Why Doctors Shouldn’t Paint Their Own House

In this post, I discuss my opinion that doctors shouldn’t paint their own house, based on my experience painting our vacation rental in Palm Springs.

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My real estate investment strategy turned to short term rental in 2021 after I learned about some pretty powerful tax benefits possible in this space.  For my first vacation rental, I purchased a vacation rental in Palm Springs in mid 2021.  

After a brief rental period, we took it out of service to add a pool and reconfigure the interior.  Aside from the cosmetic rehab, we completely changed the kitchen layout, added a bathroom, and moved some walls around.  

Here’s a preview of the backyard before and after the renovation:

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Hard choices

As will often happen with a large renovation job, we exceeded our renovation budget.  In our initial calculations, we budgeted a generous $300,000 for everything.  Due to the following factors, we eventually exceeded our budget:

  • Labor and material shortages 
  • Inspection and permitting delays
  • Changes to the scope of work

Most of these factors can be traced back to disruption caused by the pandemic to supply chains and the glut of construction from the pandemic housing boom.  But the rest of our cost overruns were all self-inflicted. 

At almost every turn, we ended up making more expensive decisions from the style of the spa in the salt water pool (raised and tiled) to the style of shower doors in the new bathrooms (free standing glass).  We also went fairly high end for the furniture and decorations.

So about a month ago, we finally ran through the $300k that we’d allocated for the renovation.  Because of this, we faced a hard decision: do we pull $40,000 from investments to pay for painting the interior and exterior of the house, or should we just do it ourselves?

Doctors shouldn’t paint their own house

I’m going to end the suspense here and just say that my wife and I chose to paint the house ourselves.  I think this was a big mistake.  If you’re making the same choice, I hope you read this and reconsider. I believe that if you’re a high income professional, you shouldn’t paint your own house for the following three reasons:

  • Your time is too precious
  • You’re not a good painter
  • You risk physical harm

Your time is too precious

This might seem obvious to some of you, but it takes a long time to paint a house.  When my wife and I made the decision to paint the house ourselves, our thought process went something like this:  “Well it’s a single story 2100 square foot house.  We’ll buy a paint sprayer and it’ll be fine.”

We couldn’t have been more wrong.  In terms of time spent painting, I estimate it took my wife and I roughly three weeks, painting about 8 hours a day, to paint the house.  

If you’ve noticed that my blog posting has been a bit sporadic recently, this is the main reason why.  Virtually every single vacation day and almost all weekends for the past 1-2 months have been spent in Palm Springs painting.  

It turns out that houses have roughly five billion different types of surfaces that all need to be painted separately.  For example: ceilings, walls, doors, trim, molding, and exterior stucco.  I suppose if we decided to just paint everything using the same color and type of paint, it would have been faster.  But it also would have looked like crap.

So we tried to do it the right way.  We carefully prepared every surface with tape and plastic, isolating each different surface.  We used a variety of flat and semi-gloss paint depending on the surface.  We used interior paint for the inside, and exterior paint for the outside.  And while the sprayer did make things more efficient, painting five billion surfaces still takes forever.

You’re not a good painter

Another thing that quickly became very clear is that painting is a specialized skill.  While it’s easy to slap paint on a wall, it’s entirely a different matter to do it well.  Once my wife and I started painting, we quickly realized that our paint job was going to be mediocre.  

There were a lot of surfaces that could have used much more extensive prep work.  For example, a lot of the walls could have used some sanding to smooth out the uneven surfaces.  I gave it a good try, but after a half hour of sanding, I realized that I had neither the muscle power or the patience to do much sanding.  Instead, I just slapped paint over the uneven areas and hoped it wouldn’t be noticeable once it all dried.  Luckily, flat white paint is very forgiving.

And while I’m an excellent surgeon and can wield a scalpel and cautery with precision, I was humbled by the simple paintbrush.  Basically any surface I painted by hand looked like crap.  I decided to default to the paint sprayer for most surfaces, because it largely makes up for lack of painting skill.  

But a paint sprayer can only do so much.  When I compare the paint job in Palm Springs to our home in Los Angeles (which we had professionally painted), I’d give our painting a generous B minus.  

You risk physical harm

Our final miscalculation was how physically demanding it is to paint a house.  I envisioned simply walking around, pointing the paint sprayer at the walls and pulling the trigger.  However, I forgot that a paint sprayer requires paint, and paint is very heavy.  (Five gallon buckets of paint weigh about fifty pounds each.)

Instead of cooly walking around just pointing a paint sprayer at a wall, it was more like this hellish exercise routine:

  • Crouching then extending my body to tape off all the surfaces
  • Bicep curls with 50 pounds to position the paint drum
  • Arm raises with the paint sprayer while stair-climbing up and down a ladder
  • Drag the paint sprayer and paint drum five feet
  • Repeat x 100 times   

The level of physical exhaustion that my wife and I experienced from the painting was like nothing we’d experienced recently.  The only real experience that rivals house-painting in my mind is moving.  That’s right.  Packing up your house, loading and unloading a moving van is about as physically demanding as painting a house in my opinion.

I also almost fell off a ladder at least three separate times.  As my buddy Carpe Diem MD can tell us, falling off a ladder can be pretty devastating.

The final straw was the doors.  Solid wood and glass French doors are incredibly heavy.  Somewhere along the line, I tore a muscle in my back while lugging these doors around and positioning them on saw horses for painting.  So for about two weeks after the door painting, I had shooting pains in my back if I laid on my left side or lifted anything above my umbilicus.

Doctors shouldn’t paint their own house

If my wife and I had scrounged up the cash to pay for a professional painting team, we would have had three extra weeks of rest and relaxation this year.  We’d probably be more rejuvenated and less burnt out.  We’d also have a much better final product with much less wear and tear on our admittedly middle aged bodies.  

For all these reasons, I really would never recommend any high income professional to paint their own house. 

And yet… I feel an immense feeling of satisfaction that we managed to paint the damn thing ourselves.  If you don’t look closely, the paint looks decent.  And after paint supplies, we still probably saved about $35,000, which is no small sum of money.  


In the end, I’m glad that my wife and I decided to paint our Palm Springs house ourselves.  Because that experience taught me that it was ill advised, and I can communicate this to you all, my loyal readers.  

If I joke to my wife now that I want to paint another house, she throws something at my head.

Do-it-yourself painting is great in small doses, but painting a whole house is another story. If you decide to go ahead and paint a house by yourself despite my warning, I hope the experience will teach you what we learned: house painting is better left to the professionals.

— The Darwinian Doctor

Have you ever painted a whole house before? Was it as bad as I’m making it out to be? Comment below!

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1 year ago

Pretty timely article.

I had the same decision to make about a month ago whether to have all the decks etc to my house painted by a professional or as a DIY.

I fortunately went with the professional (which cost me $17k). I definitely under estimated the time and effort it took to paint everything (have multiple decks etc) as it took a crew of 4 over 6 days to do the job. The results achieved were far better than I would have done as I would have done far less prep work. And unlike your single story situation, I had multiple decks that were 10-40 ft above the ground.

1 year ago

Thanks for the honest post. I feel like we need more posts like this when folks are talking about setting it STRs especially when in regards to renovation budgets and manual labor required.

1 year ago

I agree with much of the post.

Regarding value of time, if I understand correctly you both painted 8 hours every day for 3 weeks to finish. This works out to about $100 per hour based on your savings. I suspect a lot of “high earning professionals” do not clear this amount, AFTER TAXES. I would estimate my own DIY to be anywhere between $100-$300 per hour and it’s not a bad way to burn off some expiring vacation time.

Quality might not be great, but as you say “flat rental white” is forgiving and no one might notice you smudged the ceiling with wall paint. If you need to do a lot of sanding you can buy or rent a machine.

Definitely avoid falls from height.

Seth Parent
8 months ago

DIY Home renovation is always risky for novice homeowners. For doctors, it is especially difficult because of a lack of time. Moreover, they are not skilled painters, and there is a risk of physical harm.

7 months ago

Ahh, the timeless debate of whether doctors should paint their own houses or not! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your take on this topic. Your wit and humor made me chuckle, and your arguments were well thought out and presented. As someone who enjoys a good DIY project, I can relate to the desire to take on a house painting project. But, I also understand the importance of self-care and taking time for oneself. Great post, I look forward to reading more from you!

Rose Chandler
20 days ago

It’s refreshing to read about your real-life experience and the hard choices you faced during your Palm Springs house renovation. Your honesty about the challenges of DIY painting and the physical toll it took is invaluable. Your three reasons why high-income professionals shouldn’t paint their own houses are spot-on, and your personal anecdotes really drive those points home. It’s clear that you’ve learned from this experience, and your candid advice will undoubtedly help others make informed decisions.

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