Why Are Decorators So Expensive?

Updated May 9, 2024 | Posted Jun 6, 2021 | Professional insight, Business | 2 comments

I’ve been a professional decorator for almost two decades. I’ve also been a blogger and collaborated with other professional decorators on this website for the past 5 years. As decorators, sometimes we’re asked to justify our prices. I find this a little bit insulting to be honest, and if a client saw things from our point of view, they wouldn’t need to ask.


Training to Become a Proper Decorator


Most decorators start their professional life as an apprentice. This means we go through 2 – 3 years of training, splitting our time between college and working for another decorator. In that time, we’re expected to carry out the menial tasks such as keeping the van tidy, fetching and carrying, sanding, caulking and pasting. Sometimes we sand for days on end to the point where the tips of our fingers bleed.

After our apprenticeship we may be qualified, but very few of us are capable of starting our own business at that point. A professional decorator with their own business needs to be an expert. We need a vast array of knowledge when it comes to products and application. We must know each process inside and out. You don’t become an expert after a few years at college. I honed my skills for a further 7 years by working for other decorators before I was able to get a business off the ground.


The Running Costs of a Decorating Business


This is something the public don’t tend to take into consideration while they’re trying to work out why decorators are so expensive. At first glance, one would assume the cost of labour goes straight into the pocket of the tradesman. This is far from the case!! All businesses have running costs and a decorating business is no exception. I’ll take you through some of the general running costs.


The marketing budget of a decorating business can be substantial. This includes everything from social media advertising, to a subscription to something like Check-a-Trade (£1,200 on its own).

Then you have liability insurance, employers insurance, tool theft insurance and income protection insurance.

Tool maintenance is probably the third biggest cost to a decorator. We need professional quality tools which we use day in/day out, so they’re always going to need topping up or replacing.

We also need to account for jobs which run over and non-payers (customers who decide they’d rather rip an honest tradesman off, rather than paying for a job).

Keeping a van on the road, which is often a second vehicle. That includes the cost of the van, fuel, tax and yet more insurance.


A Decorator’s Unpaid Time


We’ve done running costs, something else people don’t consider is all the unpaid time that comes with being self-employed. All this also needs to be accounted for in our bottom line. We spend our weekends cleaning and organising tools. We pack the van at the start of each day. Run around collecting materials, quoting, paperwork, marketing. Then, because we’re self-employed, we need to pay into our own pension and put money away for holiday pay.


The Cost of Trade Paint


A lot of our clients don’t realise the difference between trade and retail paint. Not just in quality, but also in price. We’ve had price hike after price hike in the past few years due to the lack of raw materials, Brexit and Covid. So, before you moan at our materials bill, go through a decent trade paint website and just look at how much paint costs nowadays.


So, is it Worth Hiring a Decorator?


You may think you’re a DIY God, but trust me, a decorator can do what you can’t!! A decorator will get a better finish, with products that will last and complete a job in around half the time you can. We spend years honing our skills, studying different products, testing different tools. We’ve seen how each product ages in the real world and we know how durable each finish will be.

If you are a hard-working professional and you can afford it, you deserve a professional standard of decorating in your home. Just bite the bullet and stomach the cost. If you’re not happy with a price, get another one from somewhere else, but at least now you know why decorators are so expensive.


Final Thoughts


Do you still thing decorators are expensive? No? Me neither. We work very hard and undergo a lot to get to the point where we can charge for our services. Even then, by the time you take everything else into account, we’re not expensive at all. It’s still worth having us in and we will gladly make your home beautiful for you, just don’t moan about the price!


Painters and Decorators are Expensive


“Oooft, you painters and decorators are expensive!”

It’s something we’ve all heard. Whether you’re just finished a job, or pricing one up.

I’ve never really thought about that statement before. I’ve merely shrugged it off as something a customer/potential customer sometimes say, but are we?

I don’t think so. I’ll try and apply my decorator maths to this and explain in the only way I know how.

This is Bob 👨! Bob works in an unskilled, “minimal training required” job. I won’t name that job as there are 100s of them. The government & society says Bob is worth a minimum of £10ish per hour.

This is John 🧑‍🔧 John is a self-employed, time served painter & decorator with his own van and tools. So, let’s use Bob’s national minimum wage as a base point. Bob is completely unskilled; his job requires zero to very little training. He is worth £10 per hour. Bob could try and paint your living room, but Bob has no sheets, brushes, rollers ladders buckets, sanding equipment etc.

Also, Bob isn’t insured for damages. The customer or bob would have to purchase everything needed to carry out a job. As we know, dustless sanding setups cost £1400+. That’s before everything else we need to decorate. Let’s call in another £500. Then there is the van to bring materials to the job, fuel for the van. So, what is all this worth extra per hour? I say £6! A fair amount I’d say.

Now a more difficult one; The skill and ability to do the job, and more importantly, the ability to leave a professional finish & client experience.

Now John spent 4 years as an apprentice before becoming a painter and decorator. He went to collage during those 4 years, gaining various NVQ’s and similar. He then went on to work as a painter and decorator for a further 20 years, before reaching the point he’s at now.

How do you put an hourly value on that? It’s subjective to say the least! I’m going to personally say it’s worth an extra £5 per hour over Bob.

So, we now find ourselves at this point, £10+£6+£5=£21! So, let’s take that number and apply that to an 8-hour working day, which is £168.

Now let’s look at the time it takes a painter and decorator to complete a living room. Well, this is a hard one. Some will take 2 days; others will take 5 days. So, let’s do an average of 3 days. That’s £503 in labour! still with materials to buy, so depending on the spec, anywhere between a further £200-£500!!

Suddenly the “oh you painters and decorators are dear” argument seems very flawed indeed. It’s not the customer’s place to set your value. I doubt many of a decorator’s customers are minimum wage workers either. I wonder how they would react if forced to break down their hourly worth.

Simon young

Professional Painter and Decorator

Updated May 9, 2024 | Posted Jun 6, 2021 | 2 comments

About the Author

About the Author

Mike Cupit has been in the decorating industry since 2002 and has mostly worked as a Trade Decorator in the domestic sector (peoples’ homes). Self-proclaimed “product geek”, Mike has a passion for paint and decorating tools. Mike now spends most of his time testing paint products and tools, comparing them to similar products on the market, and blogging about the industry in general.
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  1. richard

    Quality costs.
    A customer would pay top dollar for a fancy meal instead of a cafe meal.
    A customer buys a £35k BMW instead of a £8k Dacia.
    A customer goes 5 star all inclusive 14 days instead of a weekend to Blackpool in a B and B.
    Yet these same customers will quibble about few pound extra paint cost from a discount store instead of listening to decorator.

    I always say if challenged cost theres cheaper guys than me but they cheap for a reason..
    Useally works.

  2. Andrew

    Well said.

    Generally speaking, a customer’s point of view is that decorating is a menial low skilled profession. I frequently hear the same line, “we would do it ourselves, but…”. And for most of the time they are correct, they would be able to do an adequate job, and because of this there can be some resentment to pay a respectable fee.

    Personally, what I find most frustrating is a customer willing to pay for high-end Farrow & Ball paint, or wallpaper at £150 per roll, only to expect the application to be made at near minimum wage. And sadly, this is where a customer’s home decorating skills fall short, and where that first roll of £150 wallpaper ends up in pieces in the bin.


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