Real Issues. Real Answers: Material Takeoffs: Good or Bad?

“Agree. Builders will always look for somewhere to put the blame if material is left off or they gave you incomplete takeoffs. Then you discount items for them that they will not be passing on to their customers just to keep them happy and a repeat customer.”

“I disagree. First of all, a significant percentage of builders these days could not perform an adequate takeoff. They do not have the access to the latest engineering, design, product, etc. data that lumber dealers do. An accurate, detailed estimate is an invaluable tool to the sales and logistics teams, minimizing job-site visits, maximizing asset utilization of both supplier and builder. Rather than fearing the responsibility and seeking to transfer it, cherish it and capitalize on it.”

“Agree. Our purpose is to share product info, specs and practical application. We’re not engineers.”

- Sponsor -

“I think there should be a balance. The industry needs to value its services and charge for the material takeoff. Once the customer agrees to purchase the project the charge can be credited to the job. This should be considered on full plan, door and window, and decking takeoffs.”

“While I certainly agree that the responsibility for quality takeoffs falls squarely on us and there is potential liability, I believe it is well worth the risk. In our competitive space, our takeoff service is a differentiator.”

“We do take offs as a courtesy to our contractors and customers, always saying in a huge disclaimer that it is an estimate only and subject to corrections in errors and additions. Please review carefully and order accordingly. We always verbally stress the same. There are some contractors we will not do takeoffs for, because we know they will complain. I agree that you have to be careful and the customer has to know upfront that they are still responsible.”

“Lumberyards should still provide a material takeoff, but it is the builder’s responsibility to use it as a starting point in determining final bid price.”

“We do material takeoffs for the majority of our contractor customers. A disclaimer is added with the terms that this is an estimate only, the builder needs to verify, etc., etc. However, when the contractor is over for one reason or another, it often comes back to us to ‘figure out why you were off.’ With some discussion and analysis of the project, we usually are able to put the responsibility back on the builder. I agree that the responsibility for products used should be the contractors. Getting there is another matter.”

“I agree. It’s stupid to make material takeoffs anywhere near our responsibility.”

“Disagree. We put language on our estimate stating that this is an ‘estimate’ only. The contractor/ customer is responsible for review and approval. Our market is way too competitive for us to try to put the takeoff responsibility back on the customer. Our competitors provide the service also.”

“Agree. We only do takeoffs for our good everyday customers. We charge so much a sq. ft. for others. We will credit back the takeoff cost to the builder if we are awarded the job.”

“Agree. We put a disclaimer at the end of the quote stating this is not a guaranteed list of materials to complete the job.”

“Agreed! I’m not sure when this began, but our salesman have been providing material takeoffs long before I started in 1987. Having never framed, built a deck, or sided a house, I can easily miss necessary items, or mis-figure material counts. If too low, we get blamed for costing our customer money. Too high, and you often lose the job.”

“Agree. I like doing takeoffs. I get a good feel for the whole project, and it makes it easier to work with the builder. Many of my customers understand that I’m not a builder and they need to make sure they read my estimates. I fully believe it is the responsibility of the contractor/ builder to keep a project in budget. If they are assuming the list is complete, then that is their first mistake.”

“The responsibility to provide a material takeoff efficiently and in a timely manner is ours, but the material list provided is 1) just that, a material list to built the project to the specs on the print, and 2) an estimate provided to the contractor to accept or modify to his specifications. Anyone who has been in this business for any amount of time knows that no two builders build the same, and getting to know how they build is key to the success of the estimator and the builder. We have no control over what ends up in their dumpster or goes home in their crews’ pick-ups. By accepting the quote, the responsibility is shared by the yard and the builder and that is where a good working relationship is crucial to the growth of both parties.”

“I agree, but most builders are not qualified to do a material takeoff on their projects.”

“Disagree, as a professional we need to partner with the builder, this is critical for long term success. Communication is key for this to free service to work. We fight more with jobsite visits, measuring doors, windows, etc. than free estimates.”

“This is a nice concept, but the market decides who will do the takeoff. When dealers are successful in charging for takeoffs, the builder will start doing their own takeoffs again.”

“In our area, that will never happen. We print a disclaimer on every estimate that we do not guarantee the quantity. Obviously, if we make a major error (like forgetting roof sheathing, etc.) we would make it right. There is no way that we, as a supplier, can be held responsible for how the material is used once it hits the job site, so we will never guarantee quantities.”

“Completely disagree. We provide this service for any of our customers.”

“I believe it depends on the customer. Some are really good to work with and are very understanding of the fact that we are providing a free service for an ‘estimate,’ and things generally go smoothly. However, the opposite is true on occasion. We do our best to prequalify the customer and project and we sometimes exercise the option to bill the customer before we do the takeoff.”

“Depends on your market and what the competition is doing.”

“I agree! Yes, we are being held responsible in some cases for these ‘estimates.’ I forgot the rafter package on an estimate awhile back. After the contractor told me to order the job, he then noticed what I had done. Needless to say, the guy was very unhappy with me. When I asked if he had gone over the estimate, he told me he had just skimmed over it and took the total. I had to re-adjust the whole estimate to allow for the rafter package price, and basically sold the job for a loss to cover his butt.”

“Disagree. That ship has sailed along with many other duties that were once the responsibility of the builder. We do material takeoffs for customers and price a list, as necessary, for prospects. Takeoffs are estimates only. Still, our customers have a right to expect reasonable accuracy.”

“Disagree! It is about how you manage the expectations of the builder. Verbalize that what you’re giving your client is an ‘estimate,’ not a ‘material takeoff.’ I instruct my guys to educate each customer, that this is only an estimate, and our hope is that we will be within 10-12% of our estimated price. Educating your customer is the key.”

“Yes, I strongly agree. When we as an industry took on the takeoff as a ‘value added’ selling point, we unintentionally did the industry a great disservice. When a builder is forced to create a material takeoff to create a list to quote for pricing and then to ship from, he is forced to build the home in his head. Automatically, then he is answering untold questions about engineering, connections, backing, blocking, planes, levels, and finishes. All sorts of questions will be brought up and noted that are not clear on the plans. Unanswered, each one of these questions is a potential overage later on in the process, an overage that, if we, the Lumberyard, provide the takeoff, we are potentially liable for.”

“Furthermore, each builder that does his own takeoffs becomes a better builder with every takeoff he does. As he learns, needed conversations with trades and his homeowner clients are initiated. By taking this responsibility away from builders, we have effectively ‘dumbed’ down our clientele. They are not as knowledgeable, because we have removed a key component necessary to what they do from their list of tasks. That lack of knowledge equates to lots of our time spent discussing overages, explaining where the money went, and educating our builders on how to do their job. Not good. I have been in the industry for 20 years now, in sales for 13 of those years, and I can say with the utmost confidence that this one issue is by far the largest cause of inefficiency/ lost profits in our industry. Ask around. In my own case, I’d say probably 5% of my clients do their own takeoffs and that small percentage of jobs go off without a hitch, seamlessly. There are absolutely no issues because they are all resolved ahead of time when the builder makes his own list.”

“I agree with for the most part, however as with most statements there are certain exceptions. For example, if you have a long-term relationship with a particular builder and have a firm grasp on their building methodology, then you should certainly be comfortable providing a material takeoff.”

“I see the only way this happening would be to have everyone stop doing takeoffs. Good luck with that one.”

“How can a materials supplier take responsibility for the amount of materials required to assemble a project when they have zero control of the jobsite? We can’t monitor theft, improper usage of material and waste. Twenty years ago, you could fit all of the scrap from a home in a couple of garbage cans. Now they are filling up dump trucks. Unfortunately, the majority of today’s builders are not intelligent enough to generate an accurate materials list. Most show up at the jobsite in the morning without a clue as to what they will be doing that day. The builder is coming to you because they need your expertise. Sit down and educate them on how the estimate is put together, teach them how to be more efficient and less wasteful.”

“Agreed. But how do you re-train the builders?”

“I agree, but I am not sure many builders are able to do a take off of any quality. That would problems with more deliveries required to the jobsite.”

“If I want to sell material, I need to do the takeoff. It is important to get the builder’s approval of the list and agreeing to its accuracy. This keeps him responsible, also.”

“This dealer’s lament is rare for us. We try to be clear up front that we can’t do a takeoff that matches every framer’s building practices. Our reps who do takeoffs fortunately know most of their customers well enough to avoid such problems. It is the new or one-off customers where we have to use our up-front disclaimer.”

“Disagree, when a builder goes over budget we look at the reasons why and work it out from there. We tell builders all the time that we and they are going to make errors/mistakes from time to time, it’s inevitable. When a mistake is made by either side we take a look at it, decide on a agreeable solution to both parties and move on.”

“It should ALWAYS be the responsibility of the builder!”

“I have always thought the builder should do his own takeoffs, but I’ve only had only had two over the years who actually did. Those guys always made a good profit. These were small builders who did it all. When they gave a price, that was it. They did not complain, but did hold the yard to the prices quoted.”

“Indifferent. A simple disclaimer regarding the method of calculation and that actual installation decisions made by the contractor on site may result in variations in the amount of material actually used to complete the job.”

“I disagree. We work very hard to do accurate takeoffs (a rarity in the industry) which we then coach the builder and framing contractor on using. We call them ‘parts lists’ and encourage ordering off them. We track variances from the parts list and use them as an early warning device to identify changes to help the builder manage their job. Pushing takeoffs back on the builder puts a supplier at the mercy of the field crews who order full lifts of everything and then have huge credit returns. It doesn’t help builders manage their job costs, and it commoditizes the lumber package by reducing any dealer-added value.”

“We make it clear to the builder that our material takeoff is not guaranteed to be 100% accurate.”

“Agree. Many of us only supply materials. Not every house is going to be built the same or have the same waste. It is the biggest risk we take when quoting projects. We have only one builder who goes over our takeoff and makes changes.”

“I’d have to disagree, to a sense. Our material takeoffs are transferred into a quote that are then passed onto the builder ‘for approval.’ While this may not be the end-all-be-all, it does give us a leg to stand on. At the end of the day we still feel we provide a service that is valued in the industry.”

“I do agree, to a point. One issue though, in the advent of engineered systems such as trusses and engineered lumber, many builders simply lack the resources and knowledge to accurately spec product, and they certainly can’t put an engineer’s stamp on them. Yet another issue is doing the work for our competition, who do not do takeoffs. I find myself spending a full day on some of these, at no charge, only to have the list I worked on shopped to my competition by a builder who just doesn’t care, or value the time I spent working on the estimate. I’ve considered quoting in board footage, just to confound the competition. My work is often taken to the Big Boxes, who don’t do takeoffs, don’t offer the same quality, etc. Then, since their policy is to beat anyone else’s price by 10%, it virtually ensures I won’t be the lowest price to that consumer who shops the lowest price. I know the sales gurus push the other aspects to overcome price objection (such as quality, accuracy, timeliness, etc.), but these days, the majority of people just want the lowest price.”

“Agree, but we make it clear that this is a free service and the customer is ultimately responsible.”

“It will never happen.”

“Disagree. It is an estimate.”


Hundreds of readers share their insights for this every-issue feature. Have a Real Issue? Contact me at Rick@LBMJournal.com.

The reader who suggested the “Real Issues” topic will receive an LBM Journal executive prize pack.
Includes: a polo shirt (we’ll contact you for size), corkscrew, cap, mug, and pen.