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A beautiful exterior paint job is a show stopper and gives a homeowner major first impression points. A 2015 study estimated the ROI on an exterior paint job to be 51% while Consumer Reports says that enhancing your home’s exterior, including paint touch-ups, can boost home value by 2-5%.
“The main thing you don’t want to see when you walk up—or even in the back—is that your trim or molding shows rot or if the paint’s been chipped off. That’s an easy fix,” said Leighann Russell, a top-selling agent in Buford, GA. “It makes a huge difference.”
But painting the whole house is no small job to take on. It takes experienced painters 5 whole days to paint an entire house exterior (so likely at least double that if you’re an amateur), and costs an average $2,802 to get done. The key then is deciding whether your house needs a full paint makeover or if you could accomplish what you need to with smaller projects.
Paint takes a beating as your home’s first line of defense
A lot of factors determine the longevity of exterior paint: the type of surface being painted, the quality of the paint, the skill of the painter (or painting contractor), and of course, the weather.
Brooks Painting, a contractor in Davis, California, that serves the Sacramento area, says that the greatest threat to exterior paint in Northern California is the sun’s UV rays, which cause paint to wear, chalk, and crack.
Paint on a stucco exterior can last about 10 years there; on wooden surfaces, about 5 to 7 years. In other areas, freezing winters and soggy rainy seasons can cause paint to fade, crack, and peel.
Paint that’s in poor shape isn’t a deal breaker during most home appraisals for a conventional loan. However, peeling or chipped paint is an issue with Veterans Administration (VA) appraisers and will need to be fixed before the financing will go through.
A home inspector will make note of defective paint to check if it’s indicative of an underlying issue, Russell said. This can include rot, mold, termites, or siding issues; some siding has been discontinued or recalled because it’s susceptible to mold or swelling, which affects the paint.
Exterior paint contains solvents, pigments, additives, and binders, all of which control the hue, drying time, mildew, and other considerations. Thanks to modern paint technology, two coats of top-quality exterior paint over primed wood can last 10 to 15 years and significantly longer on stucco, according to This Old House. Paints labeled “100 percent acrylic latex” adhere tenaciously to wood, vinyl, masonry, and metal and are flexible, breathable, and more colorfast than those made with acrylic blends or vinyl.
Should you DIY or hire a professional for your exterior paint job?
You’ll save costs on professional labor with a DIY paint job, and if you’re a somewhat handy individual who’s tackled projects around the house before, it can be done.
The most durable paints range from as little as $17 a gallon to more than $100, depending on the brand and composition. But you’ll want to base your decision on a few key factors, like how tall your house is, whether the house has any special architectural features, and the slope of the ground that your house is built on.
If you’re concerned about breathing in the fumes, federal regulations limit the amount of VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, to 250 grams per liter in flat exterior paints and 380 grams per liter in glossy exterior paints.
However, an exterior paint job involves more than just calculating how many gallons you’ll need and buying brushes or a sprayer. Painting and Decorating Contractors of America (PDCA) recommends cleaning any dirt or debris on the exterior with a pressure washing to help the paint adhere better. You’ll also need to get rid of any previous coats of cracking or peeling paint, and caulk any trim or other cracked panels to ensure the paint goes on smoothly.
You might not have the equipment or materials to paint a whole house yourself—and buyers can tell the difference. “People can tell they did a shady job on it and they’re gonna have to come in there and do it themselves again,” Russell said.
Plus, if your house has more than two stories, you’ll need help. The last thing you probably want to do is be on a ladder painting your home—and it’s gonna take you a lot longer,” Russell said.
“If you hire a painter who’s a professional, generally, they have a team of people, and they can knock it out in a couple days.”
Painting the exterior of a 1,500-square-foot house costs about $1,800 to $3,800 nationwide for paint, supplies, and labor, depending on where you live.
That said, you might not have to paint the entire exterior.
Sometimes exterior paint touch-ups are the better choice
If your home inspector and real estate agent have noticed that the exterior as a whole is in good shape, you might just need to paint the trim and other accents to cover any chips or flaking and give your home a fresh look.
Painting the trim is less costly than painting the exterior. A 1,500-square-foot house has about 500 feet of finished trim, which to paint professionally costs about $750 to $1,800 nationwide, including labor and supplies.
“In Georgia, you really don’t have to paint your house very often. You can just pressure wash it, and it makes a huge, huge difference,” Russell said. In addition to removing dirt, pressure washing will remove mold or mildew from the outside of a home that doesn’t get a lot of sun.
The average cost of power washing a 1,500-square-foot house nationwide ranges from $400 to $500, depending on location.
Cue the curb appeal!
Should you decide to paint the entire house, designers say you should check your home’s architecture and surroundings. Symmetrical homes, with their sense of formality and heritage, look elegant with a light palette and accents, such as ivory and white, with a front door in a bright welcoming color such as aqua.
Shingle siding in slate gray with white trim and a front door painted a deep navy is a muted but sophisticated look. Cool green, butter yellow, and pure white is a calming palette that draws its inspiration from nature.
By contrast, a beach house in a modern design looks cheery in yellow with white trim but grounded with a cinnamon-brown door. A similar home with ocean blue shingles, white trim, and a front door in royal purple looks playful yet stylish.
Regardless of whether you touch up the trim, power wash the exterior, or hire a professional crew to paint your home’s exterior, the most you might spend might be a few thousand dollars—but the curb appeal pays huge dividends. It not only catches buyers’ eyes but helps cement your asking price.
“Generally, you’ll get back what you put into it,” Russell said.