The Mystery of Paint & Avalanches

“Even the largest avalanche is triggered by small things.” – Vernor Vinge, author


My wife has been asking me to repaint the interior of our home. She said she “wanted it to be a more relaxing color.” So, I told her, if you leave it alone, that would be the most relaxing thing we could do.

Oh, well… when it comes to debating, some positions are destined to be losers.

What is it about paint, anyway? It’s one of those seemingly small considerations when building and designing a new home, but its impact is downright enormous. For reasons which will become clear as you read this article, I’ve been doing a lot of research into the way our client builders select and apply interior paint to their new homes, and I am still puzzled about one aspect of interior paint.

You probably know that there is a well-researched psychology of paint colors. We know that color can affect mood and alter perceptions of taste, of size, of distance. I can remember reading a study that confirmed that a soft green was considered to be the most ‘soothing’ color, great for hospitals, jails, classrooms, and bars in bowling alleys.

The color red – associated with anxiety and high energy – has also been shown to degrade analytical performance, so it wouldn’t be good for your home office or IRS Audit meeting rooms.

Here is the puzzling part:

At the end of the first year in their new home, we ask homeowners to evaluate the quality of 18 elements in their home, from flooring, to drywall, to windows, to interior paint.

You might think the element with the strongest dissatisfaction would be an ‘operational’ feature like a toilet, or time to receive hot water, or squeaky floors (and these are poorly ranked, for sure).

However, for literally 90 percent of our 150 builder clients, their homeowners award Interior Paint with their highest dissatisfaction scores. (Note: Interior paint is not an issue that creates high satisfaction, but it is a lightning rod for dissatisfaction, and, also, significantly lowers the homeowner’s willingness to recommend the builder.) Although an 85 percent customer rating is our minimally acceptable criterion for any home quality issue, the average satisfaction rating for Interior Paint is only 75 percent, with about 12 percent of our clients scoring below 60 percent.

Here are some verbatim comments from just two residents of one builder’s communities, but are representative of the issues on the top of homeowners’ interior paint complaint list:

• Poor quality paint. The worst feature about your homes and everyone knows it. The painters told me.

• Can’t wipe it down without it coming off.

• Flat paint gets dirty way too easily, impossible to clean.

• If you look at the paint wrong it will stain, no washability.

• Touch-ups don’t match, need to repaint the entire wall.

• One coat of cheap paint. Nice for a tenement apartment.

Sherwin-Williams? Dunn-Edwards? When selecting paint and painters for your next community, remember that the #1 homeowner complaint is about paint. Homeowners share their paint stories with their neighbors, and this avalanche of negative word of mouth can close the lips of customers who normally would have been willing to recommend you.

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