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Why Is This Painting Estimate So High?

By Heather Higgins, ASID, NYCID

There are painters and then …there are painters. Although you may have painted a room or two, most of us don’t have the time, energy and skills to do a professional job. However, it can be difficult to choose the right painting contractor for your project, even with a personal reference. Half the battle is knowing the right questions to ask. Following are some simple guidelines, to help you appreciate why one estimate may be significantly different in price from another:

Scope of Work

Each contractor must quote on the same work. To facilitate this, prepare a simple list of the work required, identifying:

Spaces to be painted

• Paint color and finish to be used for walls, ceiling, trim and doors

Switch plate and outlet covers to be removed, cleaned and replaced

• Furniture, fixtures and floors to be protected

• Furniture to be moved

• Stipulations of your building’s alteration agreement, if applicable


Pricing should be in writing; clearly outlining what is and is not included. Additional preparation work, like skim coating to smooth out the surface of bumpy walls, repairing a bad taping job or damaged areas, can add significant cost. However, when it is required, it is crucial in creating a satisfactory end result.

Verify the details of work to be done for each area, including:

Surface Preparation

• Priming (type and brand)

• Finish Coats (type of paint, finish, brand, colors and number of coats)

Paint Quality

Request top quality products. Benjamin Moore, Pratt and Lambert and Ralph Lauren are usually some fairly solid, dependable brands that won’t break the bank. The investment will pay off, because fewer coats will be required, which means paint can be applied more quickly. Additionally, paint will last longer, therefore costing less over the lifetime of the job.


Confirm the type and amount of the contractor’s insurance and that it conforms to the terms of your building’s alteration agreement, if applicable.


Ascertain how soon work will begin, when the project will be completed and how many painters will be working on your project.

Hidden Costs

Sometimes there are items not specifically spelled out that may add to the price of the job. For example, if your building or apartment is not easily accessible or parking is difficult and expensive or building staff seek compensation.


Ask for names of previous clients and contact them to get their recommendation. Inquire about the quality of the work and their experience.

At the end of the day, there are many good painters out there. Knowing the questions to ask and deciding the kind of paint job required for your project are half the challenge of connecting with the right professional. With this in mind, we hope that you can go forth confidently and – in the wave of a brush and roller – magically transform your space with the power of paint!

Heather Higgins is the principal in Higgins Design Studio, LLC

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