How to Properly Remove Wallpaper

How to Properly Remove Wallpaper

As a kid, I can remember my parents hiring a painting contractor team for our new house.  They did everything, and one of the things they did for my parents was to hang rolls and rolls of wallpaper.  There was a big patterned wallpaper in the entryway (which helped to hide a hole I later created as a teenager), a grass cloth in the family room (which I later painted over), a small print in the powder bathroom, and many other patterns throughout the house.  So, when I think of wallpaper, I think of the 80’s.  Lots of browns and flowers.  Maybe you also have visions of wallpaper from the 80’s.

Parker painting contractor

Different methods to remove wallpaper.

As a paint contractor, I have learned how to remove wallpaper the hard way…by trying every way under the sun.  While Walls by Design strictly focuses on painting and no longer removes wallpaper, there are lots of techniques that I have tried and heard of, and I would like to share my comments and experience on a few of them with you.wallpaper removal

The Paper Tiger.  You may have seen this.  It looks like an oversized computer mouse that you roll over the wallpaper, and it creates a scoring pattern in the paper.  The thought behind this tool is that it helps to penetrate the wallpaper’s top layer, which allows water to get into the paper, to release the glue.  The problem with this method is that I found that it damages the drywall too much.  There is a balance between getting aggressive with removing the wallpaper and leaving the drywall intact.  It is very difficult to avoid drywall damage with any of the methods, but it has been my experience that the Paper Tiger causes a bit too much damage when trying to remove wallpaper.

Dif: wallpaper removalWallpaper remover solution.  There are different brands that make solutions that are supposed to break down the glue and make it easier to remove the paper from the wall.  One I have used in the past is called Dif.  I have always found this method to be too tedious and not very effective.  If you want to use something, I would suggest trying liquid fabric swallpaper removaloftener.  I have heard this provides very similar results.

Wallpaper steamer.  This is the tool I have found to have the best and most consistent results. Wallpaper steamers are not expensive, and if you have a lot to remove, you might considering renting a commercial grade steamer, as most local rental stores will rent them for $20 – $40 per day.  A lightweight residential version by Wagner can be purchased at Walmart for about $50.  These have worked well for us in the past, but can crap out after a dozen projects or so.

I like using a wallpaper steamer because it is predictable.  It does take patience, and can still damage the wallboard, but once you get a feel for it, it is easy to work…boring, but easy.  Wallpaper removal is not rocket science, and I think most people just get impatient with it.  What makes it hard is working on large walls or above your head. Wrestling with the machine hoses can also be frustrating.  Tight spaces between trim or walls and cabinets can be difficult as well, but usually, wallpaper installed in these areas do not receive as much glue, and can usually be removed without too much problem.

After the wallpaper is removed.

Once you are successful at removing all the wallpaper from the walls, you still wallpaper removalneed to deal with the residual glue.  You can do one of two things:

  • You can keep washing or steaming the walls, and try to scrape all the wallpaper glue off. This is usually a ridiculously laborious task, one that I would avoid like the plague.
  • The better option is to seal the glue in. Because the glue is typically water based, it would reactivate if you seal it with a water-based product.  My recommendation is to seal the walls with an oil based primer like Alkyd Fresh Start by Benjamin Moore.  This will seal the glue in and provide a good solid foundation for whatever you need to do from here.

Problems that will occur if you DO NOT seal or remove all the glue.

A friend of mine who lives on the east coast emailed me a few weeks ago with a question.  She wanted to know why her walls were bubbling in places after they had removed wallpaper.  To which I told her she needed to seal her walls.  What most people do after wallpaper removal is repair any drywall damage.  Drywall compound is also water-based and will reactivate the glue.  This causes the bubbles.  I once walked onto a project where a drywall contractor had skimmed most of the house after removing wallpaper.  Bubbles were created throughout the entire house.  I had to tell the homeowner the best way to proceed was to oil prime the walls, then fix any of the bubbles.  A costly mistake.  Once the oil prime and drywall repair are done, a latex drywall primer can be used, and then a finish coat or coats can be applied.

So to recap, here are the proper steps for wallpaper removal:

  • Remove the wallpaper.
  • Clean off all the glue OR seal with an oil-based primer.
  • Repair drywall damage.
  • Prime new drywall with a drywall primer.
  • Top coat.

With anything, people will try to skip steps and cut corners…that is where problems occur.  Can you remove wallpaper, get lucky and skip to painting with no problems?  Sure, I bet, 1 out of 10 times you try it, you will escape with no problems, but it is usually because the glue that was used was either very lightly applied, or the project is so old that a different kind of glue was used.  In that case though, there are other problems that can occur.

Removing wallpaper can be a huge task.  When we did it, we always gave an estimated range of the cost but never could give an exact number.  The reason is, we never knew how easy it would be to remove.  I have had wallpaper tear down in big sheets in minutes, and I have spent hours on just one wall.  You can never know how it will go.  Everyone always says:  “I think they did a really good job during installation, so it should come down easy.”  Well, we will see.  And even if one wall comes down easy, it does not mean all the wallpaper removal will go easy.  I once worked in a dining room that started great – sheets were coming down with ease.  Then we hit the second wall, and they installed the wallpaper right over raw drywall and we spent 4 hours on a 6 ft. wall.  So, you never know.


Denver painter

How this Denver Painter built Systems to be a Better Painter

How this Denver Painter built systems to be a better painter

In our industry, the barrier to entry is pretty small.  I recently wrote a blog post on titled: Are all Denver Painters Idiots?  Now, I know that may be offensive to some, but in reality that is the perception that most people hold about our profession.  To be a Denver painter is a difficult business, and to grow into something larger than just one guy, a truck and a few helpers/painters, you need to have systems.

Denver painters


Getting started.

I started my Denver painting business like many…in college.  I first worked for a company that “hired” all college students, and “taught” us to paint, sell, manage, and market all in one week.  And of course, since I was 18 years old, I was naive enough to believe that I could be successful, and that was plenty of training.  Working my way through college, I made good money, but I was simply flying by the seat of my pants.  Through it all, my dad would tell me, “Now Nick, remember…you are going to school so you don’t have to paint for the rest of your life.”  Well, 26 years later, boy have I shown him!

I did get out of painting for about four years.  After getting my degree in marketing, and working for a few different companies, I realized that I was pretty unhappy working for other people. In 1999, I started my Denver painting business.  But this time, I wasn’t going to be un business just for 4 months in the summer…this time it was for real.  Up until this point, I had only really known how to paint exteriors.  I had done a few interior jobs, but boy, did those not go well.  So, I knew the best thing I could do was to hire someone that had interior painting experience.  From there, I just kept hiring people.  Today as a Denver painter, I have a staff of  17 painters, two office gals, two sales/project managers, and two logistics guys (one is very part-time), and me, the CMO, or Chief Marketing Officer.  A lot has happened in the last 17 years, but it all changed when I started to build systems for my paint contracting business.

I believe what separates the mediocre Denver painting contractors from the truly exceptional ones is systems.  Any Denver painter can have the skills it takes to paint a room…we are not talking brain surgery here.  To deliver on a promise of showing up, and getting the job done day in and day out, takes systems.  If a painter is reliant on just himself, or maybe him and one other really good guy, the system will break down.  He will over promise, get sick, or his back-up will let him down.

How we created Systems.walls-by-design-denver-painter

About five years ago, my wife and I were up in Breckenridge, CO for the weekend with friends.  One of the evenings, we were playing cards, and our friend Jaime told us she wanted to start a business building systems for small companies.  She had a background (when she was younger) working on logistics and systems for a large company, and thought there might be a need with smaller companies.  I jumped on it, and said, “Well, you can start with me!”  I had read Michael Gerber’s book The E-Myth TWELVE times, and still could not figure out how to do it myself.  We had even written an employee manual, and had attempted writing down systems SO many times.  But you know how it is, you have to RUN the business. Who has time to write about the business?  Well, today, I have time, but we will get to that.

The process took us about 8 months.  We would meet regularly, but the great part was Jaime documenting our processes from an outsider’s perspective.  She would sit with me, sit with my painters, my office staff, AND she even met with some of our customers.  She did not just want to get my ideas on how things should be done, but how things were BEING done in the field, AND how is all of that impacting the customer.  She helped me identify not only the things that were not working in my painting business, but also helped me see things and problems that I wasn’t even aware of.  To this day, we still try to identify problems and document any new changes to our procedures.  At first, it is  a bit daunting, but once you start down the road, see some of the affects, and get control of your painting business, you soon realize (or at least I did), how valuable these systems are.

Jaime mainly helped us document and systematize our production procedures, but once she showed us how, we were able to document and record our systems for most of the areas in my Denver painting business.  Here are some of the areas you will need to consider:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Project management
  • Production
  • Office/admin tasks
  • Hiring
  • Communication

How has this changed my Denver painting business?

From a business owner’s perspective, it has changed everything.  My wife and I were able to take two weeks off last summer to go to Italy (and my project manager at the time had just quit).  I took three vacations this summer for a total of four weeks (and we had the biggest sales month ever in August), we have doubled in size this year, and will have our biggest sales and production year in company history, and personally, I get to focus on what I love to do…and be out of some of the day to day business management tasks that I dislike.

You might be wondering, why does this matter to me, the homeowner? All I care about is you do a great job painting my house.  But I want to assure you, it has everything to do with why you should choose Walls by Design to be your Denver painter, and why you should not settle.

Setting an Appointment

Every homeowner knows what it is like to get bids from a Denver painter or any other contractor.  I am experiencing it right now for a patio.  You first search around for who to call, and then you have to make the calls.  If you are anything like me, I just cringe when I have to start this process, because I know I will be waiting a long time on most of the steps in the process.

Once you start making phone calls, you have to wait to talk to someone.  On my first contractor, I called and waited three days to get a call back, and I sent an email through his website as well.  Granted, I did call on a Friday, but it felt like eternity.  It would have been nice to at least get an email letting me that they would get back to me.

On the Phone.Denver painter answering phones

In our Denver painting business, we have a system for answering the phones.  We have two gals in the office to answer the phones.  So most calls get answered, but if they do go into voice mail, a call back happens usually within a few hours, if not a few minutes.  If a request comes through our email or through Facebook, we have an automated system that responds to each homeowner.  My staff also watches the emails that come in as well, and we personally respond to all calls and emails that come in late on Friday and on Saturday, letting homeowners know that we are thankful they reached out to us, and that someone will call them to set up an appointment on Monday.

In addition to all of this, we also have a backup answering service that answers our phones from 4 to 6 pm each night so homeowners have a live person to talk to.  In the near future, we will also be offering an online appointment option.  We find that more and more of our customers are busy and hard to connect with directly on the phone, so allowing people to book their own appointment times will really expedite the process for some people.  I truly believe to offer good customer service, a Denver painting contractor needs to listen to their customers, and sometimes, that means watching behaviors and reacting to what might best serve all parties involved.

Awkward Estimates.

Once you have finally gotten an appointment with your Denver painter, now you are hopeful that they just show up.  In my instance, all of the three contractors I set appointments with did show up, two were right on time, and one was late.  I have heard from customers that Denver painters are often times either way too early, or routinely late. Being early for an estimate is great, but if you are an hour early, and do not call, I find that just rude.  What happens most of the time, however, is Denver painters showing up late.  Things happen, I understand that, and most homeowners do too, but all one needs to do is call, and the appropriate time to do this is 30 minutes or so prior to the appointment, when you know you are going to be late.

Once the Denver painter is there, how does he or she show up?  Are they covered in paint, or do they smell like they just got out of a smoke filled bar?  Many times when I show up to an estimate for a new home purchase, I will find myself estimating the house right alongside of another Denver painter or two, and most of the time, they look as though they literally just came off a ladder.  Not only is this uncomfortable for the homeowner, but it communicates that they are the chief cook, bottle washer, and sales guy.

Another interesting dynamic that I see often is the tag team sales appointment.  Not sure what else to call it, but you may have experienced this in the past.  You are expecting to meet with one person to come and give you an estimate, and when you open the door, there is Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb.  I’m sorry, but I have always found this to be the most ridiculous thing ever.  Two guys show up, usually one super big guy, and one super skinny guy.   Typically, only one of them talks to you, but neither one really knows what they are doing.  They may know how to paint, but they often times, completely disorganized and just trying to score their next paycheck.  If you don’t believe me, the next time you run into this, make sure to walk them out to their truck on the way out.  I would put money that the dash board is full of receipts, and trash, the floorboards and back seat are littered with tools, empty food wrappers, and trash.  Run from this contractor like the wind, especially when they offer you the “cash discount” which inevitably comes.

First impressions.

When it comes to sales, a system that helps gather information and solve problems is the only way to start a relationship.  At Walls by Design, we teach our estimators a process that not only shows our customers that we respect their time, but we do our best to gather all the appropriate information on the front end which builds trust. First of all, our office staff will confirm each appointment the day prior to any estimate to make sure schedules are still in sync.  Next, we teach our guys to arrive early to every appointment and to wait down the street until about 10 min prior to the appointment.  Then, and only then, is it appropriate to ring the bell.

On opening the door, you will see an appropriately dressed estimator with a logoed Walls by Design shirt and an iPad.  We use technology as often as we can to ensure accuracy and to speed up the estimating process.  Our team member will ask you about what you are considering for your project, and they will make suggestions and help find solutions to any problems.  We believe highly in educating customers not only on “what” to do, but also “why” something should be done a certain way.

As for our estimators, they are not just sales guys, they also project manage their own projects.  We found out the hard way that homeowners appreciate dealing with one person from start to finish on their projects.  When we handed a homeowner off from the sales rep to a completely different project manager once we had built a trust with someone made things hard.  Once we shifted to our current system, we found that our customers were consistently happier and more confident in us as an organization.

The Estimate.

Waiting for an estimate to arrive can be frustrating.  For my patio project, I received the first estimate a week and a half later, after I had to follow up with the contractor.  One estimate was returned within a day, just as planned.  I am still waiting on the last estimate more than two weeks later.  Who do you think I am more inclined to sign with?

I understand that with a deck project there are a lot of different factors that go into an estimate.  What baffles me is how it could possibly take a Denver painter 3 days or a week to return a paint estimate.  Painting is primarily straight forward.  I once worked on an estimate for a 30,000 square foot project.  It did take me several weeks to put that bid together, but I put together a whole packet of information on each room, a spreadsheet that broke all areas out, and had to consult with three different people for the estimate.  But this is not typical.

For most Denver painters, I believe estimating is an afterthought, and there is no rhyme or reason to how they put together their estimates on a consistent basis.  The biggest factors being how busy are they, and what part of town is the customer. As to why it takes so long…it comes down to organization.  They have too many things on their plate, and sitting down on a computer at the end of the day is the last thing they want to do.  I believe most contractors in this scenario would be better off hand-writing their painting estimates, and leaving them with the homeowner on the spot.  But often times they do not have time to do this.  They only allocate 15 min to walk each project, as they either have to get back to their current project or they have too many fires to put out.

Estimating different.

I understand as a homeowner, if you have called looking for an estimate on something, you are ready to buy.  Maybe not all the time, but at least 75% of the time.  Sometimes you just don’t know if you can afford a certain service.  I know I have been there.  I had no idea how expensive a porch and patio cover would be.  I know now that stamped concrete runs about $15/sq. foot, and a covered 14’ X 14’ roof is about $8000.  I learned a lot about the process, but I had to ask questions, and gather information.  You as a homeowner are in the same situation when you bring Denver painters out to your house.  You have no idea what it takes to paint the walls in your 18’ X 20’ family room with vaulted ceilings, or how much it costs to paint your kitchen cabinets.

Because we have set questions to ask when we arrive at your home, we will help flesh out a lot of issues most homeowners never think to ask.  Where will we clean equipment?  Will we be the only contractors in your home when we come to paint?  What will you do with the dog while we are painting? What bathroom would you like us to use?  All great questions that most homeowners never think about and most painting contractors never ask…even after you have signed a contract.

Next, because our estimators use an iPad to collect project details, we are able to return all estimates back within 24 hours, but usually within the same day.  Most homeowners are shocked actually, but it makes sense.  When the project is fresh in our mind, we can give a much better estimate of what it will take to complete a project; items are not missed and pertinent details are included.  To be honest, most estimates only take us about 10 minutes to type up once we have met with a homeowner, so it only makes sense to send it to you as soon as possible.  And because we have a system for estimating we can follow through on this on a consistent basis.

Follow up is Key.

Unfortunately, most contractors will never call you or follow up with you, unless you have called at a time when they have no work; in which case you will most likely hear from them daily.  At Walls by Design, we have a system for follow up.  After your estimate has been sent out, our office will call you to ensure that you have received your estimate.  It has been our experience that email addresses can get transposed, and spam folders are alive and working overtime.  We want to make sure you know we sent you your estimate, and if you have not, our office staff can re-send your proposal.  I cannot tell you how appreciative our customers have been for this over the years.

Moving Forward.

This might be where my knowledge of other Denver Painters weakens.  I am not privy to what happens next for most contractors.   I do know that many Denver painters, as well as painting contractors from across the country run their business with subcontractors.  The danger of this is that you are removed from knowing if the team you have on your project is covered for liability and workman’s compensation insurance.  Even if you receive proof of insurance from the Denver painter who give you a bid, it does not mean that the workers on your house are actually covered.  I am not an insurance guy nor am I a lawyer, but you may want to ask your insurance provider to find out what types of coverage you should see to insure that the company is properly insured.

Often times, Denver painters will promise a completion date, only to completely miss the deadline and to tie up a homeowner’s house for weeks.  These delays are usually caused by lack of staff or working on multiple projects at any given time.  To avoid this problem, it is best to put in a guaranteed completion date with a penalty for each day the project misses the deadline.  A $50 or $100 penalty is usually sufficient.  Allowing the painting contractor to set the completion date is fine.  You are not looking to speed them up on the front end, just guarantee the one or two week project does not go three or four weeks.

Systems difference.

Denver paint contractor - Walls by Design

At Walls by Design, we do several things to ensure that a project goes smoothly, and it all starts with our project review meeting.  We usually schedule these about three days to a week prior to the start date of the project.  Prior to this meeting, our homeowners work with our color designers to help select the colors for their project.  We find that most of our homeowners appreciate the assistance on color selection, not that they always need the help, but they comment that it is nice to have the reassurance from someone that works with color selection on a regular basis.

After the color selection is done, our homeowners meet with their project manager (also their estimator) to review the project scope, discuss the colors and where they go, and adjust any additions or subtractions that have occurred since the initial estimate appointment.  I believe that we have changes to our project about 70% of the time, and it is good to make sure we are all on the same page.

To ensure that all information is transferred to our team of painters, we have several checklists that spell out where things are to be cleaned, what room is to be started first, and where accent colors go.  To further ensure that all information is available to our teams, we have created a digital system that does not rely on papers that can get lost.  Again, we have found that technology, even for a Denver painter, can help create a better experience for homeowners.

As for scheduling and timeframes, we know that our teams of two can produce about $3000 worth of production in a week, and have found that a team of two is the most efficient way to execute on most painting projects.  More than two crews causes confusion in the average home.  We have a system for accountability, and unless forced out by other factors, our teams start and complete each project before going on to their next.

As for schedule guarantees, we have provided this on an as needed basis, but have always met the deadline.  We have a good track record of completing all projects on time, and we actually had an upset homeowner (only temporarily though) when we finished two days early on his project.  We try to stress that our guideline is an average ($600/day), as we have some painters that are faster than others. Our biggest focus is to make sure quality never suffers, and that we are not taking too long.

I will not go into our system for training our team in detail, but I will say we hire all our painters with little to no experience and teach them our system.  It is one of the biggest strategies that gives us a competitive advantage over any other Denver painter. Most painting contractors do not know how to train people, and thus always complain that their painters are idiots.  We start guys prepping, cleaning, and moving drop cloths, and let them prove to us that they want to learn, and that they are trainable.  We have built a system with four levels of prep painters, and four levels of lead painters, so we always know what each team member is capable of doing, and we set them up for success.  So know that if you have a new painter on your project, we will not let them do any task they are not capable of doing correctly.  It’s all about checks and balances.

Follow up after the project.

This may be the worst area where the average Denver painter fails. Once a paint contractor leaves your home, how will you get them to come back if you find something?  If the Denver painter you hired has only a few painters or helpers, they are most likely so focused on their next project, bids, or a million other things, and it will be next to impossible to get them to come back.  If you had a small project (under $2000), there should be little to no issues, especially if you were around to do a proper walk-thru prior to the team leaving.  If the Denver painter you hired hires sub-contractors, and is not present working on the project, wrapping up the project can be very difficult, as subs will have a tendency to run out as soon as possible.

Team focus.

When I started my Denver painting business, I never wanted to be a solo painter working by myself.  I knew there was power in building a team.  My last job I held in corporate America I had the opportunity to volunteer on a training team that was designed to help people in the company to understand their roll in the bigger organization, and I loved being a part of that. The larger we are, the easier it becomes to move, shift, and serve our painting customers.  Because we have over 9 teams of painters and two project managers, we are able to service our customers far better than the average Denver painter.  If we missed something on the walk through, our project manager can easily come back and take care of the issues.  If our customers move into a new home and the movers or carpet installers ding up the walls and trim, we can have a painter easily come back a week later to do a few touch-ups.

About 5 years ago, I realized that we had a few customers that would consistently ask us to come back to do touch-ups year after year. In response to this, we now offer a free touch-up program that allows a homeowner to schedule us year after year, to touch-up anything we have painted for them.  Our customers, especially our customers with small children really appreciate this service.  This along with our Lifetime Warranty truly helps differentiate our Denver painting business from other Denver painters.

The Value in Systems

With all that said, do you now see the difference between an average Denver painter and a painting business in Denver with systems?  I can explain it until I am blue in the face, but if you would like to SEE the difference, I recommend you grabbing a few estimates from some of the best paint contractors in Denver that I spoke about in a previous blog post, then call our office, and see for yourself.  We would love to show you, and not just tell you.

See you soon.



What should I budget for painting my house?

What should I budget for painting my house?

Today, I am answering probably the most common question I get as a paint contractor in Denver.  People usually don’t ask it this way, but ask, “How much will it cost me to paint my  XXXXX square foot house.  I get it ALL the time.  Lots of factors here, but it comes down to a few factors:

  • How big are the rooms?
  • How high are the ceilings?
  • What will we be painting…walls…ceilings…trim?
  • Is the house empty or do you live in it?
  • Are we changing colors, and how many coats are we applying?

Just like the answer to: How much does a four door sedan cost? There are lots of factors.

I can tell you that our average project is about a week, and our average job cost is about $3000 – $3500.

Budgeting is super important, and we can usually give you some ball-park numbers, but you have to know that they are just a starting point.  If you called my office and said, we have a 2500 square foot house, and we want to paint all the walls in the house (except for closets), and you lived in Highlands Ranch, CO, we may tell you to budget at least $3000, but the bid could still come in at $4000, or it could come in at $2500.  We still need to come look at the project to get an accurate price.  It is good to find out what the minimum cost would be, because if we said it would be at least $3000, and you max budget to paint was $2000, you might want to consider having us paint less of your house, or know that it is out of your budget.  As a homeowner, I totally understand.  I am pricing out a patio project right now.  I had first thought we could easily do it for around $12,000.00 but the numbers came back at around $20K.  So we are adjusting our project, and doing a little less.

If you are ready to get an estimate, please call our office, and we would love to help you figure out the budget for your painting project.

Denver Painters

Are All Denver Painters Idiots?

Are All Denver Painters Idiots?


The answer is no, not all Denver Painters are idiots, and I’m not the only one, but there are some! If you do a search for Denver Painters on Google, you get 578,000 results.  So there are a lot of Denver painters. When I am in a social situation, I am a little shy about answering the question: “So, what do you do?” The reason is…we (painters in general) have a bad reputation.  My hope with this post is to explain why that is and what are some things you can do to avoid hiring an idiot Denver painter.


Denver Painters

Why so many?

When I first announced to friends 18 years ago that I was going to start a painting business, I remember people shaking their heads in disbelief. One of my friend’s mom said, “Nick, there are so many paint contractors.  Why would you do that?”  I responded by telling her that I would be different than the “average” painter.  That we would treat people better, be neat and clean, and that we would stand out.  I really didn’t know HOW I would do that, I just knew that I could do it.  But, why are there so many painters?

  1. Barrier to entry is low. Just about anyone can start a painting business. All you need is a brush, a roller, and some drop cloths.  And some don’t even have all of that.  It does help to have a truck, but I have met many a Denver painter that did not even have a truck.  One of the guys that used to work for me in the early days drove a Geo Metro, and would strap a ladder to the top.  I guess whatever it takes.
  2. Basic skill. While most people know how to paint, few do it well, but that does not stop many Denver painting contractors.  I have painting contractor with a carto be very careful when I go into a home and see bad painting.  Sometimes it was previously painted by a homeowner and other times by a painting contractor.  I just never know. I feel better when it is a painting contractor, and I don’t talk bad about a homeowners painting ability.
  3. It’s a great fall back job. I was talking to a friend once that was looking to have a Denver painter paint her exterior (we do not paint outside), and she wanted advice on his 5-year warranty.  I asked her how long he had been in business, to which she replied, “Just about a month. He used to work at Qwest, but go laid-off.” To which I replied: “What do you think he will do when Qwest starts hiring again?”  This is my reality, when the economy gets bad, people get laid-off; I have MORE competition…but not really.
  4. I painted in college. Yes, I started painting in college, and so did about 25% of the male population in the United States.  The number of painting contractors in the months between May and September must double in size…every year!  But then they go away again.  That might be one of biggest reasons why we are always so busy in the fall months.  25% of my competition goes back to school.


Isn’t competition good?

Oh yes, I believe 100% in the free market and competition.  Denver paintersIt keeps prices down, customer service up, and the economy moving forward.  The problem isn’t competition, the problem is that many homeowners do not know how to spot a legitimate Denver painting contractor from an idiot that either can’t get a “real” job or that just got laid-off. I recently found myself at my family’s lake house in Northern Wisconsin, and they need to get the exterior painted, and thus were getting bids.  You would think in Northern Wisconsin, in the middle of nowhere, it would be easy to find someone that wants to make some money painting.  Well, I would have thought it too, but the reality is that there are not too many people hanging their shingle out to offer painting services, so the few bids that came in were pretty high…about what I would have expected here from a Denver painter.  So, competition is definitely good for the consumer.  Maybe I need to open an office in Northern Wisconsin?

But why are there so many idiots?

Have you heard the cliché: Common sense is not so common?  Well, that should explain it pretty well.  Most of what I will go over, is mostly common sense, or it is to me at least.  I was brought up in a home where my dad would tell me: “Don’t do it half-assed!” on a regular basis.  We had to clean up after ourselves.  We were taught to say “please” and “thank you.” And if we said we would do something, we better damn well do it.  Having manners and being considerate to other is just common sense to me, and when my mom is my office manager, I better make sure that I am still doing those things.

Running a painting business is much more than having good manners and being polite…but it’s a start.  Going to college and getting a business degree did set me off in the right direction.  Running a painting business is not just about paint brushes and putting paint on the wall.  It’s the whole process from the 1st point of contact with our office, to the estimate appointment, bid presentation, teams of painters spread out all over Denver, and having the ability to service our customers long after the paint rollers have been cleaned up and put away.  Because many Denver painters landed into painting by default, they have given no thought to the process of painting houses.  At Walls by Design, we constantly look at our systems and processes that we have developed, trying to improve the experience for our homeowners and painters.  We have developed our systems based on two factors: quality and efficiency.Denver painters

I truly don’t believe that most Denver painters are idiots, but there are a few.  I think if you asked most of them: Do you have a system for painting? They would scratch their head and say…I guess.  I just believe if there is a best way to do something, we should do it every time, and all our teams should be taught to do it that way.  Just like when you go to Starbucks.  If they let the baristas make my soy vanilla latte however they wanted, it would taste different each and every time.  But as it is, no matter what Starbucks I go to (and I’ve been to a lot of them, the one in Seattle was my favorite…the ), it always tastes the same.  And that is how we have tried to build our systems for painting here in Denver.  We have one way to tape off baseboards; one way to caulk trim; one way to roll walls; one way to set up a room, and one way to clean it up.  We have systems for hiring our team, an on-boarding system, and a termination plan.

How do you pick?

If you are looking to hire a Denver painter to paint your home in Highlands Ranch, Parker, Arvada, Broomfield, or anywhere is the Denver metro area; then you should look for a few key things when you start the process.  Obviously it depends on your budget, but it is better to hire the right person, than to get someone cheap and deal with the results.  So here are some tips:

  • Do they answer their phone? If it is hard to get someone on the phone to give you an estimate, how easy do you think it will be to get someone on the phone when something goes wrong?
  • How do they show up? When they come to the estimate, are they on time?  Do they come SUPER early or arrive late?  Either way is bad.  Are they cleaned up, or are they covered in paint?  Painting is a messy business, but when you are getting bids, think of it like dating. They should be putting their BEST foot forward.
  • Do they follow through with what they say? I’m in the middle of getting bids for a deck, and they guy told me it would take a few days to get me a bid. A week later I followed up, and he said he needed one more day. Two days later I received a bid from him.  Do you think I will hire him?
  • Do they pass the dinner table test? Could you have them over for dinner? Would you feel uncomfortable?  Think about it. They will have access to your entire home for days or weeks.  If you would not feel comfortable with them for a meal, how could you trust them with your family and belongings?


These things are not the end-all be-all tips, but they are a good start.  Use this and you are about 95% guaranteed to weed out all the idiot Denver Painters.


Painting Referral Sites

Painting Referral Sites

HomeAdvisor: Painting referral sites

There are a lot of painting referral sites that promote vetting or qualify their listed painting contractors and other homeowner services.  These sites appear to serve the consumer and help ensure that a homeowner receives quality services by reputable contractors.  Let me first say that they do qualify and weed out some contractors.  However, they filter out the lowest common denominators, and I am not quite sure who would hire these painters, roofers, and plumbers if they were to be found by other means.  The perception to the homeowner is that only the best of the best contractors are listed on their sites, and if this was true, it would not matter who you selected, you could take the lowest price painter, and feel confident that they would perform just as well as the highest cost painter.  But unfortunately, this is not the case, and you may know this first hand if you have attempted to get bids from contractors on,, Yelp, or even the BBB.

I am going to peel back the layers, and let you in on the secret of painting referral sites. My only caveat is that yes, we have participated in some of these lists over the years, with varying success.  So keep that in mind.  I will try not to berate each site, but will attempt to give you the truth, so that you can make an informed decision on how to best use these sites, and do research to find the best painting contractor for your project.  Know that there are new painting referral sites popping up every day, and they will always have some type of monitization strategy, and you just need to find out what it is.

The BBB (Better Business Bureau)BBB: painting referral sites

This organization is a 501(c)(6) and their income comes from “dues of individuals business” that join their organization.   While the original mission was to protect the consumer, I am not sure how relevant this is in today’s social media world.  Here are the standards listed on the BBB website:

BBB Accreditation Standards:  These BBB Standards For Trust represent good business practices generally and BBB Accreditation Standards specifically…

  1. Build Trust
  2. Advertise Honestly
  3. Tell The Truth
  4. Be Transparent
  5. Honor Promises
  6. Be Responsive
  7. Safeguard Privacy
  8. Embody Integrity

While I am not saying the BBB is a bad painting referral site, I just don’t think they carry much weight.  I think the majority of consumers would assume that there is a very strict policy and application process to be a part of the BBB.  I just called and asked what the criteria was to join the BBB.  The gal on the phone informed me that to join, you need to have been in business for one year, and not have any government judgements against you.  That bar feels very low.  I then asked how much it would cost, and it turns out that it is based on how many employees you have, but, if you have more employees, you do not necessarily get more services.  After I asked about the dues, she quickly wanted to talk about different marketing options to advertise my business through them.  Clearly, the BBB has turned into a marketing agency of sorts.

The biggest value that the BBB brings is clearly from a marketing perspective, and in that, mainly in web presence.  Because they have so many organizations linking to their site, the BBB has a lot of Google power.  A link from the BBB is more powerful than their consumer protection powers.   The BBB has a rating system, but I cannot determine why some businesses have ratings, and others do not.  The BBB reports complaints against companies, but all complaints must be in writing.  Companies are given the opportunity to respond to the BBB (even if they are not a member).

I believe that the BBB would better serve the community at large (as its mission states) if it was funded by means other than membership dues.  I believe this creates a conflict of interest that most people do not understand.  It can be a good marketing tool for businesses, but does not really provide the protection that many consumers assume it provides. I will add that they do have an arbitration service that might be helpful.  I have no experience with it, but could be of help to a consumer if things get that bad.

YelpYelp: Painting referral sites

Yelp has mainly been used to gather and aggregate reviews on restaurants and entertainment venues, but you might not know that it is a painting referral site.  It is also the search platform Apple uses (through Siri) on your iPhone.  Yelp is considered by some to be a social media platform, as it has a membership area, a way to message people, and in the past has organized local events.  However, keep in mind, they have an advertising component which is how they create revenue.  What I don’t like is their ability to screen reviews.  They have a “secret” algorithm that will hide some reviews.  If you are not a veteran “Yelper” than your reviews may not be seen.  They claim that this is to prevent bad or inaccurate reviews. But, their formulas still allow for bad reviews.  For example, we have a negative review on Yelp from someone that never did business with us.  He simply did not like our deposit policy…but that review shows, while other positive reviews from actual customers of ours, are hidden.

Truth be told, we did try the platform as an advertising vehicle.  We were required to sign a year contract, and when we experienced the problems of the reviews being screened, we decided to cancel our subscription.  Needless to say, we have not seen great things come from advertising with Yelp.  To their credit, Yelp allows the business owners to respond to reviews, which is nice…there is always two sides to every story.

There have been lots of complaints by business owners about Yelp, though, and even litigation.  A hardwood flooring contractor I know actually settled in court over a Yelp review.  The homeowner claimed that the floor was not done correctly and refused to pay.  Brian, the owner of the flooring company received a settlement of $15,000.  I have to admit, I was kind of happy about that one.

Angie’s list

Angie’s list started out with a great concept.  Let homeangies list nasdaqowners pay for access to reviews from other paying members.  It is a good painting referral site, but the problem is, not enough consumers are willing to pay for this.  How do I know?  Angie’s list just changed to a free model because they could not scale up once they became a publicly traded company.

I have tried Angie’s list to advertise as well.  We did not have any real negative experiences, but we certainly did not see a lot of traffic come from them.  We tried the platform while they were planning to roll out their “freemium” model, so maybe we did not get the best of what Angie’s list has to offer.   But, like Yelp, their revenue comes from contractors and businesses paying to advertise.  As you can imagine, if your revenue is coming from the people getting reviewed, there will be problems.  Due to the fact that they have just changed their format, I am honestly not sure how things are being done, and what it’s like to be a contractor or a consumer using their service.  Just know that contractors pay to advertise to Angie’s list “members” so they get expanded exposure.


Home Advisor: painting referral sites

HomeAdvisor, formally known as Service Magic is a big player in the painting referral site market.  You can’t really type any home service category into Google without getting a HomeAdvisor link.  I am most familiar with this platform, as I have had a love/hate relationship with them since the beginning.  It is a company that is based out of Golden, CO; so it is hard for me to not want to cheer for them.  Yes, we have gotten some great jobs from HomeAdvisor leads, but we have also been let down in the past.

But what does it mean for you, the consumer?  That is really what matters right?  The HomeAdvisor team might do the best job at looking into the background of a contractor.  According to their website, this is what the process involves:

  • Licensing
  • Sex Offender Search
  • Legal Search for Civil Judgments
  • Criminal Records Search
  • State Business Filings
  • Identity Verification (Social Security Number)

It is a great start, and that with the combination of reviews on their site is a good mix.  However, I am not quite sure how it works when you do a search.  I did one for the zip code we are located, and I had to scroll to the third page to find this:

We have good ratings, and are in the exact zip code I searched for, and yet the search brought me all sorts of painting contractors from about a 15 mile radius, and they are not categorized from top rated to bottom. Very random.  So, maybe that is a good thing.

The HomeAdvisor bread and butter is their matching service though.  They really want you to put in a project to be contacted by “up to 4 contractors.”  When I first signed up, it was up to three contractors.  This may sound like a good thing for the homeowner, but to understand why they do this, you need to understand how the system works.

When a contractor signs up and is approved; they agree to accept up to a certain amount of leads per month.  Each service is priced differently based on the type of service being estimated.  For painting projects, it might be $70, for a home remodel, it might be $150, for lawn care, it could be $30.  Then, as the contractor, you are charged for each lead.  So, if a homeowner changes their mind after signing up, the contractor still needs to pay for that lead.  To bring this around, if HomeAdvisor now connects you with 4 contractors, they get paid for 4 leads no matter if you contract with a contractor or not.

From a consumer standpoint, I think this model is the best.  From a contractor standpoint, I believe they are doing some great things, but I think there is room for improvement. But now you know how it happens.  HomeAdvisor has some other models of how homeowners can connect with contractors, but the referral service is their main business model.

The truth is, paint contractors need to connect with homeowners, and homeowners need to connect with paint contractors, and neither know the best way to do it.  My hope was to shed some light from an insider perspective to inform you how some painting referral sites work and generate money.  Even the BBB which is a non-profit organization exists because they generate revenue.  If they did not make revenue, they would not exist.  There are a lot of other services as well that on the surface appear to be working strictly for you, the homeowner, but there is usually a monetization strategy.   Feel free to leave a comment or ask me a question, as I am sure I have left out a detail or two.