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Summing It All Up

Say what you need to say. —John Mayer

If there was one iota of cosmic justice in the beleaguered life of a drywall quantifier, it would come as a moment of peace at the completion of an arduous takeoff and estimate. Just a passing respite from the drudgery of deciphering the “design professional’s” infantile scrawl and the exhausting task of assigning some semblance of value to it would be like a tall cold one to a desert wayfarer. To be able to breathe a sigh of relief after completing countless hours of mind-numbing mouse-clicks—ah, that would be something, wouldn’t it?

Well, if you’ve cast your lot in life among the likes of wall-and-ceiling exactimators, you know very well that there’s no rest on this road, and hiatus is an alien term in our lexicon. If anything, completing the nuts-and-bolts portion of the estimate is a mere prologue to the complete bid package, and the predecessor of the next and perhaps most critical component of the pre-bid phase: the proposal.

Known by many an alias—the cover letter, the bid abstract, the scope letter, the bid proposal—this finely crafted expression of the bidmeister’s prose is a multiple-purpose piece of correspondence that conveys a litany 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, clearly defines the scope of work you intend to perform, and it outlines your proposed scope and the terms and conditions under which you propose to perform the work. Clearly, it is the Reader’s Digest version of a project-specific contract—one that is favorable from your perspective—and as such must be exceedingly precise and ultimately thorough, all executed under a diminishing time limit. In other words, you can forget all about that break from the stress you were dreaming about in the opening paragraph.

Cover the Full Scope

Of course, getting the bucks up front and center—boldface, large font, dollar signs and decimals perfectly placed—may seem like a no-brainer, 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. However, breakouts lacking the benefit of explanation can be taken out of context and mistakenly applied. For instance, you may have bid drywall and paint, but your numbers reflect a savings through combination—i.e., you figured a Level 5 finish by using high-build primer, effectively eliminating a major step in finishing, but only if you provide the paint scope as well. An express qualification that breakouts are for comparative calculations only and that the proposal is to perform both scopes of work combined is essential in such cases so that the breakouts cannot be misconstrued as stand-alone numbers.

Additional items of monetary consideration include allowances, alternates, bonds and special insurances. Allowances cover elective items that may or may not be necessary to the performance of the work, but are contingency costs that should not weigh down the base bid unnecessarily. Weather protection, patch and repair for trade damage, and premium time for overtime are all common contingencies that merit a line item designation. Alternates may be separate bodies of work that are spelled out and required in the bid instructions, or they may be original voluntary value-engineered items. Either way, they need to be calculated and expressed as separate line items from the base bid. Similarly, performance/payment bond amounts and insurance credits (OCIPs and CCIPS) need to be segregated from the base bid and clearly stated as additions or deductions that are not included.

A Solid Abstract

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 drawings, 50 percent 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.

Additional properties of an effective bid proposal include specific bid clarifications and the proposed terms and conditions under which the work will be performed, if awarded. These final crucial facets of the scope letter merit undivided attention and as such will be the focus of the next installment of this column. In the meantime, suffice it to say that an estimate is only as good as the scope letter that conveys it to the potential client, so be sure to say what you need to say.

Vince Bailey is an estimator at E&K of Phoenix.

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