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Bad Form

Uh-oh. Did you forget something important? All too often, this troubling thought occurs to even the most diligent of bidmeisters, especially one who has been totally immersed in the depths of an elaborate project. Predictably, some bothersome bugaboo begins to taunt the edges of his racing mind, just as he completes the base estimate. Drilling down, he locates the general source of this irritation: It’s coming from that petty pit of verbal vipers, aka the bid docs folder—the residence of such inane distractions as spec sections, instructions to bidders, scope directives, alternates, schedules, insurance requirements, oh, and that most mind-numbing item of them all, the bid form.


It’s no wonder that bid forms are the chronic subject of procrastination among estimators, universally. Many GCs don’t require them at all, as a well-crafted scope letter will usually suffice for most. Others’ bid forms are pretty generic and require only a few lines of basic information such as price, simple scope breakouts, labor/material ratio, hourly labor rate, contact info and maybe a short perfunctory checklist. Consequently, bidmeisters habitually reserve only a few minutes on bid day to dash off the annoying form, almost as an afterthought—a sub’s addendum to the proposal, as it were. Sadly, the tales of estimators being lulled into a false sense of security that this bid form will be a breeze—seduced by the usual informality of this requirement—are way too common.


The location—and I believe, incubation—of these nuisance forms seems to lie with those online bidding services that GCs seem to be so enamored of lately. I could easily fill an entire column (and probably will) with my objections to these preconstruction sites where GCs store all project docs for subs to download, but I’m going to resist going off on a tangent here. I’ll just leave it with my biggest gripe: that they usurp the personal precon interaction between subs and GCs. Enough said for now.


Back to bad, I mean, bid forms. As alluded to above, most bid forms are a five- or 10-minute task requiring little or no research. So when an unsuspecting bidmeister is confronted with a 100-item inquisition under deadline, he doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. No kidding. A couple of months ago, a colleague showed me a form for a health care interior that threw him into a serious wobble on bid day. It was a 100-item monster that demanded takeoff amounts and associated costs for each and every component in the estimate. And so in addition to the required linear footage of each wall type, it demanded itemization for details like linear footage of backing and corner bead, number of access panel installations, linear footage of sound caulk, etc.


But it’s not just the sheer volume of such unreasonably long bid forms that I object to. One particularly obnoxious aspect is that typically they are not even job-specific. My colleague’s example from above, for instance, included line items for square footage of high impact board (which did not appear on either plans nor specs), but failed to include a request for amount of lead-lined board (quite a significant item on this job).


Redundancy is another regular feature for many of these bid forms. Specifically, they require linear footage for each wall type, but then demand itemization of components that are already included in those wall types. For instance, they will request the footage and cost of a one-hour fire rated wall, but on a separate line item, request the footage and cost of fire caulk. This is particularly frustrating when the total of all items is expected to reflect an accurate cost in the estimate.


Which brings to mind another complaint regarding over-inquisitive bid forms: Most want the sum of the line items to show exact total cost. Yet many of these forms emphasize itemizing minute tangibles but omit significant contingent costs: equipment, engineered shop drawings, supervision and cleanup, per diem, etc. Then too, I question the judgment of providing an exact cost estimate on the form, which will, given a simple math exercise, reveal my actual markup on the job—info that the GC is not really entitled to.


This leads me to question the value that all of this mind-numbing data actually holds for the GC. Do they really obsess over the notion that drywall firm X claims 15 percent more linear feet of corner bead than drywall firm Y? I find that it’s a rare occasion when a GC actually reads the list of inclusions and exclusions in my proposal. I can’t imagine them carefully weighing each item of a monster form. But just try submitting a bid as just a proposal without the required form. The hue and cry will go up like a chorus of scorched cats. It would be considered bad form. My advice to savvy estimators is give the devil his due. Just check the bid docs for the form long before bid day. You may be glad you did.

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

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