FREE General Contractor Estimate Template: Get Accurate Construction Estimates 

Written by Bridget Cooper

DateMay 7, 2024
Reading time6 min read
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As a construction estimator, the quicker you can turn around accurate estimates, the better positioned you are to secure projects and plan effectively. Yet you can't compromise on accuracy.

This is where a comprehensive general contractor estimate template can make a huge difference. It provides a standardized format for capturing all the necessary information you need to create an accurate cost estimate for your construction projects. 

In this guide, we'll cover everything you need to include in your estimate and provide a free construction estimate template to streamline the process even further.

Note: Templates are just the beginning of how you can streamline your work as an estimator. You can use Downtobid to identify exact scopes within complex construction plans and find qualified subcontractors to bring your construction project to life. And once you have your project scoped out and your dream team of subcontractors in mind, you can then use the platform to send automated, personalized invitations that increase your chances of getting responses. Try Downtobid for free today.

An Overview of Construction Estimates 

A construction cost estimate forecasts the expected direct, indirect, and overhead costs associated with a construction project. 

Accurate estimates can help you submit bids that are not just competitive, but profitable. Get it right, and you win a project that adds to your bottom line. Get the cost analysis for projects wrong -- by underestimating costs or failing to understand the scope fully -- and your profitability takes a hit. 

For this reason, you need a template to simplify your workflow, allowing you to allocate precious time to other demanding aspects of your projects. You can make a copy of this construction estimate form here. 

What the Construction Estimate Template Includes

Creating an estimate that perfectly matches the final cost of a construction project is nearly impossible. To nail down a reliable figure, you'll need to outline the scope of work, then break it down into individual costs for supplies, tools, labor, and any other expenses necessary to complete the project as outlined. 

Here's a checklist for your construction estimate with the key sections to include:

Brief Description of Work 

Define the boundaries of what the project is about, specifying any unique requirements that might influence costs, such as the need for custom materials or specialized labor. Also, highlight key components such as demolition, construction, renovation, or installation works. 

Remember, clarity and brevity are important here. The goal is to help stakeholders understand the project's scale without overwhelming them with all the details about specifications and material choices.

Direct Costs

Direct costs are the expenditures directly involved in the physical construction of your project. This includes the money paid for materials—think lumber, steel, concrete—and labor costs. It also covers equipment and any payments to subcontractors you bring on board to tackle specialized aspects of the job. These costs are the foundation of your project, and without them, nothing gets built. They're also the figures you'll most frequently adjust as you refine your estimate.

Indirect Costs 

Indirect expenses are not directly tied to a specific building or structure but are absolutely crucial to getting your project across the finish line.

Fixed indirect costs, like your monthly office rent, stay the same regardless of your project's size. Variable costs, on the other hand, fluctuate based on the project's size and needs. Think fuel costs for your machinery — these will vary based on how much you use them and the current fuel price, or marketing expenses that fluctuate with your business development activities.

Contingency Funds

Surprises are more a rule than an exception in construction. No matter how much you crunch the numbers in the construction cost estimating process, unforeseen costs can still spring up, throwing your project off balance.

Prices fluctuate, unexpected labor shortages arise, or you might encounter sudden delays in material availability. These aren't signs of poor planning; they're realities of the construction process.

That's why it's wise to include a contingency fund in your project estimate. It gives you the leeway to adapt as the project goes on without compromising its financial health. Plus, it helps you avoid uncomfortable conversations about additional funding down the line.

So, how much should you set aside? That depends on the project's complexity and risk factors, but a good rule of thumb is between 10% and 20% of the total project cost. You don't want it to be too little that you leave yourself vulnerable, or so large that it inflates your bid out of the competitive range.

Types of Construction Estimates

Each construction estimate type serves a unique purpose and is relevant at various stages of the project lifecycle.

Let's take a closer look at some of the most common types of construction estimates.

The Preliminary Estimate

The preliminary estimate, often referred to as an abstract cost estimate or budget estimate, plays a critical role in the early phases of a project, typically before the design documents have been fully fleshed out.

At this stage, your goal is to get a ballpark figure of what the project might cost based on your past experiences with similar projects. For instance, if you've been tasked with constructing a new office building, you'll draw upon your history with other office buildings of comparable size to provide an initial cost outline.

Before any construction kicks off, you'll need to refine this estimate into a more detailed and specific projection.

Detailed Estimate

With a detailed construction estimate, you're using design documents to get a crystal-clear picture of what's needed. This means going over every detail to forecast expenses for materials, equipment, and labor accurately.

For instance, if you're a masonry contractor working on a brick wall, you'd break down the costs for the foundation, the support structure, the masonry material costs, and the labor required to put it all together.

Quantity Cost Estimate

With this estimate, you're calculating the actual quantities or units necessary for each phase of the project. The goal? To sum up these individual costs for a complete financial picture. This type of estimate assumes there's a standard cost for each unit of work and material purchased, and it's typically quantified in a takeoff.

Bid Estimate

The bid estimate is your final offer, your pitch to the project owners during the bidding process. It's where you take your breakdown of the building costs— including raw materials, labor, and equipment—and add your markups for profit, overhead expenses, and any contingencies. It needs to be competitive enough to win the project, yet sustainable enough to ensure profitability. If you need help, there are a ton of construction estimating services available to help.

Final Thoughts 

To get an accurate construction estimate, try to prioritize caution over optimism. You might feel tempted to shave numbers here and there to present a more attractive bid. But being realistic -- even pessimistically so -- can actually work in your favor. Even though a client might initially hesitate at a higher price tag, it pays off in the long run when you avoid the headache of explaining budget overruns. This way, you protect yourself from unforeseen expenses and maintain your reputation for being reliable and transparent.

Written by Bridget CooperUpdated on May 7, 2024

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