More Bang for your Bucket: How Paint Can Save Your Property Money

Paint in Multifamily


In the world of touching up or repainting to turn or redevelop apartments, what you see is really what you get.

Using cheaper paints may look good at first glance but in certain lighting situations can show the wear and tear on walls caused by previous occupants.

Using quality paint could save money for apartments

Property managers should make paint selections based on quality and ability to cover completely rather than just to save a few bucks, multifamily and paint industry experts say.

“Sometimes we find that property managers use builder quality paints, and that can be more expensive,” says Jennifer Lester, RealPage, Inc.’s Vice President of Vendor Management.

“They end up using more paint in the long run.”

Higher solid content paint covers blemishes of residency

The multifamily industry uses an estimated 50 million gallons of paint each year to ready apartments for the next resident, estimates Mario Garita, National Account Manager of Behr Paint. At an average price of $8-$10 per gallon, apartment operators are spending staggering amounts of money.

Garita, who works closely with multifamily companies to provide paint solutions, says a good chunk of that money could be saved if property management companies bought a higher quality paint. Commercial grade paints have a higher solid or paint pigment content and cover walls more thoroughly, compared to builder grade products that are designed to go on new sheetrock or other surfaces.

Painting Property Management

Builder grades, designed for new construction, have 18 percent solid content – about half of premium paints – and are good for covering unblemished surfaces. Much of the paint is absorbed into the drywall and the remainder provides light coverage that’s sufficient for new walls.

Once the unit is occupied, the game changes. Walls get stained, marked, damaged and smudged with oil from handprints. Touching up or repainting with a lower grade even after walls have been scrubbed may not cover damaged spots which can be seen in certain lighting conditions. Walls that have weathered numerous residents are most likely to show their bad side if a high-grade paint isn’t used.

Premium commercial paints have more than double the solid content, providing film-like coverage that’s more dense and easier to clean. Some paints can be cleaned hundreds of times before showing wear, Garita says.

“Production grade paint is great for new construction because all it really has to do is color the wall and that’s the function it serves,” he said. “But when you get into turns and redevelopment products, paint has to act a little differently. It has to cover over impurities, stains, patches and repairs. New production paint doesn’t do that very well because there is not a lot of body for the coverage piece of it.”

Apartment repaints could be 30 percent cheaper with better product

Garita says properties will spend additional money – 8 to 30 percent – trying to save on unit cost because more cans of lower grade paint are needed to cover a surface than with commercial grades. Paint contractors who know the difference will spread more paint in an attempt to cover the rough spots. Even at a higher unit cost, the better quality paint usually will save the property money because less is used.

“A lot of the times even the painters will know if they’re using a production-grade paint and they’ll put it on very, very thick because they know the characteristics of the product,” he said.

Painting Multifamily

Paints that do the job right the first time are especially useful when color trends change. Garita says more color is being splashed on walls in today’s apartments, and adequate coverage is a must, especially going from dark to light colors.

While the luxurious look of high-sheen paints like eggshell are trending high now in apartments, Garita recommends using a flat paint because it touches up better and hides more. Covering sheens is difficult, especially if the property is older.

“If you have a unit in a property that was built in the 70s or 80s and has been turned hundreds of times, you’re going to see every imperfection in that wall,” he said. “It may not look as good. If it’s new construction, no problem. You don’t have that many imperfections.”


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

author photo two

Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

One response to “More Bang for your Bucket: How Paint Can Save Your Property Money”

  1. Right on with the point of not skimping on quality; you want something that has a decent chance of holding up to kids. For the woodwork — doors, casings, baseboards — I probably go overboard by using oil-based paint that matches the walls.

    Oil-based paint is harder to work with and messier to clean up, which is why many people shy away from it. But it holds up very well. And I have found that after a tenant has moved out and I have to repaint walls due to normal wear and tear, wood that I had painted with oil-based paint generally only needs a quick cleaning with soap and water.

    George Lambert

    Author, What You Must Know BEFORE Becoming a Greedy Landlord. How to build a portfolio of investment properties for an income that lasts a lifetime.

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