Construction Estimators: Exceeding Expectations, Not Budgets

Sticking to a budget is hard, whether constructing a multimillion-dollar building or managing household finances. Just as families decide what groceries they need and stick to the shopping list, construction estimators find ways to get project owners everything they want without spending too much.

CMSWillowbrook’s goal is a 2 percent variance between the estimate and actual cost, but we average .44 percent below the estimate. It’s like having $100 dollars for groceries and spending $99.66 to get everything you need.

Similar to shopping lists, project design plans can have different degrees of detail. And estimators don’t just get one list. We work with at least three, each becoming more detailed as the design progresses.

Schematic designs are the first plans estimators receive during the beginning phase of a project. Many of the specifics are not worked out, so estimators use knowledge from past experiences and the help of custom software to generate an estimate. Even though there isn’t much to go on, the entire project’s budget is set in this phase.

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In the design-development phase, estimators produce another estimate with more details. We usually have at least half of the plans at this point. Our list now includes more specifics, but we still must stay within our predefined budget.

Estimators get the full construction documents in the final design phase, when most details have been defined. The task then is to make sure last-minute additions to the scope of work haven’t busted the budget. Sometimes, there are hundreds of additional design sheets thrown in, like a kid adding cookies and ice cream to the cart on the way to the checkout line.

When owners decide they can’t live without dessert, CMSWillowbrook estimators can often find a way to keep it. We can suggest a more cost-effective option with the same benefits. Or we can find other ways to trim costs, like putting a bag of chips back on the shelf in order to afford the cookies.

Estimators explore different solutions and work with project owners and designers to maximize value while staying on budget. We ensure owners get everything on their grocery list. And we’ll work our magic to make sure they get the cookies, too.

Sam Johnson is the chief estimator at CMSWillowbrook

Larisha Hunter