What’s Up, Doc(s)?

Vince Bailey / March 2021

I recently had occasion to review a contract for a mid-size office-building job that I had bid and had actually been awarded. It had been so long since I scored, I had almost forgotten how burdensome and onerous these written agreements between general contractor and sub have become. Through the years, GCs (and their lawyers) have evidently experienced every potential conflict that they could possibly have encountered in the performance of a contract with a sub. And of course, wily subs have probed past contracts for loopholesa to minimize cost, so they certainly can’t be deemed blameless in this. And so ironclad contracts, with all terms written in favor of the GCs, are the predictable result of these lessons learned. One daunting aspect of these arduous contracts is the itemization of the bid docs—documents that ostensibly form the basis for the sub’s proposal and pricing.
The very length of the list makes it formidable enough, but that’s not to mention the irrelevance of some of the items to a drywall sub’s specific scope of work. The standard list, which generally appears with the bid docs attached to the bid invitation in addition to being a contract attachment, typically includes the expected pertinent items such as a full set of plans and specs, along with a projected schedule, instructions to bidders and the obligatory number of addenda. But included along with these appropriate elements is a listing of general items that rarely, if ever, give adequate time for perusal. Nevertheless, the bidmeister’s proposal is required to incorporate a command over such incidental items as lengthy soils reports, tedious insurance requirements (often expressed in a foot-thick OCIP manual), extensive sample contracts, mind-numbing safety programs, laborious LEED regulations and more.
Let me be clear: I am not trying to diminish the importance of some of these items. I recognize that some of them are essential to the procurement process, and others have a more or less indirect impact. I just wish that we approximators were allotted the time to fully digest what influence say, the soils reports, have on our bids—or the stormwater management pages, for instance. Irrelevant, you say? Absurd? Perhaps, but we are nevertheless charged with being responsible for whatever information is conveyed in, say, a 297-page set of plans, with each page itemized as its own individual document in the amalgamated bid docs.
So how is an astute and thorough bidmeister supposed to approach such a dilemma? I polled a number of my fellow exactimators, and they all practice the same identical method: They typically download the all of the bid docs in total, but only upload the relevant plan pages to their program—architectural, structural and interior design sheets. Almost always, the pertinent plan pages for a complete takeoff are found among these sets. And, like me, they print out the pertinent spec sections, scope-specific instructions to bidders, schedule and addenda. Usually, the duration allotted doesn’t allow for scanning more docs than this. However, time permitting, they may peruse the mechanical overhead sheets to ferret out any potential space clashes with ducting or horizontal shafts that might be only hinted at on the architectural plans. Similarly, they may visit the lighting pages of the electrical plans to determine if linear light strips are surface mounted or recessed in hard lids. But according to my colleagues, that’s generally the extent of perusal that the allotted time will permit.
And that is the gist of this writing: Bidmeisters are fighting a losing battle with shrinking durations and ever-expanding ground to cover. When an estimator is required to take responsibility for every page of a plan set, it means, in essence, that he/she is allowing for potential work that he has not covered—or even reviewed. When he relents to this assumption, it is under duress, and it is dishonest. Now I know that the likelihood that any drywall details will appear on the electrical plans is pretty remote, and so we go along with the requirement. But stranger things have happened. I recently came across a wall types page in the civil set of drawings, so it can occur. There are no two ways around it: We accept an undue risk with every proposal we submit, and that is a shame.
What is the answer? I suppose a particularly ornery bidmeister could refuse to accept the unreasonable requirement and run the risk of his proposal being rejected as “unresponsive.” But it seems like the scope review or contract review are more suitable venues for a page-by-page scrutiny, when the exactimator has more time to be exact. If and when GCs will accept that approach, it will be a welcome dawn in the lives of drywall estimators. Until that day, we are living a lie.

Vince Bailey is an estimator/project manager working in the Phoenix area.