This article was posted on Saturday, Dec 01, 2018

The powerful elements: wind, sun and rain attack all buildings. It’s an investor’s job to protect their investments by preserving them. One way to do this is to apply protective coatings regularly.

The First Step – Finding Contractors

How do you find the right contractor? One of the best ways is by word of mouth. Going to the local paint store and asking for recommendations is also another good method. It’s important to take time to speak with references contractors provide and if possible, to go out and physically look at the job that was completed. If it’s done recently, take note of how the landscaping looks around the work-areas. Let’s face it, people often forgo the due diligence and instead just look for the lowest bid to get the job done. Many of us have learned the hard way about the real costs associated with picking the lowest bid. [Editor’s Note:  Support our AOA advertisers!  Call our referral hotline at (800) 827-4262.]

Reviewing Bids

After confirming that the contractor is licensed, it’s important to correctly compare quotes. Making sure that the quotes have the same scope of work as one another is the only way to complete a true comparison. Some items that are important to discuss and written down in the contract:

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  • What areas will be worked on?
  • How many coats of paint will be applied?
  • Are they applying by brush, roller or sprayer?
  • Is the job going to be subbed out or completed with their own crew?
  • How long will it take to complete the job?
  • What quality and sheen of paint is being used?
  • What type of warranty is offered?

Underlying Issues

Another important point to consider is the underlying cause of the current paint failure. Did it wear down naturally over time? Is it delaminating or chipping? Was the surface prepped appropriately? Are there visible moisture or mildew issues? Is the substrate soft to the touch (potential rot issues)? Was the correct type of product applied for the specific substrate/use? Discussing these topics with the contractor can help make sure the right things are being done to address the underlying issues. This will help to make sure the current job last as long as possible.


Preparation is often overlooked due to the initial costs associated with doing the job correctly. After identifying the underlying issues, it’s important to make sure the scope of work has the steps that will be taken to prepare all surfaces for the project. Some common items that should be addressed:

  • What type of protection and containment will be used?
  • Will there be pressure washing, soft washing, hand washing? (or no washing at all)
  • What drying protocols will be followed? (lower than a 15% moisture reading)
  • What type of sanding or scraping (along with appropriate containment) will be used?
  • Will they be using tarps, tape, paper, and/or plastic?
  • If it’s warm or sunny, what about the plants or grass underneath plastic?
  • Will lead paint procedures be needed?
  • What areas will be caulked and what type of caulking will be used?
  • What will be primed and will it be primed before or after the caulking?
  • Other than caulking, will any fillers or patching material be used?
  • Are there too many coats of paint on a surface and is striping down to bare needed?

*Pro-Tip: It’s also important to note the clean-up procedures and how often they will occur.

Correct preparation is the key to a successful paint job.  Skimp on the prep and your paint job will not turn out as nice or last as long as it should. Trying to save money by using the cheapest materials is penny wise and pound foolish. Project timing is also important to consider. If you wait too long to paint your property, it could cost much more in preparation and/or repairs to the substrate.

Product Selection

Product selection can drastically change the longevity of the project. When considering the aesthetic goals of the project, it’s also important to factor in the owners five year goals and financial ability as different products have different average lifespans. There are generally two options to consider when deciding on exterior painting projects. To paint or to stain: that is the question!

Painting Options

There are four main types of paint: water-based (latex); oil-based (alkyd); hybrid and elastomeric. With the improvements in paint technology over the past 10 years, it’s now generally best to use a water-based product on most surfaces. Depending on the surface along with exposure to the elements, paint will generally last between five and 15 years before needing maintenance. Painting generally requires the highest amount of prep between projects. When painting over an existing paint job, it’s important to consider: adhesion; flexibility; breathability; sheen; surface tension and color. Latex paint is more flexible than alkyd paints and won’t become brittle or oxidize over time. When painting over an alkyd with a latex, it might not properly adhere. The correct preparation steps can help ensure proper adhesion. If there are too many coats of paint on a surface, the next coat of paint might be the tipping point that limits breathability and cause the paint to start bubbling. When using specialty, high-end paints on a project that has previously been painted multiple times, sometimes the surface tension that is created during the drying process can cause the base-layers to start delaminating. When choosing colors, it’s very important to keep surface temperatures in mind. Substrate surface temperatures on dark vs. light colors can vary by roughly 35% when in direct sunlight and will reduce the lifespan of the paint. For a project that’s focused on longevity, it’s best to choose lighter or earth-tone colors. Areas that are regularly exposed to direct sunlight can last roughly twice as long when painted with light colors vs. dark colors.

Staining Options

If showcasing the natural woodgrain is important, it’s best to go with a transparent stain. If the raw wood is new, it’s important to test to ensure there is not a mil-glaze on the surface and that the selected product will penetrate into the substrate. Preserving siding/fencing/decking/beams using transparent stains should be completed every one to two years for the first couple of years. Depending on how the stain is holding up, after the initial successive coats, the time between applications can be adjusted out longer as needed. Transparent stains generally last one to two years. The goal of a transparent stain is to absorb UV and other damage caused from the elements and wear away instead of the wood wearing away. This requires very little prep between coats other than washing.

To get a slightly longer project lifespan, going with a semi-transparent stain is another option which generally lasts two to four years. The downside is that will not showcase the natural wood-grain as much as a transparent finish. Also, depending on the solids content, it may require scraping or sanding between coats.

To maximize the lifespan of the staining project, going with a solid-body stain will generally last between four to eight years. This generally won’t last as long as painting will, but it allows better breathability and shows off more woodgrain compared with paint. This will generally require scraping or sanding between coats which can add significant cost to the preparation portion of future projects.

*Pro-Tip: Staining the under-sides of decks (if accessible) increases the lifespan of the project.

Final Thoughts

Remember that like materials, its penny wise and pound foolish to go with the cheapest paint or stain. Materials costs are often only 20% of the overall project cost. Going from the cheapest to the mid-grade or best products should increase is overall cost by 10% – and it’s worth every penny! What if I told you that the project lifespan could increase by five years for a 10% increase in overall cost, what would you do? Hopefully, the answer is clear. The cost of taking care of our properties is a challenge. As a successful real estate investor, we should all plan on saving adequate funds for regular painting and repairs of the investment. Not only does regular maintenance maintain the value of your property, it also increases resident satisfaction and marketability to prospective tenants. Remember to work with a vendor that is knowledgeable and willing to do a thorough job. You’ll be glad you did!

Doug Moe is the Residential Portfolio Manager of Bluestone & Hockley Real Estate Services, greater Portland’s full service real estate brokerage and property management company.  Bluestone & Hockley Real Estate Services is an Accredited Management Organization (AMO) by the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM).