There are at least three primary ways that a painter might estimate a paint job.
These would be “guestimating”, square footage of the area to be painted, and a detailed “take-off”.
“Guestimating” is when the painter or estimator comes to the job, looks things over, and in 5 minutes hand write an estimate on a scrap of paper, a match book or the back of the business card. The benefits of this type of estimate are that the painter may convince the owner that this painter is an amazing person, a wizard of painting, a guru of the paint world. I mean how else can the painter only spend five minutes in the house and produce an estimate so quickly. Another benefit is that the painter doesn’t have to put any energy into the estimate. The negatives to this type of estimate are many. One is that the client may have other contractors come to do the estimate and may see that the other painters don’t guess, or “wing-it”, they spend a good amount of time asking questions and measuring. The second negative is that this method is of course highly inaccurate, and can cause problems for the owner and the painter. The owner probably will get an inferior job, if the painter starts out with an inferior estimate then just how good of a paint job will the crew do? The painter will probably lose money because things get missed or overlooked with this unprofessional approach.
The square footage approach to estimating is when the painter measures the square footage of the floor or floors of the areas to be painted and quickly multiplies the square footage time the price per square feet, that someone told him would work or else he has averaged his estimates and came up with an average price that he may or may not adjust. This technique is how builders compare estimates and is probably where the painter learned to estimate, a truly poor way to estimate. The downfalls of this type of estimate are pretty much the same as the “guestimate”. One thing is that no two paint jobs are ever alike, one may have lots of doors another may be just walls. This is the painter who scratches his head and wonders why the company never makes any money or loses money.
The “Detailed Estimate”, is where the painter or estimator carefully measures the ceilings and walls, then counts and notes the different types of doors, windows and moldings. The painter then calculates cleanup, preparation and cleanup. The painting contractor or estimator takes the total hours and multiplies the hours times the contractor’s historical labor times that have been saved from previous work. This painter generally has a better grasp of the paint job. This estimate is highly accurate and very professional. It is unusual if the contractor loses money on estimates that are done using this technique and the client can rest assured that the job will be done to the detail of the estimate.