By Brantley Smith
Executive Vice President of Estimating
Davie Construction Co.

Mastering the Art and Science of Construction Estimating
My fifteen years of managing the estimating of projects at Davie Construction has convinced me that those who succeed in this position must approach it as both an art and a science. As a science, we need valid numbers to develop an estimate, and precise scheduling supports accuracy. Conversely, there is art in understanding the owners’ objectives and finding innovative ways to achieve them. Luckily, my early career’s twists and turns positioned me well for balancing both disciplines.

Preparing for This Profession
I didn’t plan to use my bachelor’s degree in mathematics as a prerequisite for a job as an estimator. Out of college, I became a high school math teacher and sports coach, which honed my leadership skills. I soon switched careers, doing actuarial work on pensions plans. Estimating life expectancies and the time value of money differs from determining a construction budget, but the computer and spreadsheet-building skills were highly beneficial.

My final career twist as a residential home builder gave me specific experience in construction that rounded out my knowledge base in this industry. When things got tough, and the bottom fell out of residential construction, I was grateful to start my final career. I was honored to be brought into construction estimating by Alan Snipes, the Chief Estimator at Davie Construction Co., and the best teacher I could have ever wished for.

A Painstaking Process
Construction estimating tools may have changed over the years, but the process remains consistent from my first day on the job. The owner, with their architect, present us with plans for the new building. Given our thirty plus years in business and the respect we give our colleagues, we have a strong network of subcontractors and vendors to whom we reach out. We invite them to share their bids and knowledge and we combine that with ours to create the best estimate possible.

Our varied experience, having jobs in many types of construction gives us the historical knowledge needed to include the details vital to building an accurate estimate. Variables include job duration, labor, equipment, owner requirements, and the profit we anticipate. Once we prepare our final estimate, we will go through the estimate with the owners, giving them the chance to make that estimate meet the budget. If adjustments are needed to match the client’s proforma, we will suggest changes that reflect our expertise in value engineering. Once the contract is signed, the job begins.

Digging Deep into the Details
Once you have experience as an estimator, filling in the costs of materials, equipment, and labor is relatively simple. However, the sequencing of the job, the art of putting it all together, is more abstract. For example, have we factored in the reality that we must convey heavy materials to the fifth floor of a building? How is this managed with minimal noise and distraction while working around the people doing business on the other floors? Those kinds of additional concerns might not appear on a plan but must be addressed as part of the estimate.

Keeping Time on Our Side
Time is our most crucial variable. All subcontractors are busy since the economic downturn from 2008 to 2012 forced many out of construction. We must have strong relationships and we must also take time to create interest in our jobs with them. When they are interested in the project and see how succeeding will benefit them and Davie, they are genuinely happy to be part of our team. That’s why we have always treated our subcontractors and vendors by the Golden Rule. Our jobs are well run, we seek their input on our schedules, and we try to pay them promptly. Our efficiency helps them stay profitable and ready for the next job.

We defend our budgets by getting the job done as planned through the daily efforts of the project managers and supervisors. The biggest challenges are avoiding extending duration and scope gaps. Every job step must seamlessly move into the next, with the different craftspeople completing their tasks as scheduled. If we expect the HVAC team at a particular time, and the job isn’t ready for them, that delay will impact our budget.

A Trusted Team
One of the biggest misconceptions in the business world is that General Contractors make tons of money. Savvy owners don’t accept that, and we wouldn’t be competitive if we were factoring in a hefty profit. The owners’ wants and needs control the project’s price, and no one ever said, “Wow, I thought the estimate would be more!” We rely on a dedicated and experienced team to ensure that our initial estimate is sound and accurate. It starts with Brad (Executive VP of Preconstruction) and me meeting to establish the magnitude of the project budget. Dalton Chapman works with me to coordinate communications with the project managers who work directly with the subcontractors. Nina (Preconstruction Administrative) handles our bid bonds, notarization, and all vital paperwork to keep us all in line. Everybody has a critical role and working together to support each other, and our owner’s goals, ensures successful completion.

Doing What I Love
I love my job! I am very competitive and take great pleasure in winning jobs with our meticulous estimates and finishing by successfully defending that estimate. Our ongoing ability to do this allows the members of the Davie team to be busy and enjoy their jobs in the years to come, which is personally fulfilling. I credit Alan Snipes for teaching me, “If I help others move up and onward, we will all benefit.” Alan continues to influence all of us who remember his legacy, and his wisdom and philosophy are still integral to our family-focused culture.