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How to Choose the Right House Painter: An Interview with Jeff Margenau of Prep n' Paint LLC

By Jeff Margenau

Tell us a little bit about your company and the services you offer.

Prep 'n Paint LLC was registered in 2008 after I spent 23 years running the Residential Preservation & Beautification Division with Parkview Property Management in Milwaukee. I studied with Architects and National Trust to learn the textbook approach to preserving, repairing and beautifying residential real estate.

Prep 'n Paint specializes in 2 areas Interiors and Exterior House Painting

We excel at repairing drywall and plaster damage, removing wall paper and preparing the wall correctly to texture and paint the walls and ceilings.

One HOT request right now is Liquid Kitchen Makeovers-we degloss the wood stained cabinet doors and faces; sand them , prime them and apply several coats of enamel so customers get a "new kitchen" look without the cost of replacing cabinets.

PNP also employs an Expert House Painting Team of 6 tradesmen that includes a carpenter, a caulker and of course we do the power washing, sanding, scraping, priming and painting. And we are Lead Certified in case your house was built prior to 1974 in which case it requires testing and possibly special abatement procedures.

I personally handle the COLOR SELECTION with each and every customer on interiors and exteriors.

Can you briefly talk about some of the key qualifications that a skilled painter should have?

The Prep 'n Paint interior painters all start as an entry level apprentices because I have a specific way I want everything done. They must pass the Skills Evaluation and the Written Test to be promoted from Apprentice to Paint Pro this usually takes 3-4 years. Every interior job has a Paint Pro performing and supervising the work.

  • The skills include wall paper removal, wall prep, roller painting and cut-in painting, ceilings and walls.
  • The written test includes paint chemistry, dry times, coverage mil rates and glossary terms.
  • My painters sound and look like professional painters. They don't guess or give estimates-they know the paint business inside and out.

In addition to the Prep 'n Paint training, every two weeks all the painters and I spend a couple hours in the back room at Sherwin Williams actually painting with the new products and using the latest techniques.

What are some good questions that you recommend asking a potential painter or painting company?

I believe the important questions are:

Insurance: Show me your Liability Insurance Policy and Work Compensation Insurance Policy cover pages. The best painters tend to carry the best insurance. Any painter with employees and without Work Comp is breaking Wisconsin Labor Law-don't hire him. And any painter without Liability policy is putting damage and injury risk on you the homeowner-do you want a painter who can't afford a simple Liability Policy?

References: Ask for professional references rather than homeowner references. A professional Reference is from our customers who actually know what good job and not just some customer a painter made friend with while in the job. Also the local professionals have a reputation to protect so they'll tell you who to hire and who to stay clear. A homeowner reference might be a friend or relative of the painter and will not give a reliable reference. Call his professional trade references they will know the kind of work he does because customers will complain to them about any problems they had.

Who will be doing the work? Make sure to get a house painter who personally supervises the work each hour of each day. You must get a straight answer on this because the big franchise painters tend to drop off a car of college kids to paint your house. Don't trust your house to college kids. A house paint job requires many, many decisions each hour about wood preparation, caulking, temperature, humidity, application techniques and safety issues. I don't know any painters who REALLY KNOW this unless they have worked full time for at least 10-15 seasons working on hundreds of houses. Make sure the painter who knows is in charge and on site.

Drug/Alcohol Policy: At Prep 'n Paint the painters do not drink on site or talk about drinking last night. They do not use drugs or talk about using drugs. Enough said. Don't assume that all painters are substance abusers-We take our profession seriously and our D/A Policy seriously.

What about music?: I believe the crew is at your house to WORK-not listen to music, our crews do not play any music-no radios, no ipods, no car stereos. I want them focused on the work. Your neighbors really appreciate our quiet and hardworking crews-you know they are watching.

What about a line item invoice? Make sure you get a price for the paint and a price for the labor. On large jobs the labor and supplies should be separated with even more detail for example: Power washing and scraping and caulking entire house labor $2,000, Trim Paint $200 and Trim Labor $1,000, Siding Paint $400 and Siding Labor $2,500. A customer should know what they are getting for their money. And if you want to fire him after the prep work is done you already know how much that part should be and you don't have to argue with the painter about the price.

What are the biggest challenges that homeowners run into before finding and hiring the right painter?

Painters who don't return phone calls and make appointments for a bid and not showing up or showing up late. I personally do all the estimates and color consultations in compliance with my military background-"if you're not early you're late!"

Should painters offer any type of guarantee? What would it typically cover?

Guarantees or warranties are usually for exterior and deck work. We give no warranty on deck work- we perform the best preparation we know and use the best deck products available but your deck is the single highest maintenance part of your house and will probably show signs of wear and tear the year after we stain it. The sun, your dog, the snow, the salt, the mildew, the foot traffic all are hard on your deck-plus its made out of wood which expands and contracts thereby pushing the stain off it faster than you can say "where is that dang warranty?"

Guarantees on interiors are unnecessary because the paint should look great when the painters are done and there is no reason for it to fail afterward. Unless it's a basement floor or wall and that gets no warranty either because of the unknown level of hydrostatic pressure that exists in every basement.

We guarantee a well behaved crew, top of line products and impeccable application. And you'll absolutely love the color when were done.

Do you have any advice on what people should do if they are unhappy with some aspect of the painting job?

Call the painter right away and talk about it. Don't make it personal. Stay calm- sometimes paint gets spilled, sometimes painters miss some areas. Everything can be fixed. A quality painter should enthusiastic about solving any problems right away. You should to hear solutions instead of explanations.

What's the best way for people to contact you and your company?

The best way for customers to contact me is to shoot me an email. Include the city the house is in and generally what you're looking to have done. Also, either select your colors ahead or schedule a color consultation with me when I come to look.

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