Construction cost estimators prepare estimates for buildings, roads, and other construction projects. They may calculate the total cost of building a bridge or commercial shopping center, or they may calculate the cost of just one component, such as the foundation.
In an estimate-style proposal, every labor activity and material in the project is listed in painstaking detail. You are billed for the materials used, actual hours worked, and work performed by subcontractors. The contractor’s fee is expressed in the form of a percentage of the project cost.
Construction Estimating Starts With Accurate Plans
Any estimator must know how to read plans. And they must have a good set of plans to work from.
Without a clear set of plans, it is virtually impossible to know if the customer’s idea of what they want done matches your understanding of what they want done. It is almost guaranteed that your concept of the job will differ from the customer’s without a good set of plans.
I was recently called as an expert witness to sort out a job gone bad. On my first visit to the jobsite, I asked to see the plans. “We don’t have any plans,” I was told by the owner, “we have conceptual drawings.” I asked if I could see them and was told the contractor had the drawings. I asked if there was another set. The owner told me the contractor had the only set.
I asked how they could possibly hope for a job to be built with only one set of sketches, and those only conceptual. “The concept was on paper,” the owner said. “There is no way he (the contractor) could not know what we wanted.”
I bit my tongue, almost in two. The term “dream world” came to mind. Conceptual drawings are rough ideas only and hardly constitute a set of plans from which accurate construction estimates can be derived. (And yes, the owner did take low bid on the job.)
You should not attempt any kind of a construction estimate without a set of accurate plans. Tell your prospective customer that unless and until they authorize you or someone else to do a set of plans that will pass the plan review at the local building department, the most you will give them is a very rough approximate for their job.
We know what should be included, and we know the right questions to ask. We do takeoffs of your plans, then build a detailed estimate showing you what your project should cost. This unique approach gives you the edge to know when your competing bidders are too high (or even too low, which can be worse) per trade & per line item. And believe us, there’s a lot of power & savings in that.
Our goal is to help you feel confident about choosing a General Contractor. We visit their past projects and current worksites and see what the real story is, and we’re happy to sit in on your project meetings.
Commercial General Contractor Fee vs. Residential Construction
Commercial general contractor fees can be higher than those for residential construction depending on factors that impact overhead — insurance, permits, labor, equipment. However, they might be the same as residential if these factors don’t significantly impact your GC’s overhead or if your project isn’t competing with other jobs at the time.
For example, if your commercial project requires added administration in order to accurately manage subcontractors, insurance and building codes, you might pay a higher GC fee. Also, if your GC is in demand and has to pass up on other opportunities in order to take your job, you might pay a higher fee.