How much does quality painting and wood finishing work cost? The short answer is: just as everything else – more than most of us want to pay. But, like just about everything else, you can pay less – sometimes much less. And, of course, along with everything else we purchase, there are trade-offs to saving money. The trick with painting and wood finishing projects is to understand what the trade-offs are and evaluate which trade-offs make sense to you, and which do not.

Let’s start with painting; painting is the one building trade that just about every adult human being on the planet has done, some. It, therefore, is comfortably within the reach of all of the able-bodied.

So, how much it costs to paint a bedroom, or a homes’ exterior depends a lot on the factors; which are obvious: prep levels, rot, staining, stability of existing coats, current color, desired color, how fast it has to be done, what season you’re in (on or off-peak) weather conditions, geometry of house or contents of room, etc.

What isn’t so obvious are things like this: are the workers paint craftsmen or general labor do-it-all types, will I be happy with the visual results of the work, will I be happy with the experience of having these people around or in my house,how will it last, how long do they stand behind the work, how long have they been in business, how long will they be, do they have a “real job” that they go to? Even less obvious: do they pay their insurance premiums, unemployment for their workers, taxes, social security and Medicare contributions, are they a real company or a subcontractor brokerage?

It may appear as though I’m stacking the deck, but I’m not. Let me demonstrate by asking another question: how much does a car cost? Immediately, everyone knows the myriad factors that go into the cost of a car – experience tells us we can buy a running car for a few hundred bucks, or spend as much as a small house costs; the basics remain the same: tires, steering wheel, doors (maybe). It’s the differences that count, and there are hundreds of them, maybe thousands.We know them because we remember our first car, and how proud we were, and how it was such a beater! But we were happy with it because we knew what the trade-offs were, were comfortable with lowered expectations and what we could afford. And we’ve bought many cars since then, often with mixed results.

In this way, painting projects are just like cars, you can spend a little or a lot. The goal is to be happy with the work and the experience, when it’s done. And that’s the rub; you don’t get to see it until it’s done. With the car, you get to see and drive it, with the paint job, you don’t. The solution therefore, is to ask questions and do your research before you sign a contract and give a deposit.

Ok, how about a range? Square foot pricing ballpark range; for this example let’s use a 10 X 12 bedroom, walls (300 sq/ft) and ceilings (170 sq/ft); cost can range from $200 to $600, depending on physical factors and who is doing the work. That’s a variance of 300%, and if you look long enough you may even expand on that. Exteriors: same broad expansive range will be found. There’s just too much detail to be accounted for, or ignored, to have a standardized pricing matrix.

Wood finishing projects also are typically found to be in the 300% variance range, the difference is that you’ll find fewer bidders who will even do the work – having tried it and found fraught with risk (when things go wrong they are much more difficult to fix) and hard to estimate; if you’re lucky and get an honest one. If you’re unlucky, you’ll get someone who will give it the old college try; in their cartoon bubble the words “what could go wrong” would be visible (if you could see their cartoon bubble).The main problem with wood finishing and refinishing is that it looks and seems so simple to do: just touch up the bare spots and put another coat on and viola, you have…a disaster. Unlike solid films (paint), clear coats show everything underneath – everything that everyone else who owned the house before you, and all the attempts by them or those they hired to give it a shot…are visible. Cabinetry, millwork built-ins, trim, windows, staircases and front doors; these aren’t pedestrian, or even skilled worker projects – they’re on the highest shelf in the finishers’ realm.

Thinking about how much quality painting and wood finishing work should cost ought to be an exercise, not a quick reaction or emotional buy. And, just like anything else we consume, from tacos to toothpaste, has real trade-offs to consider before deciding. Knowing what those are makes us responsible, informed and wiser consumers.

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