Abstract Terms

Vince Bailey / May 2016

How familiar is this? You get the long-anticipated call back from your favorite general contractor on a proposal you feel pretty confident about. He wants to do a preliminary de-scoping over the phone. It’s a common scenario. You’d prefer a scheduled sit-down meeting that you could prepare for, but this is not “The Art of the Deal,” and you’re not Donald Trump. The GC just wants the “Reader’s Digest” version. You put him on hold, pull up the plans on one screen, the estimate on another, and you pull a hard copy of that all-important proposal from the bid file. You take your counterpart off of hold and the inquisition begins.
But to your dismay, what he comes up with sounds like a regurgitation of your list of items in the proposal: Did you include layout? Yes, it’s the first item on my list of inclusions in my proposal. Did you exclude demolition? Yes, it’s the third bullet point on my list of exclusions in my proposal. And on and on. It’s as if he’d never bothered to read the proposal and was just coming up with generic questions. This is so common, it’s a running joke among us bidmeisters that we could exclude drywall on a proposal and the GC would be oblivious. But hopefully such sardonic jovialities will not tempt us into diminishing the pivotal importance of the bid abstract. One episode of letting your guard down will cure you of that fallacy. And that is why I periodically remind myself (and my readership) what a strong proposal consists of.
Known by many names—the cover letter, the bid abstract, the scope letter—the proposal conveys a precise declaration of values, qualifications, conditions and terms to the general contractor. In addition to assigning value to the work you propose to do, it establishes the sources of those values and clearly defines the scope of work you intend to perform.
Of course, putting the dollar amounts up front—boldface type, large font, dollar signs and decimals perfectly placed—may seem pretty basic, but even something as basic as the bottom line needs clarification. This is especially true if you are bidding complementary sections of work along with studs and drywall, in which case you will be required to break out your bid between the sections.    
The inclusions component of the scope section should list a number of somewhat generic items just to assure the prospective client that you are including a complete package, for example, “5/8" Type X drywall at all assemblies,” and so on. In addition, it should declare any complementary installations you may provide in your assemblies, such as acoustical insulation. Equally important, this itemization should state the job-specific particulars that are derived or inferred from the bid docs. For instance, you’ll want to assert that you are providing a Level 5 finish per specifications, if that is the case—or that you included tile-backer board at all restrooms per note such-and-such. This is the place to acknowledge those sorts of things to narrow the focus of your proposal and to reassure the GC that you understand the bid requirements.
The exclusions portion of the scope section should dispel any erroneous assumptions that the GC might be inclined to make, but like the list of inclusions, be tailored to the specifics of the project. Clearly you don’t want to clutter your proposal with a tedious laundry list of irrelevant eliminations that are bound to annoy the reader (assuming he’s actually going to read it). Many estimators use previous scope letters as templates and inadvertently leave in exclusions that don’t always apply, a sloppy practice that defeats the original purpose of dispelling confusion. On the other hand, there are many boilerplate items, such as facilities (temporary power, water, Dumpster, etc.) that you will want to cite as someone else’s responsibility on virtually every job. Moreover, you don’t want the GC to assume you have included work items that he might misconstrue as part of your scope by default, such as engineering and premium for overtime if they are not specifically required.
A clarifications subsection may or may not be a necessary addition to a good scope letter; it all depends on the amount of ambiguity in the documents, constructability issues and/or the amount of your interpretation of the intent. This component is reserved for scope issues that cannot otherwise be clearly expressed in the inclusion/exclusion subsections.
A complete scope letter also provides a forum to clearly state the sources—the bid documents—upon which your proposal is based. Plans and specifications with dates included, plan sequence of issue (design development drawings, bid set, permit set, deltas, construction set, etc.), addenda noted, bid instructions, project schedule and a sample contract (if provided) should all be duly acknowledged in a thorough bid abstract to guard against any possible misunderstandings in the basis of your proposal.
Clearly, a scope letter is a precise expression of the intent of the proposed performance of the contract. I could never understand why some of us call it an abstract. To me, there’s nothing abstract about it.

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