Job estimates and change orders are two of the most common business areas where remodelers can lose time and money. Past software programs gave businesses some tools to help manage estimates and change orders, but current software offerings streamline these processes and address the larger, complex challenges of managing jobs, subcontractors and client relationships.
Because software programs store information for repeated use, automatically calculate quantities and do the math, labor-intensive estimates that took many hours to do on a spreadsheet are reduced today to approximately one-fifth of the time. Unlike spreadsheets, software programs allow remodelers to keep information in an easily accessible database for quick reference and populate the inputs into other forms. Automatic inputs and calculations increase accuracy.
“There are several hundred pieces of information involved in estimating and it’s easy to make math errors and quantity mistakes,” explains Dennis Kolva, programming director for Ithaca, N.Y.-based Turtle Creek Software. “Good estimating is critical for a small remodeler’s profitability, and the bigger the company gets, the more necessary software becomes. In addition, the software helps you track job costs so you can get feedback on how close your estimates are.”
Newer programs that offer remote access allow estimators to pull in additional expertise if needed. Corey Thrush, officer at Brookville, Ohio’s H.I. Technologies LLC, says the company’s C.H.I.P. (Complete Home Improvement Program) software allows company owners to easily weigh in on estimating decisions. “If one of your sales reps has a question about an estimate he is putting together, he can take a photo at the jobsite and upload it onto the software. You can look at it instantly, answer any questions, add specific wording and save it into the estimate.”
Many beginning builders absorb the expensive cost of change orders. Monmouth Custom Builders, Deal, N.J., designed Builder’s Dashboard software for its own use, which lets field managers create change orders on-site. The software calculations have a built-in safety: An owner is required to override any estimate that falls below the needed profit margin.
Monmouth Custom Builders emails the change order to the homeowner for a “digital signature” where they can click on “accept,” “decline” or “call to discuss” options. Jon Levy, vice president at Monmouth Custom Builders, says the process gives field managers more responsibility while ensuring work is properly documented. “Everyone agrees to the contract price, but the change orders can kill your profit,” Levy notes. “Because homeowners formally agree to the work and I can immediately send over all accepted change orders if questions arise, we collect virtually 100 percent of the money on our change orders.”
Access and Interface
Some of the newer software programs are Internet-based, where the software company hosts a remote server that each user can access with a password. Internet-based software backs up and retains all records instantly so if the remodeler’s hard drive crashes, all information remains logged and accessible.
Rich Applegate, chief executive officer of Applegate Construction, Brookville, uses C.H.I.P.’s Web-based program. “I like the convenience of clicking on the Internet and everything is right there for me—from estimating, work-order sheets, job invoicing and completion certificates—and everything I enter gets saved right away on the Web,” he says.
Some remodelers prefer the security other programs offer of a downloadable disk onto their private hard drive with remote access. Following a portable device trend, more companies are making their programs readable from smartphones and tablets.