Paying a pro to paint an average 10-by-12-foot room costs between $400 and $700. So if you have the skills to do the job yourself, you can save a lot of money—especially if you have multiple units or experience rental turnovers often.
Painting is not a difficult skill to master, especially if you have the right tools. The average landlord-turned-painter, with just a little practice, can finish a typical two-bedroom apartment in a day or two and save close to $1,000 in the process. These four tips can ensure professional results with a minimum time investment.
1. Know when to paint
A fresh coat of paint helps attract new tenants, but it may not be necessary if the existing paint is in good condition. However, a few communities, such as New York City, require landlords to repaint between tenancies, so it’s good to know the local ordinances. Moreover, new tenants sometimes request a new paint job before moving in.
When cleaning up after a long-term renter has moved out—especially one who smokes—painting becomes a virtual necessity. Paint masks odors as well as hides stains. You may also need to paint if you allowed your renters to change the wall colors themselves or if you’re cleaning up after people who had pets or “creative” children. Even when a rental is continuously occupied, the landlord should expect to repaint every 7 to 10 years or so.
Exterior walls, trim, and decking also need new paint about every 7 to 10 years. Maintaining the outside appearance of a dwelling is just as important as maintaining the inside. The exterior creates the all-important first impression for potential renters.
2. Know your paint
Pigment Volume Concentration (PVC) is a percentage that expresses the relative concentrations of pigment and binders. The higher the PVC, the more pigment the paint contains and the flatter the sheen. Any paint with a PVC greater than 40 percent will dry to a flat sheen. The PVC of a full gloss paint is closer to 15 percent.
Flat and matte paints are rich in pigment and color, but they soil easily. They also have less scratch and impact resistance and are more difficult to clean than glossy paints. Because of all this, it’s best to stay away from flat sheens when painting a rental. As a rule of thumb, choose gloss or semi-gloss (PVC less than 25 percent) for the kitchen and bathroom and semi-gloss or satin (PVC less than 40 percent) for the living room and bedrooms.
3. Get painting equipment
Besides the requisite brushes and rollers, a well-equipped painter has the following equipment:
- Drop cloths
- Scrapers, knives, and wire brushes
- A palm sander
- Masking tape and paper
- Empty buckets
- Protective clothing
- Work lights
Painting contractors also typically have at least one airless sprayer, which can reduce painting time significantly. While a landlord probably doesn’t need a high-powered sprayer for most jobs, it’s a great idea to have an electric handheld sprayer on hand for walls, decks, and fences—especially lattice ones. When you need a larger machine, you can always rent one.
Get a dedicated vehicle
Painting is notoriously messy work and not the type of operation you want to run from your family car. Consider investing in a secondhand cargo van, which gives you a base from which to work and a place to store your painting supplies when you aren’t using them.
4. Learn painting tips and techniques
The key to a long-lasting and attractive paint job is proper preparation. You should spend as long on prep work as you do applying paint.
Painting prep checklist
- Clean the surface you’re about to paint with soap and water. When painting in the kitchen or bathroom, use a solution of trisodium phosphate (TSP) and water to wash the walls. TSP is a strong detergent that cuts through grease and oils that interfere with paint adhesion. It’s caustic, so wear gloves when using it.
- Scrape or sand all loose paint. Any flecks of loose paint that remain on the surface can cause fresh paint to bubble or peel. If you’re repainting an older unit, test the existing paint for toxic lead. If the test is positive, consider professional remediation.
- Prime bare wood and drywall. If you skip the primer, the paint may dry unevenly, and it could peel. Use a stain-blocking primer for wood and PVA drywall primer for drywall.
- Spread drop cloths. Cover the floor and furniture. Rollers and brushes frequently spatter, and even if you’re careful, it’s virtually impossible to avoid drips, especially when painting ceilings.
Professional painters rely on a number of best practices to get the best results in as short a time as possible. Here are a few important ones:
- Keep a wet edge when rolling a wall. Work systematically by always overlapping a section that has fresh paint and then moving the roller in a uniform vertical or horizontal direction. This is the best way to avoid areas of insufficient coverage that you have to fix.
- Expect to apply two coats. It’s rare to get full coverage with a single coat. To do it, you often have to spread the paint so heavily that it drips and sags, and those defects like take time to fix. Two thin coats are better than a single heavy one, whether you’re changing the color or not.
- Limit your use of masking tape. Paint can seep under tape, and even painter’s tape can pull paint off the wall when you remove it. Instead, use a sharp eye and a good paintbrush to make straight lines. You’ll save time and probably get better results than you would using masking tape.
- Use the right paintbrush. Synthetic bristle brushes are designed especially for latex paints, whereas natural bristle brushes are best for oil-based paints. An angled brush gives you more control than a straight one when painting trim and cutting in corners. Clean your brush thoroughly after each use, then hang it vertically and let it air dry.
Practice makes perfect
Almost anyone can paint, but it takes practice to develop the skills to do it quickly and expertly. If you own multiple properties, it’s well worth it to develop those skills. The upsides include never having to lose rental income waiting for a painting contractor and saving money by not having to hire one. What’s not to like?