New Commercial Estimators: 5 Insider Strategies You Need to Succeed



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Whether you're a fresh estimator with no experience or a seasoned residential estimator looking to transition into commercial projects, there are common mistakes that you need to avoid to be successful in this field.

In this article, discover 5 things you need to know as a new commercial estimator, along with strategies and tools like AI takeoff software, to help you better navigate your role as a commercial estimator. These tips and tools are designed to help you avoid costly but common mistakes that could lead to budget overruns and project delays.

As a large-scale commercial construction estimator, even the slightest mistakes can mean thousands or millions of dollars in losses or reduced profits. 

You could:

  1. Lose a bid to a competitor with more accurate and competitive cost estimations.
  2. Underbid a project and have to absorb the extra costs or request clients for additional funds.
  3. Overbid and lose the client’s trust and satisfaction.
  4. Face legal disputes from the client, subcontractors, suppliers, or regulators due to errors in the estimate.
  5. Damage the reputation and credibility of the company you’re working with.

So if you’re ready to better equip yourself as a new commercial construction estimator, keep reading.

1. Familiarize Yourself with the Industry

The commercial construction industry is a complex field. Underestimating its complexity is a common mistake made by new commercial estimators due to the lack of experience, knowledge, skills, and the influence of optimism bias.

Failing to familiarize yourself with the industry can have serious consequences:

  • You may lose bids if you're not up-to-date with industry standards, trends, and best practices.
  • Not knowing the available resources, such as materials and subcontractors, can result in time and money wastage.
  • You may also miss out on opportunities to offer innovative solutions that enhance your reputation and profitability. 
  • Lastly, a lack of familiarity with codes, laws, and contracts may lead to legal issues, such as disputes, claims, penalties, or lawsuits, which can harm your credibility and finances.

3 Ways to Familiarize Yourself With the Commercial Construction Industry

It’s crucial to work with mentors or attend webinars and workshops related to construction and cost estimation. You can also participate in online forums to ask questions and connect with other construction experts.  Finally, it’s essential to equip various construction technologies that can help you streamline the preconstruction process. 

Improving your skills as a commercial estimator and equipping yourself with the right tools can help you stay competitive.

Below are some of the other ways to familiarize yourself with the commercial construction industry:

1. Attend Industry Events

This includes conferences, trade shows, and seminars which provide an opportunity to learn the latest trends, techniques, and technologies in the industry. You can also network with potential partners and mentors. An example of industry events you can attend includes Advancing Preconstruction’s annual conference where you can network and learn from over 1000 preconstruction leaders.

Below is another example of a conference for estimators: 2022’s Annual National Conference for PCEA. In the image below, Togal.AI’s Head of Product Development, Johnny Maghzal, did a talk on innovating the estimating industry with the use of AI takeoff software, Togal.AI.

Johnny Maghzal
Source: Togal.AI 

2. Join Professional Associations Within the Commercial Construction Industry.

When you join these groups, you can get access to valuable resources, such as training programs, job listings, and industry research. One example of memberships you can look out for includes the American Society of Professional Estimators

Inside, you can get opportunities for professional development through its Estimating Academy and certification program. Additionally, membership in the organization allows for networking and engagement with other professionals in the field. 

American Society of Professional Estimators page
Source: American Society of Professional Estimators

3. Read Industry Publications 

Better understand the market and make informed decisions by following industry news and developments through magazines, blogs, and newsletters. Some of the sites you can follow include: 

2. Utilize AI Takeoff and Estimating Software

Manual takeoffs are often tedious, time-consuming, and prone to human errors that can impact the reliability of cost estimates. Alternatively, digital takeoffs can be faster than manual ones. But, they may still require manual data entry and plenty of user intervention to provide the desired output which can limit its efficiency.

One technology that can help with this is AI takeoff software. With AI takeoff software such as Togal.AI, you can complete takeoffs in just under a minute, instead of weeks, with up to 98% accuracy. 

This is achieved through leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to automatically detect, measure, compare, and label project spaces and features on architectural drawings. 

Other ways that you can use AI takeoff software to streamline the takeoff process include: 

  1. Automatically detect and measure elements such as walls, doors, windows, rooms, symbols, and more from PDF or CAD drawings without manual clicking or tracing.
  2. Automatically label and classify the detected elements based on their geometry or textual description, saving time and reducing errors.
  3. Analyze any drawing no matter the file type.
  4. Leverage cloud-based collaboration to simultaneously work with multiple team members on any device, anytime and anywhere, as long as there’s internet access.
  5. Leverage intelligent software backed by machine learning algorithms that can learn from data and improve over time. 

5 Consequences of Not Using AI Takeoff Software in Commercial Estimating 

3. Understand the Scope of the Project

One of the most common mistakes that new commercial cost estimators make is underestimating or overestimating the project scope.

This can be due to:

  • Misinterpretation of plans and specifications.
  • Lack of experience
  • Failure to ask the right questions. 

Underestimating the scope can lead to cost overruns, delays, and ultimately, client dissatisfaction with the project outcome. On the other hand, overestimating the scope of the project can result in higher than necessary costs, which can lead to losing the bid.

4 Strategies to Understand the Scope of a Commercial Project

To avoid these pitfalls, below are some of the strategies a new commercial cost estimator can do: 

  1. Carefully Review Plans and Specifications 

To estimate the cost of the project effectively, you need to carefully go through the client’s needs and expectations, as well as any special requirements or challenges they face. You also need to consult with other team members, such as architects, engineers, and contractors, who can provide valuable insights into the project’s scope and requirements.

  1. Practice Effective Communication.

Effective communication skills are essential for a commercial cost estimator. You need to demonstrate your understanding of the project requirements. This involves the following:

  • Clarify expectations and ensure that everyone knows what they need to do, when they need to do it, and how much it will cost.
  • Ask questions when something is unclear. It’s better to resolve any issues before starting the project.
  • Update clients and team members on the progress of your cost estimates. This keeps everyone informed and helps avoid unpleasant surprises.
  1. Have a Solid Grasp of the Project Timeline

This includes staying aware of any deadlines, milestones, or critical paths. This will help you better estimate the cost of the project and ensure that it can be completed within the allotted time.

  1. Attend Pre-bid Meetings and Site Visits.

Visiting the project site can help you visualize the final product and identify any potential challenges e.g. transportation, availability of utilities, and soil conditions. Pre-bid meetings also offer opportunities to raise concerns and clarifications before you conduct your cost estimation.

4. Be Thorough With Your Cost Estimates

As a commercial cost estimator, your job is to provide your clients with accurate and reliable cost estimates for their commercial construction projects. However, producing such estimates requires a solid process and a high level of thoroughness. 

Rushing the estimates or failing to manage risks and understand the construction market in your region can result in unexpected costs, delays, and damage to your reputation. To avoid this consider the following steps: 

Develop a Checklist of Necessary Information

A checklist helps to ensure that nothing is overlooked and that you’ve included all the necessary information in your cost estimate. The checklist can also help catch any errors or omissions that you may have missed during the initial estimate.

Below is an example of a checklist that you can use:

  • ☑️Project management cost (usually a percentage of the total project cost)
  • ☑️Labor cost estimate for all activities of the project
  • ☑️Material cost estimate for all resources required to produce the project deliverables
  • ☑️Supplies estimate for any consumables or tools needed for the project
  • ☑️Travel costs for any transportation or accommodation expenses related to the project
  • ☑️Fees for any consultancy or professional services required for the project
  • ☑️Miscellaneous costs (such as shipping, freight, taxes, copying, courier, etc.)
  • ☑️Contingency plan cost for any risks or uncertainties that may affect the project

Identify Potential Risks

Failing to manage risks can result in unexpected costs and delays. To identify potential risks, research and understand potential risks associated with the project, such as poor site conditions and potential inflation. Determine the likelihood and impact of each risk, then create a plan to mitigate each. 

Research and Understand the Construction Market in Your Region

Ensure the quality and feasibility of your project by researching and understanding the construction market in your region. Doing so enables you to find the best methods, the right materials, and the best suppliers for your project.  

It will also prevent you from missing out on market opportunities, violating regional regulations, or facing unexpected risks that could affect the success of your project.

Below are some of the steps you can implement to understand your area’s construction market:

  1. Conduct a Market Analysis

Use tools like RSMeans and Dodge Data and Analytics to access construction cost data and market analysis. Doing so will help you determine the current and future demand, supply, price, and competition for your project type and location.

  1. Compare Different Construction Approaches 

Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of different construction methods, materials, and suppliers available in your region. 

  • First, gather information on the different methods, materials, and suppliers in your region. For example, to compare suppliers, gather data on their performance and reliability such as track record and testimonials.
  • Next, review technical specifications and consult with industry experts.
  • Compare different options using factors like project requirements, budget constraints, and project timeline, as well as the cost and benefits of the different options. 
  1. Identify Potential Cost Savings or Value Engineering Opportunities

Look for ways to reduce waste, optimize design, improve efficiency, or increase the durability of your project. Doing so will help you and your client reduce project costs without compromising the quality of the project. Moreover, this will help you put together a more competitive cost estimate and proposal - increasing your firm’s chance to win the bid.

5. Build a Solid Reputation as a Cost Estimator

Your reputation matters a lot in this industry, and it can affect your success as a new commercial cost estimator. A strong reputation can help you in several ways, such as earning the trust and confidence of your clients and team members and proving yourself as a reliable cost estimator in the industry.

Here are some tips on how to build a strong reputation as a new commercial estimator:

  1. Develop a Network of Contacts in the Industry.

To expand your opportunities and resources within the construction industry, develop a network of relevant contacts. Doing so will give you access to valuable information, advice, referrals, or support from other professionals who share your interests or goals. 

You can achieve this by attending networking events, joining professional associations or groups, as well as connecting and maintaining relationships with people online or offline. For example, you can attend events such as Advancing Preconstruction’s annual conference or join construction estimating groups on LinkedIn or Facebook.

  1. Deliver Your Work on Time and Within Budget.

Establish a reputable profile as a commercial estimator through timely delivery of your work within the designated budget, while also maintaining a high standard of work quality and performance. This demonstrates professionalism, reliability, and efficiency in your work is critical for building trust with both clients and team members.

To achieve this, carefully plan your work schedule, prioritize tasks effectively, manage resources efficiently, and regularly track your progress. You can also leverage technology such as AI estimating software, Togal.AI, to streamline preconstruction processes such as construction takeoff. 

  1. Build a Portfolio of Successful Projects 

Showcase your skills and expertise by maintaining a comprehensive record of all your successful projects - complete with documents, pictures, and numbers. A portfolio can help you showcase your skills and expertise to new prospects. 

To build a strong portfolio, actively document your projects. Organize them in a way that highlights your ability to deliver high-quality commercial projects on time and within budget, 

Thrive as a Commercial Cost Estimator With Togal.AI

There are many challenges to being a commercial cost estimator: dealing with constraints in time and data availability, ensuring the accuracy of takeoffs, and coming up with competitive cost estimates and proposals. 

Some of the ways to navigate these challenges include familiarizing yourself with the industry, understanding the scope of the project, establishing a solid cost-estimating process, as well as knowing which tools to leverage to increase your efficiency.

Whether you are a fresh estimator or a residential estimator looking to shift towards estimating large-scale construction projects, following the five tips above can set you up for success in your new role. Remember to stay informed about industry trends and best practices and be willing to learn and adapt to new technology.

Want to know how utilizing AI estimating software can give you a competitive edge as a commercial cost estimator? Explore how Togal.AI can streamline the takeoff construction process. Try Togal, book a custom demo, or get Togal.AI today.