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The Clairvoyant Estimator

I think the clairvoyant estimator could very well be the “wave of the future” for the construction industry.


Remember Miss Cleo, the television psychic who had all of those TV commercials a couple of years ago? I would like to know how to contact her right now. Come to think of it, though, with her ability to read minds, she probably already knows I want to speak with her.


Wait, hold on, the phone is ringing. It’s probably Miss Cleo! Drat, the luck! It was the editor of AWCI’s Construction Dimensions magazine wanting to know when I was going to have an article ready for print. I told the editor to contact Miss Cleo, the psychic. She probably has a better idea of when I’ll have the article finished than I do. I also told the editor that I have to finish an estimate before I can write the article, and I can’t finish the estimate until I can learn to read the mind of the architect that designed this project!


Is it just me? Am I the only one out there who feels the need to contact the “Psychic Hot Line” in order to understand what some of the architect’s are designing these days?


I don’t remember having a great degree of difficulty understanding the architectural drawings when the drawings were prepared by hand. CAD systems are now used by virtually every architectural firm. These CAD systems should help the architect to produce plans more efficiently and accurately. But, unfortunately, what I am seeing is a lot of unrelated cut-and-paste details, sections that are labeled incorrectly, sections cut where you don’t need them, no section cut where it would make sense to have one, finish schedules that don’t match the finish plans, incorrect scales, structural drawings that conflict with the architectural drawings, and specifications that have little relevance to anything. Isn’t someone who is involved in the design process responsible for checking, coordinating and generally making sure there is continuity within the contract documents? Isn’t the architect responsible for designing a building that conforms to code and meets the functional, aesthetic and budgetary requirements of the owner?


How, then, does the estimator establish a reasonable price to build a job if the plans are less than desirable? Some general contractors and subcontractors assign risk factors to projects that are based on the quality of the plans. A poorly designed project will have a higher additional cost percentage applied to the bid to cover the anticipated added risk associated with those drawings. In addition to the risk factor, the overall cost of the job will be higher than anticipated because there are “gaps” in the drawings that cause each contractor preparing a bid for that job to make an assumption of what it would take to monetarily cover those “gaps.”


For the preparation of bids, estimators have always read plans and specifications and, until recently, mind-reading was not part of the job description. Here’s hoping that some day soon we can experience a marked improvement in the clarity of building design, and the need for clairvoyant estimating will remain as a figment of this writer’s imagination.


Hello? Miss Cleo? Oh, you were expecting my call?


About the Author

Charles Mahaffey is president of Accuest, LLC, Marietta, Ga. Accuest provides estimating and consulting services for commercial drywall subcontractors.

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