How Much Should a Decorator Charge?

Rates quoted by decorators can vary from £125 to £350 a day, so how do you know you’re paying a fair price and why are there such big differences?

How Prices for Painting & Decorating are Worked Out

There are a few ways in which a decorator will arrive at a price and much depends on experience of similar jobs and where they are positioning themselves in the market. These are some of the methods available..

Calculate the job based on a Schedule of Rates…

This is where a decorator will build up an estimate or quote based on industry standard rates for each part of the job, down to the last square metre. For large-scale commercial works this is a task carried out by a professional estimator or quantity surveyor because any small miscalculation could lead to a massive loss.

An experienced decorator may have formulated their own custom pricing system based on square metreage for walls and ceilings and linear metreage for skirting and trim. They may also price for wallpapering by the roll and have a set rate for painting doors, windows and so on. This makes it simpler for them to give you a quote without making it obvious what hourly rate they are working to.

The advantage of such systems is that these rates are are based on real-life experience and not just guesswork. For the decorator this means less risk of making a loss and, for the consumer, it’s more likely the job will be completed within the expected cost schedule.

There is nothing worse than finding that your decorator has made a mistake in pricing and then comes to you asking for more money to complete the job. In some extreme situations they may just abandon the works halfway through, leaving you to find someone else to complete the job.

Calculate the job based on an an hourly rate or day rate

For most small domestic decorating jobs this can be a reliable method of arriving at a fair price since a lot of projects are similar and the risk of getting it wrong is not that potentially disastrous.

There are not many small projects that can be priced down to the exact number of hours though, since there are so many variables, so it’s likely the job will be rounded-up to a number of days or weeks.

For this reason, two quotes for the same job will rarely be the same since this method is subject to how optimistic your decorator is about completing the job without any hitches.

Also, bear in mind that a decorator with a full order book is more likely to charge more because they don’t need the work. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you are being ripped off, as the laws of supply and demand dictate, they are simply prioritizing their time to the customers who are willing to pay the most.

Charging an hourly rate or day rate, therefore, is the most transparent pricing method but doesn’t take into account the productivity or efficiency of the person you are employing to do the job. In many cases, the decorator charging the higher rate will get much more work done in a typical day because they have invested in better tools, equipment and systems of working.

A low day rate also indicates a lack of confidence or desperation for work. There are a few excellent decorators out there who charge far less than they are worth and you might get lucky and find one. The likely scenario, however, is that a low quote comes with many compromises.

So what’s a reasonable rate?

Some decorators will work for a day rate of £125, or less, whilst others expect up to £350. In a way, both are offering value but each are targeting a different market.

To explain, let’s compare this to supermarkets. Aldi is known for being cheap and this is the value they offer. In return for being assured of the cheapest prices you are expected to suffer a little inconvenience when it comes the shopping experience.

Waitrose, on the other hand, offer a range of quality branded merchandise, free coffee, a home delivery service, pleasant staff, and much more. This is their value offering and you are going to pay for it via higher prices.

Both supermarkets have a loyal fan base who are perfectly happy with this arrangement.

Then there are a few alternatives in the middle ground who aim to balance low prices with a good experience and this is where most of the trade is done. Their customers may be less loyal and will shop-around with other middle-range competitors.

So, getting back to decorating, you have those who are always aiming to be cheap and others who are looking to offer a superior service. Both will have a customer base, as will those aiming to be the best of both worlds.

With a low a rate you should expect to be doing some of the clearing up and a less than perfect end result. Pay top rate though and only accept an impeccable service and faultless finish.

Breaking down the costs

The fee your decorator charges does not go straight into his pocket, they also have expenses to cover. Their day rate should include all expenses, or overhead, as well as a living wage, so let’s look at these costs and how they effect the final price…

Say your decorator isn’t in it for the money and is happy to earn the basic wage they could expect working for someone else. They like being their own boss but also want to keep busy, being cheap achieves both aims.

You’ll see decorating jobs advertised with rates between £12 and £20 an hour, but a lot depends on whether these are regular employed positions or temporary agency work.

For the sake of argument, let’s just take the standard industry rate determined by [1]The Building and Allied Trades Joint Industrial Council (BATJIC) which is currently £12.10 an hour, or £471.90 a week, plus 30 days holiday pay.

So, from the start, we establish that holiday pay is the first added cost that few people consider…

To include this in our hourly rate we have to work out the actual number of hours worked and, from here on, we’ll use this number of 1,794 hours to work out our base cost.

Calculate Hourly Cost of 30 Days Holiday Pay
52 Weeks x 39 hrs/week = 2,028 working hours per year
Less 30 days (234 hours) holiday (2028 – 234) = 1,794 hrs
Hourly rate of 12.10 x 2,028 hours = 24,538.80 / 1,794 = 13.68 per hour

Transport is another big expense and costs will vary depending on the kind of vehicle used. Your decorator may have a new Transit van that is only used for business or he may be running around in a ten year old Citroen Berlingo that doubles as a family car.

So, to make things simple, we can use the standard HMRC rate of 0.45 pence per mile [2] for vehicle running costs and assume the annual business mileage is a modest 5,000. This works out at £2,250 a year. Vehicle/Transport Costs (£1.25)

The next expense is tools, ladders, dust sheets and the like. In other words, capital cost tools and equipment which have an initial purchase price and will need to be accounted for over a period of years. Let us say our decorator has basic tools and equipment that cost £2,000 and we are going to write this off over 10 years. Capital Tools & Equipment (11p)

Everyday sundry items like brushes, rollers, fillers, primers, blades, rolls of tape, etc can be used over several jobs but still need replacing regularly. £1,000 a year is not an unreasonable estimate. Sundries (56p)

Then there’s public liability insurance, advertising & marketing costs, book-keeping & accountant fees, etc. We should add another £2,000 a year for these expenses. Insurance/Marketing/Accounting (£1.11)

Now we need to add a contingency fund because things don’t always go to plan and only a fool would operate a business without a modest cash reserve to fall back on. A fund of £1,000 per year is quite low. Contingency (56p)

Some decorators will use their own garage or shed for storage but they may need to rent a workshop or a dedicated space for all their paint and equipment. So costs can vary from almost nothing to £5,000 or more a year. For the purpose of this exercise I am going to add a basic £120 or 7 pence an hour because even HMRC [3] acknowledge that using your home as business premises should be considered a valid expense. Storage & Office Expenses (7p)

Waste disposal is also another expense that customers tend not to appreciate but can easily add up. I am going to add 10 pence an hour for this. A full van load of commercial refuse will easily attract a bill of £200 or more, believe it or not. Waste Disposal/Recycling (10p)

So now, put in a simple list, you see there are a few obvious expenses that need to be considered when calculating a fair rate.

Expenses and Overheads to be Added to Hourly RateCost per hourTotal
Hourly rate, including holidays13.68
Vehicle/Transport Costs1.2514.93
Capital Tools, Equipment, Ladders, Dust Sheets, etc0.1115.04
Brushes, Rollers, Sundry Materials0.5615.60
Insurance, Marketing, Accounting Fees1.1116.71
Contingency for Bad Debts, Emergencies0.5617.27
Storage Costs0.0717.34
Waste Disposal0.1017.44
Total hourly rate allowing for basic overheads and expenses17.44
Day rate139.52

We can see now, after allowing for a basic wage, we need to charge at least £17.44 an hour or just short of £140 per day.

Bear in mind that the example costs given have been simplified and real-life expense will be much higher. We can also assume a typical decorator works a fair number of non-billed hours, cleaning brushes/equipment, doing estimates and general admin that they would expect to be compensated for if working for an employer.

Every Business Should Make a Profit

If a business is to succeed over the long term it is essential that it is profitable, not just so it can survive any short-term loss of business but also so it can invest in new tools, equipment and training in order to adapt to a changing world and be able to exploit new opportunities.

Someone charging the bare minimum, however, is always going to be chasing money and will have nothing left over to invest in new equipment or to protect themselves through any lean periods. This is no way to run a business and anyone operating this way would be better off long-term working for someone else.

In summary then, if you value low prices you will have no trouble finding a decorator to accommodate. You may hit the jackpot and find someone who does a great job for a low rate but, on the balance of probability, you’re more likely having to make compromises somewhere.

Paying a high price doesn’t always ensure you’ll get a good result but accepting that a decorator running a sustainable business is never going to be the cheapest should help guide you in the right direction.

[1] The Building and Allied Trades Joint Industrial Council (BATJIC) – The Building and Allied Trades Joint Industrial Council (BATJIC) is a partnership between the FMB and Unite and provides a valuable forum to maintain good industrial relations in the workplace. Each year BATJIC negotiate the National Conditions of Employment and Wage Rates, which together form a Working Rule Agreement. [link]

[2] HMRC Travel — mileage and fuel rates and allowances [link]

[3] HMRC Simplified expenses if you’re self-employed [link]

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