Why General Contractors Need Cost Estimating Software

For general contractors, making accurate estimates the first time around is critical to ensuring profitability and continued success. Creating estimates takes time, which costs money and can create headaches when changes to an estimate need to be made. Although many general contractors still perform estimates the old-school way, construction cost estimating software offers a number of advantages. Smaller general contractors may not see the advantages of construction cost estimating software, which can seem like an unnecessary additional cost. However, nothing could be further from the truth. We’ll outline the strengths of construction estimating software, and detail why general contractors of all sizes should consider using an estimator to streamline their estimating process, while also ensuring that their estimates are accurate and up-to-date with the latest market values.

Accuracy

One of the most significant advantages that general contractor estimating software brings to the table is the ability to reduce inaccuracies in estimates and quotes. Creating accurate estimates is important for general contractors for a number of reasons. No matter what the size of the project is, most clients take multiple bids from different contractors. Inaccurate estimates can negatively impact the number of contracts you secure by placing your bid significantly lower or higher than the competition. An abnormally high bid will almost certainly be rejected in favor of one with more competitive pricing, while a very low bid raises a red flag for the client that something might be off about your estimate.

Although accurately estimating your labor costs for a project can prove to be a problem, more frequently inaccuracies crop up in a Material Take-Off (MTO), more commonly referred to as a takeoff. As any general contractor knows, takeoffs are a critical part of producing an accurate cost estimate for a project. Takeoffs are inherently inaccurate, due to the fact that they generally list the bulk raw materials necessary to complete a project. Once work has begun on a project, additional materials may be needed. However, the takeoff is a central component to crafting a competitive bid that is selected over the competition. Takeoffs that are accurate tend to incorporate material costs that are close to market value, and get very close to accurately assessing the total number and cost of materials for a project. Takeoffs done by hand are prone to errors. Small mathematical errors, oversights on necessary materials, or incorrect incorporation of design parameters from the blueprint can all lead to inaccuracies in a takeoff. The level of detail necessary to complete an accurate takeoff is immense, and it is easy to see why even the largest general contractors can produce inaccurate takeoffs that impact the overall cost of the project and their client’s satisfaction.

Contractor estimating software addresses many of the problems with accuracy that are associated with producing a takeoff. First, it reduces the instances where human error can lead to inaccurate estimates. Digital takeoff software eliminates the need for doing math by hand, which is a common area where errors occur. Even if contractors use spreadsheet software like Excel that performs mathematical equations, data entry errors can often lead to inaccuracies. Second, contractor estimating software can populate costs for commonly used materials in a couple of different ways. Some contractor estimating software allows the contractor to build out a database that contains their most commonly used materials and their associated costs. Building a database of commonly used materials is a great advantage for contractors that typically use the same materials from the same sources. The only problem with this approach is that contractors must update the costs associated with the materials regularly as market conditions change. Some general contractor estimating software like ProEst has a database built into the software. This database is populated with popular construction materials, projects, and their associated costs around the country. The advantage of this type of database is that because the material costs are updated dynamically as market conditions shift, you’ll save time not having to contact suppliers to flesh out your takeoff costs. Using a database that features real-time updates to material costs also ensures your material takeoff is as accurate as possible given current market conditions for materials.

Speed

One of the disadvantages of doing an estimate by hand is the time it takes an estimator to put together an accurate, comprehensive bid on a project. Creating an estimate can be a painstaking process, particularly for large or custom projects. Estimators must work closely with the architect, client, and design team on larger projects where producing an accurate estimate is critical to the success of the project. For all general contractors, producing an accurate estimate that secures projects is necessary to maintaining ongoing profitability. The problem lies in the amount of time each estimate takes. In this regard, cost estimating software provides a significant advantage over producing estimates by hand.

In the past, contractor estimating software wasn’t necessarily faster than producing an estimate by hand. Early versions of estimate software had the advantage of consolidating some of the data an estimator needed, but often couldn’t incorporate all of the data. Today’s cost estimating software has been developed over time to combine robust functionality for all different types of data an estimator needs with an intuitive and easy to use user interface. This allows for quick, easy navigation through the program. General contractors don’t need to be able to code, or even necessarily have superb computer skills to be able to effectively use cost estimating software. At the same time, cost estimating software streamlines the estimation process, brings together all relevant information in one place, and includes functionality to efficiently complete all parts of an estimate including digital takeoffs and markups.

Consolidated Information

Estimates can be produced much faster once all of your information is consolidated in one place. By using a program that has the capability to create an estimate from beginning to end, general contractors can greatly increase their efficiency. Once you have loaded all of the information you need into your estimating software, you can customize how you display your data so that the data you need is always visible and readily accessible. You can change the data you display as you progress through your estimate, hiding data that is no longer relevant and bringing forth information that is directly related to what you are currently working on. By bringing all of the information you need to complete an estimate together in one place and then allowing you to customize how you view that information, cost estimating software cuts down on the time it takes to create an estimate. This allows general contractors to bid on more projects, while also saving money on the manpower required to produce estimates.

Data Sorting

While the ability to upload the information you need into your estimating software is great, it’s only half of the equation when it comes to improving productivity. The other half is rendering your data readable and presentable in a way that improves your workflow. Flexible data sorting options are one of the primary means that this is accomplished. Data sorting simply isn’t possible when doing an estimate by hand. Instead, you’ll have to comb through your data sources to find the information you need. By using a general contractor estimating software, you’ll be able to sort your data in the ways that work best for your workflow. Being able to sort data by phase or Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is invaluable to saving time when completing an estimate.

Digital Takeoffs

Some contractor estimating software like ProEst gives the general contractor the ability to perform a digital takeoff. The advantages of a digital takeoff are numerous, but foremost among these is the speed with which an estimator can complete a takeoff. Digital takeoffs have the advantage of being able to be generated directly from your blueprints. This eliminates many of the time-consuming steps associated with generating a takeoff manually in the traditional fashion. While digital takeoffs can reduce the time needed to generate a takeoff by up to half, it is important to remember that not every contractor estimating software program has built-in digital takeoff capability. This forces estimators to juggle between two programs if they want to complete a takeoff, or to do their takeoff manually from information consolidated into their estimation software. Choosing a software platform that has built-in digital takeoff capability eliminates both of these problems, while also substantially boosting efficiency.

Bid Day Analysis

One feature that can significantly streamline the estimate process for general contractors is the ability to rapidly compare bids from subcontractors. This feature enables general contractors to easily conduct a bid-day analysis of subcontractor bids in order to determine which bid is ideal. General contractors can quickly compare bids from multiple subcontractors, and rapidly transition between groups of subcontractor bids. For example, if you are taking bids from electricians and roofers, you can quickly group and compare bids from each different category of subcontractors.

Markups

General contractors need to ensure that every project they secure contains enough of a margin to maintain ongoing profitability and growth. Yet adding markups takes time when producing a traditional estimate. Contractor estimating software makes adding markups a much easier and streamlined process. In ProEst for general contractors, your markups for profit and overhead are automatically calculated as you proceed through your estimate. This reduces the time it takes to add markups and determine if the bid is profitable. Additionally, you’ll be able to determine if your bid is on or under budget at any time through intuitive tools like the at-a-glance summary. Adding markups is an important part of crafting a competitive yet profitable estimate. Contractor estimating software makes the markup process faster, more intuitive, and more accurate by reducing instances of human error.

Reporting

Cost estimating software such as ProEst also has robust reporting functionality that assists general contractors in quickly and efficiently producing customized reports. Reporting functionality in cost estimating software can fulfill a number of different needs for general contractors that can give them an edge over their competition.

The first advantage of having reporting functionality built-in to your cost estimation software is that it saves time. The ability to run reports directly from your cost estimating program lets you avoid having to juggle multiple programs. This saves time and streamlines the process of producing reports, saving money and reducing delays. Staying in the same program also reduces inaccuracies that can arise when migrating data from one program to another.

One of the biggest advantages of using cost estimating software for general contractors is the ability to compile all of the data you need to make an estimate into one centralized database. Integrated reporting functionality further builds upon this by allowing general contractors to draw reports directly from their centralized database. Reporting functionality directly integrated into your central database improves accuracy, increases speed, and allows you to create a variety of different reports from one central location. General contractors can pull detailed cost analysis of their estimate, while quickly transitioning to produce a comprehensive materials list for vendors.

Cost estimating software is built to streamline the process for producing a competitive estimate that will secure a project. Reporting functionality is an important feature of cost estimating software, but the true power of cost estimating software is realized when the different features are used together as a comprehensive tool. The impact of reporting functionality is directly tied to the ability of cost estimating software to consolidate the data necessary to produce an estimate. The consolidated data also allows for the creation of digital takeoffs, detailed cost analysis, and an intuitive markup system. The user interface of a cost estimating software package like ProEst allows users to create customized views of the data they need to see, when they need to see it. All of these features together allow general contractors to generate more accurate, detailed estimates in less time. Cost estimating software reduces instances of human error and helps ensure that each bid you submit is profitable. While cost estimating software will never eliminate the skill and expertise that goes into creating an estimate, it does help assist estimators by streamlining the process, consolidating their data, and providing redundancy in case anything has been missed. As such, cost estimating software represents an invaluable tool for general contractors looking to stay competitive and streamline their bidding process.

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