bar and ask folks about the guy and their opinion.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 3:45 AM on May 5, 2010

Oh, and actually call the insurance company and verify proof of insurance. This is key. They can show you a certificate of insurance, but who knows if they pay their bills.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 3:46 AM on May 5, 2010

Based on what you've written - I'd probably choose the local company - for a number of reasons:

1. Sounds like they are a specialist (I'm assuming you've seen references or evidence of other work)
2. Sounds like you could build a better relationship with this contractor, and use that to ensure good quality control throughout the process

If you aren't comfortable with the level of detail in the second quote - then you could always ask them to refine the quote a little bit to get the info you need, they shouldn't mind doing that.

Extra bonus points for trying to put money into a local business.
posted by mattr at 3:46 AM on May 5, 2010

I'd just talk to the local guy and tell him directly that you'd prefer to deal with him, but you have X, Y and Z concerns and would like his help addressing them. For a 5-figure contract, he can spend a bit of extra time to put you at ease.
posted by jon1270 at 4:01 AM on May 5, 2010

"some carpentry" < "specializes in old house renovation and construction". Hands down !
posted by lobstah at 4:04 AM on May 5, 2010

I would use the local guy. If the other guy is aggressive with customers selling his services, he's probably also aggressive with his employees getting them to cut corners.
posted by runkelfinker at 4:05 AM on May 5, 2010

can you get some references from the local guy and view the work he's done?
posted by sully75 at 4:41 AM on May 5, 2010

I'd go local as well, pending a reference check. We did not have a great experience with a national company when we had work done last year. They tended to sub-contract work out to local companies anyways, but since we were dealing with a project manager from the national company, it took a long time to have our wishes expressed down the chain to the guys who were actually doing the work.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:47 AM on May 5, 2010

Seconding robocop is bleeding in that I'd go with the local guy as long as I was able to see some of his work in person. I'd also check Angie's List to see if any reports have been written about him - good or bad.

I wouldn't go with any contractor until I had seen his/her previous work and until I had spoken with some of the homeowners.
posted by cooker girl at 5:43 AM on May 5, 2010

I would trust a local specialist over a national franchise any day. The people in the national franchise are more likely to view it as just a job, whereas the local specialists are more likely to take pride in their work. That's my bias from step one.

In the end, they are in your house, and you will be working with them. So you have oversight regardless. I would go with the people that you would be comfortable working with on a personal level. The manager of the national firm was surprisingly pushy you say - how do you think he will react if you have a disagreement mid-way during the job?

If you are still unsure, you should be able to find some people who have been customers of both people and ask them about their experience.
posted by molecicco at 5:47 AM on May 5, 2010

You have a 200 year old NE home. This is a specialty and will require someone with a knowledge of these types of structures. Kind of like going to a refinisher who specializes in antiques, vs. Home Depot (not denigrating HD by any means, just using for illustration). This home is an investment, so you want to make sure that the outfit in charge of restoring knows their stuff.

Get references from the local guy that are specific to this sort of work. And seconding the insurance/bonding/licensing checks for anyone who will be working on your property.

And yes, giving the business to local companies is great (assuming they are deserving of it).
posted by mnb64 at 5:50 AM on May 5, 2010

Thanks for all the replies. My biggest concern with the local person is that this job is a painting job with some carpentry, not a carpentry job with some painting.

The franchise owner is sort of local (based in a nearby city) and a painting specialist, and his organization has national standards they are required to meet. He handles a lot of commercial jobs around here, which could either be a minus or a plus, I suppose. The owner pointed out a lot of things that I didn't know about painting houses and gave me a greater understanding (from his perspective of wanting the job, of course) of what was needed.

The local guy is a renovator and builder. I am pretty convinced (given his website and testimonials and the one reference I've gotten a hold of so far) that he does good work, and has been really easy to deal with, persistent even when I've been a bit flaky, and responsive. However, I also get the impression he has more experience ripping off siding and replacing it than in dealing with old siding in place. That's not to say he's not the right guy, just some perspective on why I'm dithering.
posted by mneekadon at 6:12 AM on May 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Could you not have the local company do the restoration work if you feel that is their strength / would do a better job. Then, once they are finished, allow the paint-focused company do the paint work?
posted by csmason at 6:28 AM on May 5, 2010

Look at jobs both companies have done. Talk to the home owners about the experience and any issues that arose and how these were resolved.

Additionally, spend some time looking at the finished projects and see if you can see anything that raises questions in your mind. Use these as a list of things to discuss with each company. Their responses, and the way in which they respond to your questions will give you a better understanding of their work and process.

Prioritize your concerns. Is time an issue, , or less hassle, or daily project updates preferable, or is top quality the ultimate goal, or fill in the blank. See which company falls closest to the ideal.
posted by mightshould at 6:37 AM on May 5, 2010

Go with your gut. But if it were me, I'd go with the local guy. Not because franchises are evil, but because it's just a more pleasant working relationship, in my experience.

Renovations nearly always have stuff that's unexpected, and I find that local companies/independent contractors can handle curveballs without having to, say, re-work the entire price structure according to the corporation's template.
posted by desuetude at 7:19 AM on May 5, 2010

My biggest concern with the local person is that this job is a painting job with some carpentry, not a carpentry job with some painting.

the thing about painting is that the quality of the job is in the prep work. a 200 year old house with rot and siding that hasn't been maintained sounds like it's probably a carpentry project as much as a paint project, but i don't know and the contractors won't really know until they start getting at things.

But, that's contracting.

But, what I really wanted to talk about is lead paint. Your house is a toxic waste dump, it's just the dump is concentrated on the sidings and trim of your house. Bad practices will transfer that toxic waste to your lawn, the inside your of house and ultimately the blood and bones of you, your family and pets.

Actually, the local contractor should already have told you all this when he explained what he was going to do...
posted by ennui.bz at 8:05 AM on May 5, 2010

Has the local guy done a similar project before? Were the homeowners satisfied with the results? If so, I'd go with the local guy.
posted by jeanmari at 8:28 AM on May 5, 2010

Even your post makes it sound like you think the local guy is the right one.

For historic renovations (and believe me, I know all about that), you really want someone who knows what they're doing, even for the small jobs. It makes a serious difference down the road. Even if this is mostly painting now you have a house that undoubtedly will need more carpentry work in the future, and it would be great to develop a relationship now with a guy who can come to view the house the way a good GP views a patient. "I remember back in '10 when we worked on that eave...."
posted by dhartung at 2:02 PM on May 5, 2010

Ennui, the lead paint handling laws in my state just changed last month, and now anyone who handles anything with old lead paint on it has to follow a specific protocol. This complicated my bidding process greatly, because a lot of painting companies were so freaked out by the increased liability that they didn't want to go anywhere near the job. Our state (Maine) has the oldest housing stock in the country, so houses with old lead paint are actually a big chunk of the market.

The national company guy had already been certified before the law took effect, and said he felt very strongly that it was a good law and he would never consider cutting corners on the precautions required.Of everyone I spoke to, he was first to show me the new paperwork that everyone is required to sign, and to explain the rules. It's very clear he knows his stuff.

The local guy, when I first talked to him, told me he couldn't even do an estimate until he went to the training on the new regulations. I expected never to hear from him again, but he called me back after he was done and followed through with the estimate, which impressed me. All the feedback here has made me feel more confident in choosing him for the job.

So far I've spoken to two references and they've both been quite enthusiastic.
posted by mneekadon at 7:22 AM on May 6, 2010

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