When the primer is dry, caulk all small joints (less than ¼-inch-wide) in the siding and trim. Most pros use siliconized acrylics—paint won't stick to straight silicones—but Guertin and O'Neil like the new, more expensive urethane acrylics for their greater flexibility and longevity. O'Neil stresses that it's shortsighted to skimp on caulk. "If the joint fails, you're back to square one." Guertin uses the lifetime rating as his quality guide. "I don't expect 35-year caulk will last 35 years, but it should last longer than a 15-year caulk."

A good contractor doesn’t just do quality work, of course. Workers should be courteous, pleasant, and capable of clear communication. Ideally, the people altering your home’s look will be enthusiastic about the task rather than jaded and burnt out. Find out from your references what kind of attitude the company’s workers displayed, and whether they behaved professionally. Also ask whether the crew stayed on schedule, and whether they arrived early each day, did their work, and got out of there.

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