Painting: No Time for a Whitewash Job

Painting: No Time for a Whitewash Job

by Kathy Danforth / Published May 2015

Blue Condominium in Miami, a 36-story, luxury condominium near the ocean, faced its first exterior painting in 2013. Though the painting and restoration job was originally slated to take four to six months, the completion will be closer to 18 months. With the right people on the job, however, the project is a success because the community is confident that they are getting the work that needed to be done completed the right way.

Senior Property Manager Christina Chacon with Castle Group recalls, “The planning really started four years ago. The association hired an engineering firm to represent the owners and develop a scope of work and guidelines. There were other issues to address in addition to the painting, so this was the time to do it—stucco delamination, leaks, water ponding on catwalks, and modifying the pool grate system to improve drainage. Because of the size of the project, the board wanted someone with expertise to create specifications, protect the owners’ interests, and make sure the work was done the right way.”

After developing specifications, the engineer answered questions from the board and management. Chacon shares, “The engineer explained that the paint is protection, which we especially need with our exposure to salt in the air. The parking garage had not been painted previously—that omission was a way the developer saved money—but we’ve found that the paint makes the garage brighter as well as protects the concrete.”

0515-castle-group-article-secondary-picContractors were recommended by the engineering firm, board members, and Castle Group, with 13 contractors attending a meeting on site prior to bidding. “The engineer checked bids and references, and the board, management, and the engineer held interviews with the four contenders with the lowest bids. We asked a variety of questions: Will you be able to meet payroll between payments? What is your prior experience with this type and size of project? How many employees will be on the job? New construction is quite different from restoration work, so we were looking for a company with experience working around residents on site. Some contractors said that they would have more than 20 employees on site, but the contractor we selected said he would use about 14 employees, which we knew was appropriate for the size of the project. We asked how they would address specific repairs and typical painting. The contractor with the lowest price bombed in the interview and could not give good answers. It’s very important not to just look at price; making sure they have the right expertise for your project and property and have worked on a residential property of your size before is essential,” Chacon explains.

0515-painting2-article-secondary-picDuring the project, both the paint manufacturer and the engineer reviewed work before each payout. “The paint supply company representative provides a certificate that paint is the proper type and applied correctly,” Chacon notes. “That protects both the contractor and the association should the paint fail prematurely, and it provides back-up if you have to use the warranty.

“For each payment period, the contractor charges according to the percentage of completion, with 10 percent retainage until completion,” Chacon explains. “Our engineer validated the amount of work done, and on occasions when there was a disagreement, the payout bill was revised.

“The engineer also inspectedfor broken stucco prior to painting and marked it for removal, protecting the association from paying for stucco that did not need removal. It’s not good practice to allow the contractor to mark their own stucco to remove,” advises Chacon.

During a painting project, there may be more revealed than concealed. “It’s amazing what you will find when you start these projects!” Chacon observes. “That’s the unfortunate part. Issues are hidden, and when contractors start to dig, they come out. That’s why it’s important to have a trustworthy team able to identify these concerns and address them.”

Blue Condominium found a number of items to address that were not in the original agenda of tasks. “We needed to add drains in the garage to alleviate ponding water, repair additional expansion joints, and replace caulking around the windows. Originally, our engineer felt that we wouldn’t have to replace the caulk until the next painting, but when the project was in progress, they found replacement was needed now,” says Chacon.

“We also found that the waterproofing on our second floor was delaminating. We needed to fix that to avoid damage to the lobby and offices underneath, but the cost was another $250,000. Since we had a contractor who is versatile at restoration and is able to do more than paint, we’ve been able to make the additional repairs without bringing in another contractor,” she adds. “For any change orders, the engineer reviews the work proposed and the price. This expertise goes a long way because you have someone who is in the business every day and knows a fair price. The general contractor is here, so who would be better able to do it? But, our engineer did come to the table with the contractor to explain why a price was unfair. It was very beneficial to have someone who knows the business and is able to fight on your behalf,” observes Chacon.

“Expect the unexpected,” Chacon advises. “We had a number of delays just from nature—wind and rain are a big factor on a building this high. We found areas of stucco that were too thick and building them up with a different material was very time-consuming. Once you’ve discovered something, there’s an opportunity as well as an obligation to address it and do it correctly. That not only takes time but money as well.”

Chacon strongly recommends that communities be prepared financially. “Anticipate additional costs, especially on large properties. Luckily, these additional costs haven’t been a problem because we prepared by securing a construction line of credit. Be creative and have a plan!”

Chacon says they would have written their engineer’s contract differently had they known how the project would develop and be extended. “Our engineering contract was a flat fee for the original time frame, but after that, it has been on an hourly basis. When things are itemized, it runs up the cost. Additional items were added and we needed their expertise, but you can protect yourself financially at the beginning by negotiating a flat monthly fee for the duration of the project. In writing contracts, prepare for the worst-case scenario!” Chacon suggests.

Meanwhile, for those who are most impacted by the process and the results—the residents—communication and consideration are essential. “Luckily, our residents have been extremely patient because they realize what’s going on,” Chacon relates. “We’ve communicated since the beginning so they knew the expectation, and we’ve explained delays. We try to give advance notice of anything that affects them: we would tell residents if we would be working on their balcony line and there might be a lift outside the window, or if stucco would be flying and belongings would need to be brought in to keep them clean. When you communicate, people can expect the situation; that’s better than being surprised.

“So much about a project depends on the contractor,” Chacon notes. “This crew has been professional and was used to working in a residence, which is much different than working at new construction. They were trying to be courteous.”

Regular communication with the contractor enabled minimizing the impact on the residents as well as satisfactorily dealing with project issues. “The owner of the restoration company came into my office every day to let me know what was going on and any difficulties. There were biweekly progress reports with the board, on-site and corporate property management, and our engineer. That was an opportunity to express concerns and figure out solutions for all parties. There was a lot of documentation, communication, and photos,” says Chacon.

Planning, contractor selection, and project implementation all require an exchange of information, especially when the scope of work changes. “This project has gone as well as it has due to so much communication,” according to Chacon. Finding more repairs that needed to be done in the course of the project has been an opportunity to prevent future damage; for Blue Condominium, a project well done is money well spent.