Tips from a GC’s Estimator

Bill Wos

October 2007

Having spent most of my years as a walls and ceilings estimator and now as an estimator for a general contractor for the past seven years, I feel I can address some of the issues that occur between the GC and sub in the bidding process that can be of benefit and possibly help wall and ceiling contractors in their bid to win projects.

The two most common methods for getting to contract on a project are the hard bid and the design-build process. In the hard bid process, the project is usually more fully designed, and a set of plans with specifications is distributed to the trade contractors for them to bid on. One of the first things I learned in my career as a drywall estimator is that I needed to cover the entire scope listed in the plans and specifications, and to cover the work typically assumed to be in that package. Now that I sit in the GC seat, the first thing I look for on bid day is the list of exclusions that are attached to the bid from any trade. When a piece of scope is missing or excluded from the bid, the GC estimator trying to assemble the bid, being under pressure to meet a time deadline, can have the tendency to set aside that bid, especially if the number is close to another bid that he can use.

Make It Complete
Being that I am a certified professional estimator with the American Society of Professional Estimators, and having taught ethics courses for that organization, the right thing to do if the GC wins the project is to then award the bid to the walls and ceiling contractor whose number was used on bid day. If your bid was set aside due to your exclusions, you should not be selected. But in reality, most GCs will review and interview all the subs, and even try to work the prices down. But you can’t rely on that second-look process; make your bid as complete as possible, and then also make yourself available on bid day for quick questions to come your way via a phone call or three.

Having a complete bid that leaves no questions will give you a good reputation and put you in a better position on bid day. I can tell you that there have been many times on bid day that the low number was set aside because it just couldn’t be trusted.

There is also the time factor. On bid day, the GC may not have time to call the subcontractor. In some cases, the GC may not able to get a hold of the sub to ask questions. If you put time into bidding something, you don’t want to end up in that spot.

It’s About More Than Money
The other process is the design-build projects where subcontractors are often selected to help with the design and budget process on a project. At my company, we often times will put a set of progress drawings out to a select group of wall and ceilings contractors (and I select ones that I know will put together a good bid) in order to get budget prices and valued ideas on the project.

We will then select one of the contractors based on the amount of feedback they give us on the project that will help in both design and cost savings; price is often a second consideration. When Requests for Proposal are assembled and worked through properly, prices coming in from competent wall and ceiling contractors should be reasonably close to each other with very little doubt or confusion left in the de-scoping process.

Whenever I conduct a pre-bid meeting, I will tell subcontractors to give me as much written scope coverage as possible with line item breakdowns. This not only helps me greatly, it shows who is putting in the time to go after the project. Usually, the ones who put in the time are the ones that I feel know it the best, and I will have the most comfort level with them.

Don’t Be Rude
The last thing I want to mention is bid invitations. Always reply to a bid invitation. It takes only seconds to reply with a yea or a nay, and it will go a long way in building your relationship with the GC.

When you don’t reply to a bid invite, the GC will think you’re only selectively interested as it suits you. That means you’re not exactly the guy I’m going to consider on the design build projects.

In conclusion, I just want to say that the more successful wall and ceiling contractors that I know usually practice most of the positives that I’ve talked about here. If you’re looking to elevate your company, start with good, consistent and complete estimating practices. When you do, you should start seeing better relationships build between you and the estimators you deal with in the general construction and construction management processes.

About the Author
Bill Wos is a senior estimator for Horst Construction in Lancaster, Pa., and is certified with the American Society of Professional Estimators.