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Estimating and preparing quotes

From the Resene Trade blog ›  Resene Professional development programme

Please Note: Estimating and preparing quotations for work is critical to the success of any painting business and a proper understanding of all the costings is essential.

Once your quote is accepted you have a contractual obligation to complete the works to your customer's satisfaction. It is a common misconception that the market is dominated by incomplete and ultra-competitive pricing. It is not. Your costings must be sufficient to provide enough cash to carry on your business.

There are differing methods of quoting, but painters with skill and experience can, and do, assess a particular job against their intuitive experience. This system is most commonly used to assess repainting work.

The obvious problem with estimating is that it is visual only and by that very nature tends towards optimism because although time and materials may well be judged properly the general overheads and profits are often overlooked.

Measuring the areas of work and using the totals of each painting task is obviously more accurate (and time consuming to undertake) but has several advantages. You get to properly survey the conditions, have time to think about everything and by using unit rates for each area that suits your particular operation, can allow properly for all your potential costs.

Do not, however, underestimate the value of experience and the most reliable process of successful quoting is a combination of visual estimates compared to calculated schedules. Remember always the painting trade is dominated by labour costs and you are selling time!

Because painting is a surface application it is practical to develop 'rates' (that is the costs of most painting tasks) that can be attached to measured areas. The 'Average rates for painting' is an example where the average of painters costings are collated as a guideline.

There is also given alongside each rate a factor, which is a percentage of the time the average painter needs for each unit of area. This guideline actually historically precedes the built up rates which include time, material and overheads and profit. Yesteryear painters were far more interested in timelines to estimate their work – firstly because materials were simplistic and cheap and secondly because labour costs were much higher proportionally because of slow applications – the paints difficult to manage and almost always brushed out. Using the factors alongside the rates provides an excellent tool to manage the painting process because a realistic time allowance is provided for.

Measuring off plans necessitates a systematic approach – you will need an architectural scale although for most measurements the 1 to 100 scale is best suited for painting.

The plans

(i.e. Viewed looking down or up will give the areas of roof, ceilings and floors.


are side views and most exterior elevations will give all four sides, often interiors are also drawn room by room.


are cross sections taken on an axis (A – A etc) through the structure and provide good height references.


doors and windows are commonly drawn and are easily measured by adding up the various numbers of each type and giving them a ‘lump sum’ value. (See Ave. Prices earlier).


the specific details of each structure such as, for example, fittings and fixtures are usually drawn to a larger scale – often 1:50 or 1:25 to detail particular features.

Prices for buildings and structures yet to be built are calculated by measuring the plans and studying the specifications describing the works.

The plans are similar in that a scale drawing of the plans and elevations are supplemented by cross section views and details of all the components as necessary.

Because most housing startups are similar the plans and specifications are usually pretty minimal, often with little or nothing describing terms of contract offered or details of payments etc!

House plans do show the gross floor area in square metres. Larger building proposals are mostly controlled by professional designers and include more detailed specifications.

Occasionally a schedule of quantities is provided, making it easy to put your rates against each measured area of work, and add them up to a total.


Painters mostly simply measure the length x height of walls, both externally and internally and do not exclude the area of doors and windows, but add in the appropriate rate for these items. The reason is that 'cutting in' takes time so is allowed for in the gross area. This is ok when measuring yourself but remember a Quantity Surveyor or builder providing a formal measure will provide a nett area of actual wall surface!

This is a serious problem for painters who are not well experienced in QS take-offs, in fact the painters often feel cheated by the measurements because the actual measures by the Quantity Surveyor are significantly less than the trade overall measurements.

Quick check for quality quotes

Is the measure correct?

Is the specification correct?

Are the rates for work correct?

What special things are needed?

Is the arithmetic correct?

Essential back costing

This simple formula tests your performance and the quality of your quote.

A = Total price of project
B = Cost of materials for project
C = Hours to complete the project
D = How much each hour earned

(A – B) ÷ C = D

For example:

$10,000 - $2,000 ÷ 120 = $66.00
A   B   C   D

Less than $66.00 is a problem

Price sensitivity

Have you ever noticed you can classify potential customers into three groups based on their sensitivity to price?

Customers spending their own money

When you have to pay for things out of your taxpaid income, you are usually quite careful with your decisions, particularly if the amount is large. These customers can be expected to be the most price and quality sensitive of the three groups.

Customers who own their own businesses

Payments are tax-deductible, so business owners spend the Government’s money as well as their own. Their purchases are subsidised. They are also less price-sensitive than the first group because:

Customers spending other people’s money

These are the bigger organisations. Their staff will happily pay to avoid making mistakes. This is why so many of them call in consultants. Sell them on the idea you can keep them out of trouble and charge accordingly.

Resene Professional development program
This blog article is an excerpt from the Rates for work (PDF)

Updated March 2024

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