The construction industry uses three distinct terms to offer their services to customers. Estimates, bids and proposals are terms used to present a dollar value associated with construction work. For the less sophisticated contractors, the terms are interchangeable. The reality is far different. Each term has an historical context and legal meaning. Thus, it is prudent for any contractor to understand the differences and use the correct term when offering their respective services. This article will explain and elaborate the differences between estimates, bids and proposals. In addition, some legal issues are explained; specifically, as they relate to contact law. As a contractor, it is your responsibility to understand the respective terms and when and how to use them. This knowledge greatly reduces your risks, especially risks associated with lawsuits.
Hard costs are those direct costs of construction associated with materials, labor, subcontracted work, equipment utility and other forms of direct costs of construction. Hard costs can include intangible forms of direct costs such as permitting, utilities, waste disposal, site facilities and interest to capitalize the project. Hard costs are the estimated actual costs of construction.
The core tenet of an estimate is that each is unique. This uniqueness is driven by hard costs of construction. There are five distinct hard cost drivers in every estimate. Each cost driver has different application principles (introduced in this lesson), different sources of value and final markup formulas to determine the final estimated hard cost. The five distinct cost drivers are 1) materials, 2) subcontracted services, 3) equipment application, 4) labor and 5) intangible expenditures. Each type of cost (driver) has principles of application, i.e. thought processes an estimator must consider. Some of the principles are common among all five types of costs. Others may be unique to just that particular cost driver. This lesson introduces these five cost drivers and the various application principles involved with each driver.
Well developed, accurate and timely estimates are the best tool ensuring profitability in the construction industry. No other internal control mechanism is as valuable to the contractor as the estimate. Good estimating systems in construction provide the management team with the necessary confidence to make long-term decisions benefiting all parties involved with the company. Customers receive a higher quality structure with less warranty requirements, employees get a sense of security with their tenure, and vendors/subcontractors acquire desirable relationships with their contractor assuring delivery of best practices for their respective trades. Simple put, good estimates deliver profits to the contractor.
All hard costs are directly assignable to a job. These costs are most often tangible in nature, but there are many intangible costs that can be directly assigned to the job. Thus some intangible costs are ‘Hard’ costs. A contractor must understand the difference between hard and soft costs in order to properly markup assignable costs to determine the final sales price of the project built.