A Day in the Life of a Construction Cost Estimator

June 13, 2022
construction cost estimator

What does it take to start a career as a professional cost estimator?

As a construction cost estimator, you are tasked with a difficult–but rewarding– position of winning the next big profitable project for your construction company. This can determine where people work for several months, or even years.

The estimating process is similar to shopping for a new car: You have a pretty good idea of what car you’re trying to buy, so you visit several websites to get many price quotes. Then, after getting five or so quotes, you test drive two cars and finally settle on the one you want to purchase. The final car is the best deal in terms of value.

Estimating in construction is similar. When a land owner or developer wants to construct a new building, they first get help from engineers and architects to design the project. Then, with a typical GC project, the developer sends out an invitation for contractor bids. The developer shares the designs so the contractors understand the project scope and can develop an accurate price.

As an in-house estimator for a medium to large contracting company, you’ll probably receive dozens of invitations every month. It’s your job to find the best invitations, then build the best bid so your company can win profitable work and earn money without losing the project to competitors.

Think construction estimating is the right career for you? Here’s what a day in the life of a construction cost estimator looks like.

Invitation to Bid

Receiving and reviewing invitations for contractor bids from the latest and greatest project proposals.

  • You get to see where they’re building the next big projects in your area, like new restaurants, apartment buildings, schools, or museums.

Decide which invitations have the best fit for your company.

  • Each company has different strengths. Some specialize in interiors, others specialize in structural items like concrete and wood framing. Some specialize in new homes, others in office buildings.
  • Choose the invitations best for your company.

Decide which invitations are most profitable and worth the company effort.

  • If your company specializes in building residential homes, not every residential invitation to bid will be the right fit.
  • Some will be for custom homes, where others will be for large neighborhood developments.
  • If a project is common, lots of contractors will bid. More contractors means more competition, which means lower profits. What is the unique factor that your company offers?
  • If a project is difficult, fewer contractors will bid. Profits will be higher, but the project may be tougher to complete.
  • You may also decide to pursue a project to build your company’s portfolio. For instance, maybe you’ve never built a restaurant, and you’d like to break into restaurant construction.

Pitch the best invitations to your company and get approval to estimate.

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Construction Cost Estimating

Call the client with the invitation. Ask them more about the project to learn every detail possible.

Visit the job site. Is it a clear dirt lot, or is demolition in scope?

Study the drawings. How big is the job, how many rooms or floors are there, is there information missing? Ask the client if information is missing. (Hint: there will always be information missing.)

Begin your takeoffs. How much is on the drawings that needs to be built?

Takeoffs is an industry term for measurements. If you are a painting company putting a price bid together for a hospital addition, you need to know how many walls and ceilings need to be painted. This will tell you how much paint to buy and how many hours it will take your crew to finish. Each material gets measured in a specific way (painting in square feet, doors in each, etc.).

Price your takeoffs. How much does this project cost to build?

Let’s use a painting scenario as an example.

  • Based on the painting example, you may have 10,000 SF of walls and 3,000 SF of ceiling.
  • How much does the material cost? We know that a gallon of paint costs about $20 and covers about 250 square feet.
  • How much does the labor cost? We also know that one good painter can paint 400 square feet of wall per hour, and we pay him $40/hour.

With these examples, you can start to see how to build a price based on a design.

Apply profits. Making money is the fun part! Work with your team to figure out how much profit to apply.

Format your estimate. Just like school, presentation and organization matters. A construction cost estimator prepares a nice printout or digital report of your contractor bid and its details. By using construction takeoff software like 1build, you can create a professional-looking proposal that can be shared as a PDF, spreadsheet, or as a live link that anyone can open.

Deliver your estimate on time. Before the day and time requested, check the details of the invitation to make sure you are delivering your estimate on time.

Negotiate the final cost. At a car dealership, you may try to talk the seller down on the price. In construction, the owner or developer may do the same. You’ll need to work out a price that’s both profitable for you and agreeable to the owner.

If you win, sign the contract! Once you and the client both agree to a price, you’ve won the job! Celebrate with your coworkers, then tackle the next bid.

If you are looking to hire a professional construction cost estimator, 1build can connect you with our Estimator Network! These professional estimators have experience that covers nearly every residential and commercial project type.

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