What’s The Role of a Construction Estimator?

A construction estimator determines the approximate cost of a construction project, which can range from a small home renovation to building a skyscraper.

Pursuing a construction estimator career is relatively approachable, even for those outside of the industry looking to start a new path. However, it should be noted that this is a desk job and doesn’t usually involve hands-on construction experience. Usually, construction estimators are versed in finance, accounting, and economics.

Cost estimators do not work in a silo. To create accurate estimations, the expertise of other professionals become essential. That’s where contractors, cost engineers, and other niche professionals come into play, providing data on materials, technology, and labor that the cost estimator uses to create the final estimations.

What Does a Construction Estimator Do?

A construction estimator takes data from a variety of sources to determine the estimated cost of a construction estimate. More specifically, a career as a construction cost estimator includes:

  • Delivering accurate cost estimates based on all available data and resources
  • Creating realistic timelines based on project scope
  • Outlining cost analyses for the entire project as well as each line item
  • Communicating with cost engineers and trade partners on a daily basis
  • Comparing and selecting bigs from vendors and subcontractors
  • Fostering ongoing relationships with these vendors and subcontractors

The list goes on, but the above bullet points outline the main responsibilities for most construction cost estimators.

Construction estimator working with laptop

Are Cost Estimators Necessary?

Yes, cost estimators are necessary for all construction projects, big or small. Even if you’re using PT&C’s CostCenter, which combines the best cost estimation software with the most reliable construction cost data, some level of cost estimation expertise is required.

Some construction companies put the responsibilities of cost estimates on financial experts or cost engineers. If it’s a small company, that may be acceptable. A part-time cost estimator would likely be better, but it may be okay.

But a certified cost estimator is best practice for construction companies. Not having one on-staff would be like not having an accountant or CFO because you have QuickBooks.

While you may be able to get by, it’s likely more costly in the long run to not have a construction cost estimator, even for the smallest businesses. And the bigger the company, the more cost estimators are needed. The largest construction companies have a whole cost estimation department.

Are Construction Estimators Also Cost Engineers?

A cost engineer can be a construction estimator, but a construction estimator does not need to be a cost engineer. More simply, cost engineers and cost estimators are two different jobs.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the two different roles:

  • Construction Estimator: Utilizes data to determine the estimated cost and timing of a project. This is in collaboration with CostBook or other cost databases, cost engineers, and best practices specific to the project and location.
  • Cost Engineer: Utilizes specific expertise to determine costs related to construction projects. For example, cost engineers can be mechanical, electrical, or civil engineers with a focus on construction, repairs, maintenance, and profitability.

While there is a good amount of crossover, the two roles are individually necessary to complete construction cost analyses efficiently.

What Are The Challenges That Estimators Face?

The number one challenge that estimators face is unreliable data. In fact, outdated cost data is what inspired us to create CostBook, a constantly updated cost database that’s specific to location, not the national average.

Inaccurate data is pretty much useless. It’s a good starting point only in the sense that you’ve added the line item, but if you have to change the price for each one, what’s the point?

Other areas of challenge throughout a cost estimator’s career include:

  • Awareness of brand-new technology that speeds up projects or eliminates laborers.
  • Maintaining in-house data to use hand-in-hand with cost book data.
  • Creating relationships with competitive vendors and subcontractors.
  • Monitoring changes to material costs due to a variety of factors, such as COVID-19 disruptions.

How To Become A Construction Estimator

Degree/Education

The best place to start a career in construction estimation is to go to college with a relevant major. A good combination would be something in finance, economics, or accounting with a focus on real estate development.

Work Experience

Working with a construction company in any capacity will help you gain relevant experience. A construction estimator career doesn’t have to begin at a construction company. But aside from a degree, nothing looks better on a resume than experience with a construction company.

Certifications

Construction cost estimators can receive a wide range of relevant certifications. These include international, national, and local certifications, and all will benefit a cost estimator in two key ways. The first is that they’ll surely learn something new. The second is that any form of certification will look good on a resume and portfolio.

What Skills Does An Estimator Need?

Communication Skills

The lower the cost, the better the bid, which makes it incredibly important to foster strong relationships with vendors, subcontractors, suppliers, and beyond.

You also want to have airtight relationships with your teammates as well. Cost estimators need the expertise of cost engineers and other specialty professionals to come up with the most accurate estimate.

Every day, a construction estimator is creating and maintaining relationships. They’re communicating with teammates about progress and concerns, then relaying that information to project managers and clients.

Math Skills

Construction estimator is a finance job. Finance jobs require math. While you don’t necessarily need to be a mathematician, you’ll need to implement complex formulas, and much of the job is looking at numbers.

Math proficiency is a big component. But moreover, an aversion to mathematics would not jive with a job in cost estimation, no matter the industry.

Project Management Skills

All those numbers and lines of communication mean project management skills are essential. In fact, there tends to be more crossover between construction estimators and project managers than estimators and cost engineers. If you’re a master organizer, few career paths will be more rewarding.

Related Careers In Construction

Construction estimators make up one of many important roles in the construction industry. It’s also one of many jobs ideal for strong communicators who have a way with numbers. Other potential paths beyond a construction estimator career include:

  • Cost Engineer
  • Project Manager
  • Accountant/Account Clerk
  • Financial Planner/Manager
  • Construction Contractor
  • Real Estate Developer
  • Loan Officer

The average salary of a construction estimator is over $60,000 per year, with some making over $150,000. The other jobs in the above list pay similarly, which is one of the many benefits of working in finance.

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