Being in the business for 25+ years I have had the privilege of working with thousands of clients. Although they all came from different circumstances and backgrounds they all had one common goal in mind. Every one of them wanted to be respected, receive top value for their money, and get the best possible paint job for their most prized possession, their house!
Prep. For new work the painter accepts the finish done by the drywall or plaster and once he accepts the work and starts painting he owns any wall repairs. Existing work is a different thing. I take a high intensity light and circle the kinds of defects with chalk so we are all in agreement before they start. Sometimes this results in a higher price and we have to compromise on how much to do...
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.
Some contractors work on time and material others on a firm contract. I would never hire the former and am leary of the latter. A contractor may low-ball a bid to get the job planning to make a killing on change orders. If you say good morning to them, they charge you extra for that. If the contract is not very, very specific and extensively fleshed out or if they display their change order schedule prominently on top, show them the door.
Interesting information! We just got scammed in White Stone, Virginia... we chose the same color, but went from a flat to an eggshell finish. I wasn't available to stand over the painter while he painted. For such a detailed job, I marveled at how quickly he finished the project! After he was paid for the job, we discovered all he did was roll paint across the walls and close to the crown, baseboards and detailed trim around windows and doors leaving about an inch or so of the flat finish. By using the same color, he didn't even do the job he was paid to do, which explained why he could finish the job so quickly. By using the same color... he got lucky and passed it off as a completed job not bothering to paint to and cut in around the trim. Upon further evaluation of our walls we could see exactly where he stopped because we could see the difference between the flat and eggshell finishes. There are walls he didn't even bother to paint. Then where he did paint near the crown when we were in the room watching ... he hit the crown moulding and tried to tell us it was already there... and tried to sell us on painting the crown moulding. I am so disgusted and upset!! He'll be hearing from us to rectify the situation.
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Consider purchasing supplies personally to save money. Ask the painter for a bid that separates labor and materials. Then explain that you'll purchase the materials and ask for a list of exactly what will be needed to complete the job. Caulking, for example, is an extra supply commonly used to fill any cracks or damaged areas in your walls -- and one that might be overlooked in an incomplete list.
Payment. Every client is different. Every job has it's own unique set of circumstances. I always start off the discussion with my clients saying that I'm flexible on how they would like to proceed with payments but that I prefer half down. I refuse to change order. Change orders are my last resort. Instead I ask questions at our initial meeting and try to be sure to cover all bases before I submit my estimate.
Oh, where to begin? Let me start with 'watered down paint'. 25-50% before the material gets to the site? Impossible. You would basically be painting with water at that point. It would be less of a hassle, and cost, to simply use proper material. You would be forced to apply three coats instead of two, as the coverage would be horrible. Whatever cost you think might be saved in materials would be lost in labor.