HOA Guide to Painting: How to Choose the Best Color and Contractor

Repainting the buildings in your association can be a daunting task, but we’ve got you covered. Learn how to select the right colors, what finishes to use, how to prepare paint specifications, how to solicit bids, and last but not least, what questions to ask when hiring a contractor, all to get the best job done for your community. 

Materials for planning a painting project

Improper planning can make an association’s repainting project time consuming and costly. Avoid this frustrating process by becoming well-informed on the ins and outs of the painting process.

Whether you’re a board member or management company, every painting project begins with two questions:

Why are we painting? Painting protects the assets of the association from the elements while providing esthetic appeal, which enhances the living experience for homeowners and maintains or increases the value of the property.

When do we paint? A paint film loses its elasticity over time, meaning painting should be performed before the exterior surfaces show signs of deterioration (surfaces with defects such as split wood balcony caps or checked plywood siding should be a painting priority, especially if the rainy season is approaching). For the long-term condition of substrates, painting should be based on a regular schedule. For wood that means every 4-6 years, and for stucco that means 7-10 years, depending on exposure and the condition of the property. Failure to maintain a regular schedule will cost much more in the long run because of siding failure or worse, dry rot of the structure behind siding materials.

With the answers in hand, your HOA can begin completing the three important steps to proper planning and execution: choosing the paint products, preparing the specifications, and hiring a contractor. 

Choose a Color Scheme and Finish for Your HOA

The first consideration of any association painting project, color selection is mostly based on achieving aesthetic value. Color should be pleasing to the eye and work well with the environment of the buildings and property (i.e. landscaping, brick, stone work and roof color). If you are planning to change the color palette of your association, be prepared to spend a great deal of time on this aspect of the process. Color can be very personal, and homeowners generally have very strong feelings towards the color choices of the HOA.

Lighting and Temperature Considerations

There are some basic guidelines for choosing exterior paint colors: pigment quality, light versus dark, and temperature.

First and foremost, the color you choose for your association should be formulated with tinting pigments that are suitable for exterior exposure. This will resist and protect the buildings from ultraviolet sun radiation and help preserve the HOA’s most valuable asset. 

Light colors, such as tan or shades of white, impact a building’s inside temperature and visual perception in a directly opposite manner than darker colors, such as burnt reds or blues. Namely, light colors reduce inside temperatures as well as make a building stand out in its neighborhood, while dark colors absorb heat and can make a large building seem better proportioned to a small lot.

The climate of your HOA’s loaction can affect the performance of the coatings. As the temperature fluctuates from hot to cold or cold to hot, the substrate below the paint film (the underlying layer) tends to expand or contract. Thus, a high quality coating is recommended for optimum performance. Top quality paints are designed to produce the best looking and longest lasting result, but we’ll discuss paint quality later in the article.

Types of Finish

Sheen should always be considered when selecting the exterior finish. While a flat finish is generally the sheen selected for stucco and siding, low sheen is beginning to emerge as a popular new trend. Low sheened paints offer a more vibrant appearance and provide excellent dirt release from the substrate.

You can also select an elastomeric coating for your HOA, which is used for new or previously painted above-grade masonry surfaces. Elastomeric coatings use a blend of an acrylic terpolymer elastomer, adhesive agents and special pigments to produce a film with high strength, durability, color retention, chalk resistance, elongation and elasticity. Since they are a mastic type of coating, achieving a uniform finishin will most likely require and experienced applicator.  

Although elastomeric coatings have a lot of excellent properties, they are higher in material and labor costs, and the spread rate is reduced to approximately 30% of what a conventional exterior paint would be.

Professional Consultation and Assistance

To simplify the color selection process, you may want to consider enlisting the help of a chosen paint manufacturer or even a professional color consultant. Each of these parties offer very useful services to HOAs, offering advice and assistance in choosing the best paint for the job.

A professional, experieinced color consultant may be a practical approach to the selection process. Color consultants choose an array of colors for your association’s buildings based on their expertise with the aforementioned factors. If you have already selected a paint manufacturer, they may offer color consultation as an inclusive service with the agreed use of their product.

If you have no idea which colors to use for your HOA (and you’d prefer to not use consulting services), try looking at other properties in your area and see which schemes you find most appealing

Once you have a few color options picked out, your paint manufacturer may offer a complementary color rendering, via digital photograph of your specific property. This can help visualize your color scheme finalists before making the final decision. 

You can also ask for a paint ‘mock-up’ on the building of your favorite color scheme options. A ‘mock-up’ is an area of the building where one or more paint color options is applied and allowed to dry. This will enable viewing of the color schemes at different times of the day ( morning, mid-day, evening), which often impacts the appearance of the color. A paint mock up gives the residents of the community and the decision makers (whether that be the board of directors or a managment company) confidence in the selected color scheme.

Remember to start the color selection process early, at least six to twelve months prior to the anticipated start date of the project. Selecting colors in the midst of the contractor bidding process can be confusing and is inadvisable; it’s best to have the paint products chosen beforehand in order to create an accurate paint specification, instead of a general Request for Proposal. 

Prepare a Paint Specification and Bid Package

You may be familiar with Requests for Proposals (RFPs) as a method for obtaining bids. An RFP is a very general request, sometimes relying on only the address of the property without any specific details. However, RFPs almost always generate unequal bids from contractors for a project, making it difficult for an HOA to make that final hiring decision.

A paint specification is a much better, more accurate alternative. This specification provides painting guidelines and product recommendations for your association’s property, serving as a reference tool for both the HOA board or management company and the contractors.

What is a Paint Specification?

A paint specification provides detailed information about preparation for specific substrates, application, color, clean up etc. and specifies what exact products will be used on the repaint: so all contractors will be bidding on the same value line product. This provides the HOA a standard to evaluate the painting contractor bids (i.e. so one contractor doesn’t include standard paint in the bid while another uses premium). A specification is also a legal document, so the material must be used as directed.

The paint specification should include the following:

  • Paint Product Line–Determines the performance and longevity of the repaint. Premium lines are products engineered to offer excellent hide, color retention, and resistance to chalking and blistering. A standard line offers good performance when budget constraints are an issue.
  • Specific Primers–Includes the primers necessary for all surfaces of the building to be painted, such as wood, ferrous and non-ferrous metal, concrete, and stucco.
  • Topcoat Gloss–Indicates the optimum topcoat gloss level for the surfaces and paint product line.

Keep in mind that Product Information (PI) Sheets and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are available on all paint products to explain the technical make-up of the product as well as to provide any special instructions.

Who Creates the Paint Specification?

The paint specificaiton should be prepared by an experienced individual who is familiar with the HOA’s project and has inspected the property thoroughly. This can be your paint manufacturer, a construction consultant, your painting contractor, or a knowledgeable volunteer from the association, depending on the size and complexity of the project. Most paint manufacturers will provide specifications for free if you agree to use their products on your project, while a construction consultant will cost a little extra.

Since paint specifications offer the professional’s (or volunteer’s) best recommendations for completing the job with a comprehensive description, whoever prepares the specifications should discuss budget issues, the condition of the project and their recommendations for properly painting your association.

What Should Be Included in the Specification and Bid Package?

Before preparing the specification, the manager and/or board members should identify the following to the specification writer:

  • Problem areas and/or concerns (e.g. dry rot, chalking, cracking, efflorescence etc.)
  • Any replacements involved. Will wood or wrought iron repair/replacement involved? Wood replacement requires all six sides of primer before replacing and caulking in certain areas.
  • All exclusions to the project. What substrates should not be painted?
  • Specific bidding instructions. Will there be line items or specific bidding instructions?

The actual specification and bid package should include each of the items from the following checklist. 

Paint Specification and Bid Package Items
Surface preparation of all included substrates
Detail caulking and spot-priming instructions
Product specification by manufacturer name and number for specific substrates
Number of coats required and application guidelines, which should include back rolling of at least one coat
Insurance requirements for the contractor
Contractor’s license requirements
Realistic warranty requirements
Reference requirements
An agreement to follow the provided specification
Have a General Contractor inspect and repair substrates

Obtain Contractor Bids

Once you have your specifications and bid package in hand, you can begin the process of choosing a painting contractor. Painting contractors that work with HOAs regularly will meet the high standards for insurance and communication necessary for an association’s job.

Bid Proposals

A maximum of 4 or 5 contractors should be invited to bid the project; any more bidders discourages contractors from providing a competitive proposal since they have less chance of getting the job. Your HOA’s management company, consultant, or paint manufacturer can provide you with a list of qualified painting contractors. If you need help getting started, check out our Professional Directory.

Professional Job Walk

The next step to obtain comparable bids is a professional job walk. This is a meeting usually facilitated by the management company or consultant, where the specification writer and all bidding contractors meet at the property to review the specification and walk the property together.

A job walk insures that all bidders understand the specifics of your job and what is required. The job walk also provides an opportunity for bidders to bring up any concerns they have about your project. This helps identify problematic substrates, address issues and provides contractors with the same information in order to correctly bid the job. And a job walk also gives the HOA confidence that bidders are bidding to equal standards.

If any changes result from the job walk, all participating contractors should be notified in writing in the form of an official addendum from the association. Bidding should not be a hurried process, and you should give the participating contractors time to put together an accurate proposal. Two weeks is the average time frame.

Hire a Painting Contractor

You have received all your proposals from the painting contractors who attended your job walk and now must choose one for your project. While price is a prime concern, it should not be the total determining factor.

All proposals should be carefully read to insure that each contractor’s proposal accurately reflects the specifications in terms of preparation, application, etc.

Example: The definition of “two coats” of paint may vary from contractor to contractor. In general manufacturers define two coats as one application allowed to dry followed by a second application. But some contractors may define it as crosshatched wet (spray technique) or sprayed and back rolled with the back roll being considered the second coat. Because these are competitive perspectives which may or may not be appropriate or specified for your project, it is important to compare such aspects of the bid proposals.

In the end most professionals recommend that you interview the contractors you are considering, preferably the top two or three bidders. This is particularly worthwhile if the bids are close. The selected contractor will be on the association’s property for several months or more and will be interacting with homeowners on a regular basis. You should feel comfortable and confident in your decision.

Interview the Contractors

The process for interviewing contractors should be the same for each interviewee to get a proper comparison. Putting together a group of questions to ask will speed your decision process. The following is a sample list of questions to aid you in your interviews.

  • With whom do we communicate and how?
  • Will a job foreman be on site at all times when work is being done?
  • Does your company carry workers compensation and liability insurance?
  • Do you have a clear process for us to communicate with you?
  • Can you be contacted after hours and on weekends?
  • What are your proposed working hours?
  • Where will you store painting materials?
  • Are you providing your employees an on-site restroom?
  • How will you maintain a clean and safe jobsite?
  • Do you hold weekly safety meetings per SB 198?
  • Do we need a permit for this project?
  • When would be your proposed start date?
  • What is your estimated completion date?
  • How many employees will you have on the job?
  • Do you perform background checks on your employees?
  • How will you notify homeowners for power washing, preparation and painting?
  • What is your procedure for painting front doors?
  • How long have you been in business?
  • Will you add the association as an additional insured on your policies for the project?
  • With which organizations are you associated? (CAI, CACM, ECHO, CAA)
  • Do you have a Maintenance Program? (Your association should have one.)
  • Do you provide a closeout binder on job completion?

You can and should add to this list. By asking these questions, you not only will have a much better picture of how the painting contractor will perform, but confidence in the choice you make.

Monitor Your Job 

After signing the contract, choose an experienced resident or construction manager to insure that the specs are being upheld. This person will conduct touch-up walk-throughs and will act as a liaison between your contractor and the residents, the board, and other contractors, resolving issues as they arise.


Following this advice and procedures should help make your painting project as stress free as possible. Remember, it’s better to do a job right than do it twice.

Judy O’Shaughnessy is the Property Management Specialist for Associations at Kelly-Moore Paints. She is a member of ECHO’s Maintenance Panel and its South Bay Panel. Additional information provided by members of the ECHO Maintenance Panel.