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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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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