How valuable is your time?

If you subscribe to the notion that time is money, you may do everything in your power to streamline your construction schedules, paring away every repetitious or unnecessary maneuver in an effort to shave days -- or even hours -- from the timeline. But when a potential client calls and asks for a bid, or requests a site visit for purposes of preparing an estimate, you are apt to consult your appointment calendar and make time for it. Right?

The question is why?

Today, more and more builders are rethinking the practice of free estimates, coming to the conclusion that the better way, the more professional way, is to explain to a potential client that a quick estimate is, in effect, more a "guess" than a relevant proposal for specific work to be completed. 

Fine Homebuilding Magazine addressed the pros and cons of free estimates in 2012. The debate still continues. While there is a lack of consensus, there is recognition of the fact that meeting clients is part of the sales process, but the time spent counts on clocks like the rest of time. And effective use of time is what adds dollars to a builder's bottom line.

However, bidding jobs is such an ingrained part of the construction industry that the expectation of payment is sometimes met with disbelief and disdain. 

How to Determine What Works

Nationwide, as construction starts and activity once again pick up, builders and remodelers point to some ways of dealing with the increasing numbers of estimates they are asked to provide. Most tend to agree that free estimates are a "necessary evil," admitting that just as they would never pay a subcontractor for a bid, they are averse to charging for an initial estimate.

A new trend is online websites that publish local cost figures. Although they might be misleading, you might also have to field fewer calls for estimates in the future.

Savvy builders sometimes handle the dilemma by providing "ranges of estimated cost" based on data collected from completed jobs. With new technology and more complete computer records, many builders are able to quickly call up data that offers potential customers a "best-guess" figure for desired work. It's a way to separate the "tire kickers" from the serious clients, according to these construction professionals. When it's time to prepare a final bid proposal in preparation for signing a binding contract, the detail work becomes just another cost of the job

Connect with the Building Community

Because Michigan builders are licensed professionals, one of the best ways to develop a workable policy of your own regarding estimates is to connect with others. Get to know your local building community through membership in an organization like the local home builders association or general contractors group. Some even maintain a public data base of local building costs, and that is a valuable resource for you as well as for potential clients. 

Individual builder prices may vary substantially from the "averages," however; develop a sales strategy in keeping with your personal goals. Whether you want to be known as an affordable alternative or a luxury custom builder, chances are you will not be a stranger to the question of "How much will it cost?"

Knowing how to answer that question, and determining whether or not you will charge a fee for the answer, is totally your decision. No matter what you decide, your time is, indeed, an important part of your business. Use it wisely.