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Contractors who don't know how to bid accurately often don't know what their production rates are. A good place to start is the PDCA Cost & Estimating Guide, which is available at google books. Below is the link:

Once you figure out the production rates for any given surface, you need to figure out what to charge per hour. This is the golden question. Say your painters make $15 an hour (in SoCal this is dirt cheap), you then have to add overhead costs (such as workers comp, general liability, utilities, salaries, etc) and profit. Our base hourly rate is $45 an hour, which includes a minimum 10% profit margin, but this price leaves little to no room for error. I hardly bid a job for less than $50 an hour per worker. I have charged up to $65 an hour per painter on some projects. Our current profit margins are 10 to 20 percent,a and we are currently closing on 40% of all of our estimates.

I recommend contractors who are not a part of the Painting & Decorating Contractors of America to join asap. They have a ton of resources. If there are any other good associations, please clue me in.
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