Why You Should Ditch Construction Takeoff Software

April 21, 2020
4 Reasons Why You Should Ditch Construction Takeoff Software|4 reasons to ditch construction takeoff software

4 Reasons to Take a Second Look at Construction Estimating Services

For the last three months, you’ve been bombarded with online advertisements promoting construction takeoff software. Every site you visit on the web seems to be yet another pitch telling you to take the plunge and finally invest in takeoff software. Either you simply don’t have enough budget to keep a cost estimator on staff or you’re tired of pulling all-nighters trying to create your own custom takeoffs only to discover later they’re inaccurate. Now you’re losing money on a job you should be profiting from. In short, you’re tired of wasting time and money by not having detailed and accurate takeoffs and, let’s face it, takeoff software looks like an easy and affordable way to eliminate headaches and increase your bottom line. 

But you know what they say--if it looks too good to be true, it usually is. So you may want to press the pause button before you spend your budget on takeoff software or renew your subscription and here’s why. While many convincing sales reps and marketers are promoting the benefits of construction takeoff software, there is a multitude of reasons why you should hold off from purchasing it or swap out your software for other solutions. In this post, we identify four reasons why you should ditch your construction takeoff software and provide a great alternative for developing accurate quantity takeoffs: cost estimating services. 

#1: Construction Takeoff Software Alone Is Inaccurate 

While construction takeoff software fans swear it’s more accurate than developing a takeoff manually, they fail to see that it’s precisely the lack of human intervention that makes takeoff software prone to error. In many situations, there is simply not enough detail in a construction drawing for the software to produce accurate results. 

But in many other situations, the software simply hasn’t matured enough to handle the unique and comprehensive demands of specific trade work to be measured. For example, the software simply makes errors when trying to calculate topsoil re-spread in earthworks measurements. In other cases, the software system is missing key types of materials needed to complete a takeoff.  

Even a tiny miscalculation or oversight can mean hours of extra effort to fix the takeoff. What’s more, these missteps, even when caught before construction begins, can mean disaster for a contractor’s bottom line. 

see 1build in action - book a demo

#2: Takeoff Software Is Expensive and It Could Take Years Before You Start Seeing ROI (if at all)

While proponents of construction takeoff software suggest that software can help your company compete in an increasingly competitive market and improve your margins, in reality, they fail to warn customers that construction takeoff software is not only expensive, but will also immediately increase your operating costs, lowering your margins. But just how expensive is it? Well, a huge range of takeoff software exists from low to high-end as well as two dominant business models--subscription or pay-per-download--which can have a dramatic impact on the final cost. However, at the high-end, a subscription can cost you $2000 per user annually or $1800 per download. This quickly adds up when you have multiple users and/or are doing many takeoffs a year. It’s not surprising that many contractors complain they must resort to sharing licenses between users because having dedicated licenses is too cost-prohibitive. Moreover, contractors on subscription plans should be prepared for costs to increase prohibitively every year at renewal. In fact, in some cases, the cost of the software is so exorbitant that some users claim it can actually inhibit a company’s growth. And that’s perhaps a price no company should ever have to pay.

In many instances, the software lacks critical components--such as databases--that it needs to function, and contractors have had to hire full-time staff to develop databases so they could use the software! So once again, contractors purchase software because they can’t afford a full-time cost estimator but are then forced to hire a full-time staffer so they can use the software they've already spent thousands of budget dollars on. If it sounds absurd that’s because it is, but this absurd scenario is more common than you think. 

Great software that actually solves a business problem not only pays for itself, it also provides a real return on investment (ROI). However, studies have shown that even the top-tier quantity takeoff programs may take years before a contractor can recoup the money spent and most low-tier programs may never provide enough benefits to ever pay for themselves.

#3: Takeoff Software Will Cost You More Time

Proponents of construction takeoff software also suggest you’ll see a huge advantage from speed because software is more efficient. According to this logic, a contractor should be able to shave off hours of time spent manually measuring takeoff units. But they fail to realize that for every hour you save producing a takeoff more efficiently, you’ll lose two trying to sufficiently master the software so you can achieve an incremental edge in efficiency. What’s more, problems inherent in the software may simply mean it will actually take you longer to do a takeoff task in the software than it would be to do it manually. 

Spend even a few moments reviewing real reviews from contractors who have purchased construction takeoff software and you’ll see common complaints that all revolve around how difficult the software is to learn and how long it can take before the software is actually helping the takeoff process rather than making it more difficult: “Steep, steep, steep learning curve” or “Too much to figure out. Wish it was simpler” or “Such-and-such task is not clear” or “The user interface is cumbersome” or “The software does not function intuitively as it appears on the demos. I’ve actually had to do a takeoff twice because of software glitches.” Imagine spending thousands of dollars on software to complete quantity takeoffs faster, only to find you now have to do them twice! Often the software simply lacks core functionality, such as an inability to copy takeoff or assembly information from one page of a drawing to another, which serves to limit the software’s overall performance because users can’t save time by leveraging previous assemblies and workflows. In these scenarios, shared elements in large projects have to be recreated from scratch every time. Yes, you read that correctly: from scratch, each time. 

The learning curve for construction takeoff software is in fact so steep, that many takeoff software providers include time to learn the program as a major criterion when evaluating software to purchase. In short, you have to spend a lot of time working to master the software before you can begin to capitalize on the investment, and for many contractors, the software ends up wasting both their time and money. At a bare minimum, make sure you screen your takeoff software provider for the amount and quality of its tech support. 

#4: Takeoff Software Algorithms Excel at Standardization, but Fail at Customization

Takeoff software has two limitations when it comes to customization. While construction takeoff software excels at standardizing basic or common processes involved in a quantity takeoff, it often does poorly when (1) the project involves customization or (2) the estimator’s workflow involves customization.

In terms of project customization, takeoff software simply cannot handle specialist, custom-built aspects of a project. Whether this is a special sauna, custom glazing, or a uniquely designed spiral staircase, takeoff software is simply out of its depth when it tries to accurately measure the work involved in building them. For example, the takeoff algorithm may try to multiply the cost of many smaller, off-the-shelf windows to arrive at the cost of an individually designed larger panel of glazing but the final result will be completely different.

Another issue with customization is that each cost estimator has his own unique workflow due to habit or their current working environment and conditions. The one-size-fits-all approach that takeoff software employs by design can become extremely problematic for many users. Whether you need simple workflow customizations such as customizing the export bid PDF or the font and letterhead or being able to customize the job bidding screen, there are bound to be standards within the software that reduce efficiency and overall productivity for many users. This is why one of the most common complaints about construction takeoff software from contractors is that it makes them less efficient. 

The Solution: Cost Estimating Services

As we noted earlier, there are benefits to using takeoff software but also considerable costs due primarily to the lack of human intervention into the quantity takeoff process. For these reasons, the perfect solution is an AI-powered cost estimating service, which provides the benefits of both automated and manual takeoff methods. Unlike takeoff software, contractors work directly with a human estimator who can catch problems and errors with drawings that software can’t, resulting in more accurate takeoffs, and they can also leverage years of field experience to handle unique or customized aspects of projects. The algorithms cost estimating services use also increase the efficiency of the takeoff process, producing a detailed and accurate quantity takeoff that won’t break your budget. What’s more, unlike complicated takeoff software that takes months or years to master, cost estimating services provide a streamlined process where you subscribe and seamlessly upload your plans, getting a return on your investment within days. 

If you’ve been struggling to master construction takeoff software or are not seeing a return on your investment, isn’t it time you tried a cost estimating service? Discover the 5 major benefits of construction cost estimating services.

1build provides an easy-to-use integration with construction supplier catalogs and purchasing systems. Get access to millions of construction materials with our API today