Most estimators begin their career doing quantity takeoff; as they develop experience and judgment, they develop into estimators. A list of the abilities most important to the success of an estimator follows, but it should be more than simply read through.

Any weaknesses affect the estimator’s ability to produce complete and accurate estimates. If individuals lack any of these abilities, they must (1) be able to admit it and (2) begin to acquire the abilities they lack. Those with construction experience, who are subsequently trained as estimators, are often most successful in this field.

To be able to do quantity takeoffs, the estimator must
1. Be able to read and quantify plans.

2. Have knowledge of mathematics and a keen understanding of geometry. Most measurements and computations are made in linear feet, square feet, square yards, cubic feet, and cubic yards. The quantities are usually multiplied by a unit price to calculate material costs.

3. Have the patience and ability to do careful, thorough work.

4. Be computer literate and use computer takeoff programs such as On-Screen Takeoff or Paydirt.

To be an estimator, an individual needs to go a step further. He or she must

1. Be able, from looking at the drawings, to visualize the project through its various phases of construction. In addition, an estimator must be able to foresee problems, such as the placement of equipment or material storage, then develop a solution and determine its estimated cost.

2. Have enough construction experience to possess a good knowledge of job conditions, including methods of handling materials on the job, the most economical methods of construction, and labor productivity. With this experience, the estimator will be able to visualize the construction of the project and thus get the most accurate estimate on paper.

3. Have sufficient knowledge of labor operations and productivity to thus convert them into costs on a project. The estimator must understand how much work can be accomplished under given conditions by given crafts. Experience in construction and a study of projects that have been completed are required to develop this ability.

4. Be able to keep a database of information on costs of all kinds, including those of labor, material, project overhead, and equipment, as well as knowledge of the availability of all the required items.

5. Be computer literate and know how to manipulate and build various databases and use spreadsheet programs and other estimating software.

6. Be able to meet bid deadlines and still remain calm. Even in the rush of last-minute phone calls and the competitive feeling that seems to electrify the atmosphere just before the bids are due, estimators must “keep their cool.”

7. Have good writing and presentation skills. With more bids being awarded to the best bid, rather than the lowest bid, being able to communicate what your company has to offer, what is included in the bid, and selling your services is very important. It is also important to communicate to the project superintendent what is included in the bid, how the estimator planned to construct the project, and any potential pitfalls.

People cannot be taught experience and judgment, but they can be taught an acceptable method of preparing an estimate, items to include in the estimate, calculations required, and how to make them. They can also be warned against possible errors and alerted to certain problems and dangers, but the practical experience and use of good judgment required cannot be taught and must be obtained over time.

How closely the estimated cost will agree with the actual cost depends, to a large extent, on the estimators’ skill and judgment. Their skill enables them to use accurate estimating methods, while their judgment enables them to visualize the construction of the project throughout the stages of construction.

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