7 Mistakes a Seasoned Estimator Knows Not to Make

Construction is an industry with razor-thin margins. It’s important not to overlook the importance of comprehensive budgets and estimates when companies are working under immense pressure to get work done on time and for a profit.

 Overlooking cost variances may lead to big hits to your profit margin. That’s why the most experienced and tenured estimators across the industry handle their projects differently, focusing on cost certainty and leveraging all the tools at their disposal. They use data to their advantage and spend their time increasing accuracy and reducing errors, until they have a high level of confidence their project will fall inside the upper and lower limits of their estimate.  

As an estimator, there are things you need to be picky about. There are also sand traps that you need to avoid. Fortunately, with a few small changes, you can more often avoid potential mistakes and improve your estimates in the long term.

1. Spreadsheet reliance

Spreadsheets may sometimes be a bit of a necessary evil – you may need them sometimes, but overreliance can hinder the estimation process. Working solely or primarily out of spreadsheets leaves your estimates prone to error.  Manual inputs and human error, accidentally deleting a spreadsheet, or not having all the spreadsheets you need in one place can all lead to damaging errors.

Consider using cloud-based construction estimating software to reduce your reliance on spreadsheets. Rather than going back and forth between different spreadsheets, you can keep all the little details you need in one place. As an estimator, a cloud-based cost estimating solution can help keep your company competitive, because you can create realistic bids faster. 

2. Not using templates

When you have a template, it’s much easier to make sure you have consistency across project bids. Not starting from scratch every time is a good way to save time, yes, but it also means you’re less likely to omit important information.

With templates, you can prefill vital information, such as your business’s contact information, contract terms, and other details that could influence the value of your bid or the work you’re doing. You want a good template that has all the agreed-upon rates printed clearly for yourself and your clients.

3. Not performing adequate risk analysis

Risk analysis is simply a part of the job for you, because not realizing all the potential risks could mean that you put together an estimate for a project that is just too low. From bespoke and niche designs that add time and additional material costs to not factoring in material cost increases, you could run into trouble if the risks end up coming to fruition. 

When you’re assessing a new project, take the time to really get to know it. Take a spin in the model, ask the VDC manager or project manager for an overview, any familiarity you can gain will benefit you in the long hall. If there is any part of the project that is a high risk, keep digging until you understand the possible downsides of that part of the build. 

4. Not using available models

2D and 3D models are an essential part of creating an accurate estimate. The best estimators know how and when to leverage models to get the most benefits out of them.

As mentioned under #3, models help you better visualize a design or the plans for a project, so you have a real grasp of the full scope of the project. With the right model, you’ll be able to generate a more accurate takeoff, faster. Keep in mind, too, that having instant access to model quantities for items that are tedious or hard to count accurately in 2D will save you time and reduce the risk of omissions and miscalculations.

5. Not using the right pricing

Not using the right pricing causes issues. Remember that you must account for changes in the cost of labor or materials in different regions. You may even need to calculate different pricing based on the time of year or changes in the economy.

For the most accurate estimate, you’ll at least need pricing that you can change automatically based on the region you’re working in. You should be able to access transparent pricing information, including the current prevailing wages and private wages in the area. Using a construction cost database helps you start out your bid with the right cost information available at your fingertips.

6. Not checking your work

According to a survey by Quickbooks, 1 in 4 construction companies would go out of business if they made just two or three inaccurate estimates. Double checking your work is of the utmost importance to avoid errors that could hurt your business’s bottom line.  

The last thing you want is to see that you won a fixed-price-contract but undershot the actual estimate by 5, 10, or even 20% of its true value.

7. Not counterchecking subcontractor proposals

Subcontractors submit project bids for different jobs, and it’s your job to go through the proposals to see what is or is not included. You need to make sure that the subcontractors didn’t miss part of their scope or omit it from the bid.  

When you dig through these proposals, you’re giving yourself the opportunity to countercheck the subcontractors’ work and to make sure they’re not overquoting the price. 

Improve Your Estimates and Make Better Bids 

Improving your estimates is possible if you use the right software. Construction cost databases, construction takeoff software, and construction estimating software all help you be sure you have the right numbers to make decisions about your project.

With the right information, you’ll reduce the likelihood of underbidding and minimize the chances of errors of omission. Consider trying ProEst construction estimating software and Autodesk Takeoff to take your project from bid to takeoff more quickly and easily than before.

Additionally, if you want to learn how you can accelerate your estimating, 2D and 3D takeoff workflows, you may want to check out our MasterClass for Estimators. 

If you think a demo would be helpful, please contact us. We’d be happy to show you around and answer all your questions. 

Nate Coombs