What does a construction estimator do?

Possibly the most crucial part to a construction project is construction estimating. It is the process of calculating the material, labor, equipment and overhead costs associated with a building project and then creating a quote, bid or project budget with the information.

Who are construction estimators

A construction estimator is the budget or contract bids maker of a building project. The person who keeps things on track, running on budget and on time. They have years of experience in construction, have lots of construction industry contacts, have strong math skills and have good communication, time management and analytical skills. They may compile detailed cost proposals for a project manager of a construction company and project stakeholders. Sometimes they are the builders themselves; running a small business means you wear many hats, including estimator.

Types of estimators

There are three categories of customers or companies that use construction estimators. Although the cost estimations are similarly performed, there are different focuses for each.

1. Client’s cost estimator

In this category, the cost estimator is involved from the idea stage of the project. It is usually a smaller job like a house, rather than large construction like a shopping center or apartment block. Here, there is an element of managing the client’s expectations, budget control, negotiating costs and helping to finalize the contract. It is about getting the best quality at the best value for the homeowner.

2. Contractor’s cost estimator

Here, the cost estimator looks at the project’s scope, the feasibility of the project, and they ensure the job fits within the contractor’s scope of work and that a profit can be made from it. A contractor uses a cost estimator to draft contract bids. Generally, you don’t want your bid to be the cheapest or the dearest because these are often ignored. So, quotes must be competitive, professional and accurate. A contractor is looking to bid for jobs that they can achieve, make a profit on and manage within the project deadlines.

3. Engineer’s cost estimator

A cost estimator can help an engineer with creating a blueprint or draft that provides quality work at a good value. They can do this by offering alternative construction methods or different materials when the engineer’s current ideas won’t work for the project. The estimator will consider things like the location of the construction project and the logistics of getting everything on the construction sites.

What does a construction estimator do?

A construction estimator is at the core of getting a construction project built within budget, on time and with minimal unexpected issues. They are mathematicians, negotiators, advisors, analytical thinkers, they need to think ahead and have great time management skills. Just to name a few things.

What are their typical tasks?

There are many tasks a construction estimator performs, including:

  • Performing quantity takeoffs – calculating the cost of materials.
  • To read blueprints, or technical documents and to analyze data.
  • Data entry.
  • Research material costs and construction industry developments.
  • Understand what machinery or equipment is needed, their costs and how they need to be transported.
  • Visit construction sites – to find any issues or obstacles that must be considered, like hills, drainage or rock.
  • Time management – they have to estimate how long a job will take to finish. So, they must consider delivery schedules, bad weather, equipment breakdowns or anything else that may slow the project down.
  • Risk assessment – this can include Occupational Health and Safety issues or considering bad weather.
  • Fortune-telling – a construction estimator must look into the future to predict any issues that may arise, such as changes in regulations, price increases and the likelihood of rain.
  • Coordinate communication – there are many contractors involved in a construction project like electricians, plumbers and painters for example, and they all need to be coordinated. Good communication skills are a must for construction estimators.
  • Advise – sometimes a client wants something done in a particular way, that really isn’t feasible, so it is up to the construction estimator to advise them on the most cost-effective solution.

What challenges do construction estimators face?

Just like there are many duties, there are many challenges that face a construction estimator. Sometimes the biggest challenge can be to maintain a client’s expectations. They may be looking for gold-star luxury on a bronze-age budget. 

Of course, there is the big challenge of predicting what may happen down the track. Will costs increase? Are there going to be any regulatory changes? How much bad weather will there be? What will the market trends be? These questions are especially important for construction projects that may not begin for a year or jobs that take years to complete.

How do they fit into the bigger picture?

The goal in the construction industry is to make a building or structure that makes a profit, is safe, looks like it’s meant to, is completed on time and meets the owner’s expectations. Without a construction estimator, the chances of those five things occurring are very slim.

Tools construction estimators use

Once, it used to take a pencil, paper, a slide rule and a calculator to perform an estimate. This takes lots of time, is vulnerable to human error and changes would add even more time to the process and profits depend totally on the skills and abilities of the estimator. Thankfully, progress has reached the construction industry estimations making them quicker and more accurate.

Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets allowed estimators to put down the slide ruler and the calculator. Even though they can be easily altered, the simple-to-use templates make the job quicker, they are a little more accurate and the ability to add charts or graphs make them easier for a non-builder to understand, they can’t compare to the ease, accuracy and speed of estimating software. 

Estimating software

Then, along came estimating software. These estimating calculators are much faster, more accurate and they can be uploaded with databases of material price lists. By adding data to the estimating tool, through downloading blueprints or entering specifications, the estimator tool makes calculations and cost estimates. These tools help to minimize the discrepancies between the estimated and actual costs.

Simulation tools

As the name suggests, the simulation tool makes a virtual replication of the building project. This allows the construction cost estimator to spot any errors or issues with the design, the material quantity takeoff or the detailed cost proposals.

Conclusion

If you have anything to do with the building industry then you probably know how invaluable a construction cost estimate is, but if you didn’t before, we hope you do now. They are critical to offering a bid or quote. Without one, you would have no idea how to correctly estimate the costs, the time frame of the build or if the job is even feasible for construction firms to build. A construction estimator keeps a project on time and within budget by factoring in risk, time, direct and indirect costs, logistics and future trends, or price hikes.

The way construction cost estimations are done has changed immensely throughout the years, thanks to estimating software. No longer do they take a massive amount of time. They can be done quickly, accurately and efficiently if the correct data is entered into them. You no longer must have 30 years plus in the industry with a book of contacts and a knowledge of material costs or contractors’ costs. With estimating software, compiling construction cost estimates is performed much more quickly and accurately even if you’re not one of the professional estimators.

Whether it is small construction projects or large ones, construction estimating makes sure your job is done right, and with companies like Buildxact giving a 14 day free trial of their estimating software then you can’t go wrong. If you are still not convinced you’re ready to start your trial, then book a demo and see how Buildxact can help your business succeed.

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