How Painters Cheat

How Some Interior Painters Cheat

There’s a big difference between interior painters who are efficient in doing the job and those who just want to cut corners.

This is a list of the common scams, short cuts, runarounds and price gouging that occurs with some painters.

Wall repairs

This is an area that painters can easily cut short to save time. Most contracts don’t state the extent of the wall repairs included, so it’s up to the painter’s discretion how much they will do. If it seems like too much work, they’ll usually point out the repairs but don’t include it in the bid. They’ll then ask you if you’d like it fixed after they start your project and let you know how much more it will cost.

Paint pricing

Paint gets more expensive as you go from flat to gloss. The difference is usually around $1 per gallon per sheen upgrade. Flat is the cheapest, then matte flat or eggshell, satin, semigloss then gloss. Paint also gets much more expensive the darker it gets. A white or neutral paint color can be as much as $20 less expensive than a deep base red or blue.

Here is where this affects you as a consumer. You select a painter with a contract that says 2 coats, $500 down. You give the company the deposit and pick your colors a couple of days before the project starts. The painter goes to the store with your colors and figures out they are deep base. He (or she) not only needs to charge you more for the paint, but he also needs to charge you for a dark gray primer coat. Ninety nine percent of the time that primer coat is going to be really, really expensive since you already gave a deposit.

Pick your colors and sheen finishes with the contractor before you sign or put a deposit down on a contract. Be sure your finishes and colors are on the contract prior to signing.

Coverage issues

Most of the time you can look at the condition of a wall and its color and tell if the new color will cover in two coats, but sometimes you can be surprised. If your contractor is almost finished with a project and realizes that your walls need another coat and it’s not on the contract, it will be a very expensive third coat.

Make sure you specify with your contractor on the original proposal the exact pricing of additional coats.

Number of coats

Some proposals simply say to paint the walls and ceiling and never specify the number of coats to be applied. If the colors are similar enough, it’s possible to get away with one coat of paint and not discount your pricing. No matter how hard you try, tiny, pin-sized air holes will pop exposing the original walls. This may not bother you if you can’t notice it, but principally speaking you should have paid your painter less for the work.

Get a detailed proposal specifying the number of coats to be applied.

Material scams

Watch out for these common cheats that disreputable painters use on homeowners.

• Bait and switch. The company sells the project with premium paint and they charge you full price. They purchase either a one- or five-gallon bucket of the good stuff and the rest in the cheapest stuff they can find. They mix or box the cheap paint in with the expensive paint and only let you see the expensive paint cans.

• Watered down. The paint is mixed with 25 to 50 percent water before it’s brought into your home. When you mix paint with water, it more than doubles its coverage but makes it very vulnerable to chipping, peeling and cracking. This is hard to catch unless you’re paying close attention.

Keep an eye on the new cans as they’re being brought in. Make sure they look new and don’t have paint in the rim of the can. If it’s a five-gallon bucket, check to see whether the lid is still sealed on with the plastic strip. The only time it’s acceptable to mix water in the paint is when you’re using a deep or ultra deep base paint to reduce its stickiness, which is rare with new paint technology. Dark primary colors are composed almost entirely of tint that makes it very hard to work with without adding water.


A typical paint contract will read “2 coats, flat, $500 down.” This is where most people get taken advantage of. They won’t mention the kind of paint they’ll use, drywall damage, caulk, corner beads, tape seams, flooring, furniture, change orders, deglossing of semigloss paint and so on. They don’t want to put those things on the bid unless you specifically ask them to because it costs them more money. They want to give you a low-ball bid to get the project and then when you ask them to fix the hole in the wall from the door knob, it’s a $200 charge.