A friend of mine is an expert plaster and drywall finisher with almost 50 years in the trade. Not long ago, he knocked himself out on a very labor-intensive plastering job. Instead of kudos, though, he got a complaint from the owner, who said:
"Jimmy, they painted the walls, but I’m really unhappy with the way they came out."
"Who did the painting?" my friend asked.
"A couple of college students," replied the owner, apparently without irony.
Tradespeople tell these kinds of horror stories all the time. Besides being entertaining, they can give remodelers an object lesson in the things that really matter: You can scrimp a little here and there, but don’t ever cut corners on the finishes that meet the eye — be they on the floor, the walls, the ceiling or the roof.
As it happens, my plasterer friend went back to see what the owner was complaining about, and his heart sank: The college kids — who probably had four hours of painting experience between them — had ruined all his painstaking plasterwork in one gloppy coat. Although my friend did manage to undo all this damage, it cost the owner a lot more than he’d "saved" by hiring cheapo painters. Next time, my friend advised him, he’d do better to hire a pro and not a couple of yahoos on summer break.
Sound advice, of course. The trouble is, for most remodelers, those final, all-important finish phases happen late in the job, at just about the same time their money is running out. This makes it excruciatingly tempting to hire low-bid, quick-and-dirty practitioners who could wreck all the hard work done before them.
Don’t fall into this trap. Instead, set aside an ironclad, untouchable reserve for the very best professional finish work you can reasonably afford. This is especially critical if you tend to be an impulsive buyer, and are always tempted to spend "just a little bit more" on unplanned extras along the way. It’s this kind of "feature creep" that exhausts budgets at just the time the finish work comes around.
Your reserve for finishes should ensure that you can afford decent-quality stucco, roofing, hardwood flooring and carpet, but above all, it should provide for top-quality painting. Why? Because, of all the aforementioned trades, painting is the only one that homeowners wrongly assume any fool can do. Well, any fool can paint, all right, but the results will speak for themselves.
It’s perfectly reasonable to shop for bargains on materials such as lumber, pipe, electrical wire, and so on. You may even be able to cut costs by using salvaged material or providing sweat equity on framing, plumbing or what have you. As long as these invisible portions of the job are safe and adequate, no one will ever know or care that you didn’t pay top dollar for them.
Not so with finishes. Slapdash work will be right there, staring you in the face every morning. Save where you will, but don’t save on the surfaces that meet the eye.