Lake Norman Homebuilders Association


Estimating Accurately to Build Client Trust - NAHB Course

Guesstimating project costs for the client can help get the ball rolling. But final estimates that are too generic or ambiguous could eventually come back to bite the builder in the form of a frustrated and dissatisfied client.

Accurate estimating is just as much of an art form in the home building industry as are designing and constructing. There are countless variables to consider, and tremendous pressures to stay competitive while still maintaining margins.

John Brock, president of BrockWorks, Inc. in Moneta, Va., is a 30-year veteran home builder and had seen a fair share of surprised looks from clients early on.

“What often happens in our industry is after the [the home is initially designed], the builder has to be the bad guy who tells the customer that the house they’d been budgeting for and dreaming about for a long time is actually going to cost significantly more than [the customer] originally anticipated,” Brock said.

Screenshot of a project in SketchUp using the estimator plugin.

Screenshot of a project in SketchUp using the estimator plugin.

Over the course of his career, Brock developed a passion for building homes virtually – “bringing them to life” using 3D imaging and precise estimating – before physically building the home. That way, his clients would know exactly what to expect.

But generating that level of detail in an estimate can take a considerable amount of time that many builders just don’t have.

Brock, like 30 million other people around the world, uses the 3D modeling software SketchUp for his projects. Because the program didn’t offer a built-in estimating feature, he decided to hire a programmer last summer to develop his own plugin, Estimator for SketchUp.

Zac Marcengill, owner of the acoustic design company AudioVirtue in Nashville, was one of the first to purchase the plugin, and he was immediately impressed.

“For me, the tool paid for itself the first day I used it. What used to take me a week to do, I now can do in under four hours,” Marcengill said. “It allows me to easily generate reports that I can send to contractors, most of whom have never built a recording studio before.”

Marcengill says most of his clients are creative types – song writers and producers – whose desires frequently shift on a moment’s notice. When they suddenly start to consider new design schemes, he can easily modify the models to show side-by-side comparisons in the designs and associated costs down to the penny.

“One of my more recent clients was initially skeptical about my estimates,” Marcengill said. “He was like, ‘How do I know you’re not charging me $10 for a 2×4?’ So with the estimator, I was able to turn off [all the layers] except for the 2×4 layer to show him the exact pricing and how it was calculated.

“That right there sold the project, and sold my credibility with the client, who barely trusted anybody,” Marcengill said. “Now I have this guy’s complete trust.”

Removing all other layers, the user can view a roof frame and the associated price breakdowns.

Removing all other layers, the user can view a roof frame and the associated price breakdowns.

Whether you’re new to estimating or want to learn effective ways to present estimates to your customers, the NAHB Estimating for Builders and Remodelers live online course can help refine your technique. Taught by John Barrows, CGB, CGP, GMB, Master CGP, the three-part course covers:

  • The importance of quality estimating
  • Ways to beat the competition
  • Technology that can help improve your estimates’ accuracy

The three-part course will be held on June 7, 14 and 21 from 1-3 p.m. ET. Register today.

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