bidding the trades…Posted by clearcut on March 11, 2012 at 2:36 pm
Just got an email from the local builder’s exchange. They sent me a solicitation from a large contractor who is proposing on a hotel that is being bid for construction.
The contractor’s solicitation is looking for subcontractors.
It was listed like this:
“Bids from the following trades are being requested: framing, concrete, electrical,land surveying,….”
Also, last week I got a call from a guy who needs a flood elevation cert.
He asked how much I would charge as he was calling around getting bids.
Me, I don’t bid work. I submit proposals outlining scope and schedule and my qualifications. Only once they select me do I negotiate price. For the ma and pa clients, I am very careful to let them know they are selecting me based on being best qualified, that cost is a competing criteria I will participate in.
I wish the surveyors who are going to pursue these jobs wouldn’t either. Only then will we no longer be considered by some to be tradesmen.
- 24 Replies
- MemberMarch 11, 2012 at 2:49 pm
> I wish the surveyors who are going to pursue these jobs wouldn’t either. Only then will we no longer be considered by some to be tradesmen.
Yes, it does seem odd that a contractor would need a land surveyor. I think though, that instead of chastising a surveyor for carving out a niche and suggesting that they drop a very lucrative source of revenue, maybe we should educate the contractor to drop the “land” in his next RFP and add “construction” instead.
Oh wait, you can get a cease and desist for using those words together around here.
- MemberMarch 11, 2012 at 3:21 pm
if a client has some money and they want to pay me to work i don’t care what they call me. if the price is right and the money is green i am game.
- MemberMarch 11, 2012 at 4:23 pm
> “Bids from the following trades are being requested: framing, concrete, electrical,land surveying,….”
Common for construction staking work. Low bidder gets the job, of course. The clever low bidder will work the “extras” to make a profit. People who play the game well will make out OK. But not the way I want to run my business.
And, I think, not the way to get something built for the lowest cost either.
- MemberMarch 11, 2012 at 4:52 pm
The clever low bidder will work the “extras” to make a profit.
- MemberMarch 11, 2012 at 5:01 pm
I knew an LS that at least used to do a very good business working for return-client contractors. His fees were high but such a small percentage of the overall contract and the fact that he would respond very quickly and get them started meant very loyal contractor clients.
He did not like extra charges because then he only got his hourly charge rate. The contract lump sum price usually was high enough that he could beat his hourly rate by quite a bit.
An unresponsive LS, although cheap, can cost a contractor a lot more money than whatever minor savings there is in a low bid contract.
- MemberMarch 11, 2012 at 5:18 pm
Many projects require a staging area to operate from that may or may not be available on all project sites for the duration of the project. The contractor is usually responsible for obtaining and getting this space for their operation.
Then there is the fact that their project features are to be place in relation to boundaries.
A few days ago I had to remind someone that I am not going to bid among others to get his work and that I will explain what I expect to have to do to complete his survey and that costs will be dependent upon what is necessary according to state regulations and any additional requirements they insist upon.
I can give someone a budget number to work with. It is always high enough to cover worst case situations.
There are too many that want to spend way too little for way too much.;-)
- MemberMarch 11, 2012 at 5:46 pm
I very rarely provide proposals on private projects seeking staking “bids”. Especially if I don’t know the contractors. It’s typically a waste of time for something I don’t really like to do. I have on occassion contacted the successfull low bidder general contractor to see if they want to talk, that sometimes works.
Public projects, yes, but typically with a bigger PE firm as a topo/design/build scenario. Then I know if they get the project that I’m in.
But just like snoop, somebody calls me and wants something done…. I’m there.
- MemberMarch 11, 2012 at 6:12 pm
I was responding to bidding requests for a engineering/surveying firm I worked for. Usually you only worked with one prime bidder, so even if you had a good price, the prime may not get the job.
The explanation to the contractor was that all quotes included tying into boundaries to know what was good and what was not for resetting any lost control as well as thorough review of emgineering/archotecture plans. Over the course of various projects we caught several architectural descrepances, like foundatio plans one size, roof steel a shorter size. Getting that resolved before the steel shows up and fingers start pointing pleased the contractor to no end. Whether or not he would have gotten an extra, time is also money.
On another project the contractor confident in our work from previous project asked us to do an extra. The project had a “rock” clause and he began hitting rock sooner than anticipated. We made extra visits to record rock elevations. In the end there was considerable argument that it was not an extra, but we had the original plans which called for an established project baseline from 3 previous college dormitories, for the 3 new ones. We started by surveying and finding the baseline not in agreement with the outbounds and requesting verification. We got a letter indicating to hold the baseline for estethic conformity with the existing buildings. The previous project was built in the wrong location. That letter was what sealed the deal and the project owner paid the claim. That was significant rock, enough that the contractor brought a rock crusher on site. Between that and the tax writeoff the contractor got for donating larger rock to a stream stabilization project across the access road, read as almost no trucking, was a bundle.
Sometimes the stars align but you must be prepared. Value must be judged separate from co$t.
Paul in PA
- MemberMarch 11, 2012 at 6:21 pm
For about 5 years a decade ago that’s how I made a living, construction stakeout. Yeah, and you are a sub, contract and all. In my state a LS is not required. It’s very high risk work. Looking back I can’t believe the risk I took and that I made it through with only a couple of mistakes that cost me about $20,000. It’s darn hard work also pounding stuff into compacted structural fill. It’s challenging and rewarding but in the end I decided it was just to much risk and quit doing it, bidding to get very high risk work as the low bidder.
A better way to do this work is as an employee of the contractor. All they can do is fire you when the inevitable mistake occurs, and it WILL. I don’t believe in the long run even insurance will cover you, they are only going to pay a few big claims before they won’t insure you any longer. I’ll always remember what a general superintendent told me one day, this is a brutal business. He was absolutely correct.
- MemberMarch 11, 2012 at 6:49 pm
> I don’t believe in the long run even insurance will cover you…..
I have a friend that only does construction staking. He miss read a plan and staked a catch basin off, 10 feet. The client (the state DOT) wanted it fixed and the contractor said it would cost 40k to fix. My friends insurance company said they found a contractor that said it would cost 10k and that is all they would pay. The contractor owed my friend 40k and held it until the issue was resolved. That was many months ago and it still isn’t resolved……
Be careful out there……
RadarI hope everyone has a great day; I know I will!
- MemberMarch 11, 2012 at 7:22 pm
I don’t believe it. Who is going to select you before knowing what it’s going to cost them? Possibly ma and pa clients you mention, but not a profit-making entity. If they do, they are not doing their job.
Most companies don’t want the romance you want. At the end of the day, they need to know what it’s going to cost them and that you’ll do the job without creating any headaches for them.
> Me, I don’t bid work. I submit proposals outlining scope and schedule and my qualifications. Only once they select me do I negotiate price. For the ma and pa clients, I am very careful to let them know they are selecting me based on being best qualified, that cost is a competing criteria I will participate in.
- MemberMarch 11, 2012 at 8:14 pm
I feel sorry for your friend the construction staker, but on the other hand, its probably his own undoing. I’d like to know how much he underbid to get the work. It will be a drawn out fight involving attorneys and insurances. In the end, the contractor will continue to select low-ball bids and surveyors will continue to provide them.
My firm used to to A LOT of construction staking work. It was our meat and potatoes. Since the downturn in ’07, I have had less than 5 such jobs, none of any decent size. The problem is two-fold: One, the work is no longer fun for me/us. I used to love being on site, watching the equipment do their business, setting alignments, taking part in dynamic on-site decisions, and being appreciated by almost everyone on site. A good contractor respects and appreciates a good surveyor. In the last few years I have noted that few contractors care who is on site doing their layout. There is less and less loyalty in the construction trade and I have seen this decline severely in the last 10 years. I blame the contractors, not so much the surveyors. Most site guys do not have the experience or understanding of civil work and are instead, building tradesmen who are senior enough to acquire foremanship on jobs. It is my opinion that most of the good contractors are retired and snow-birding in Arizona. The folks we have now view a surveyor in the same light as carpenters and plumbers (no slam to those guys–I would be hard-pressed to frame a square wall or plumb a drain). The role of surveying is less a technical skill and more of an consulting role. Where a tradesman’s work is defined by his skill of installing supplies with specified tolerances, our work is to understand specified tolerances and translate/transfer them from paper to the ground for the tradesman to use. We direct, we do not install or create. When things go wrong and the finger-pointing begins, it inevitably sways to those who are not on site–the surveyor. Contractors who do not understand our role will treat a misplaced hub like a misplaced pipe. The cost is high for these mistakes and contractors are now less inclined to catch errors and more inclined to go after insurances or send a bill. I truly do not think they understand the ramifications of erroneous survey points which are not so easily fixes as a misplaced outlet or drain, or a not-so-plumb wall.
Problem Two are the surveyors who also do not understand their role or the changing liabilities on sites. Its gone up! Gone are the days when the contractor checked our work before proceeding. Gone are the days of doing numerous and appreciated favors for a contractor knowing this ‘ace in your pocket’ could be played when that 10′ bust was made. How many surveyors understand that their fees are about than 1% of the entire budget of a project? most jobs have more $ in importing dirt than surveying. I think too many of us (I am definitely not one of these) cut our throats to get these ‘lucrative’ jobs. My experience is that these jobs are no longer lucrative. When you start counting the actual time spent in plan review and layout preparation along with the time spent in the field (and getting there), the earnings are far inferior to other work and the risks are too high. Unlike boundary work, one must carry specific insurances, and must be ready to drop everything, and head out to the site. As you noted, one bad hub can cost you tens of thousands and which may be higher than the actual compensation. Most surveyors don’t carry E/O insurance because of the cost but contractors dont care. They hold all the cards and you will lose, even if you are right. I think contractors and surveyors need to take a really hard look at how and who this work goes to bid. Construction is high-risk and low reward.
- MemberMarch 11, 2012 at 8:32 pm
In all the surveying companies I have worked for over the last 15 years, I have never heard of being selected only on qualifications. All construction and even 99% traditional projects require a price to be submitted. For municipal projects you always have to submit a price with the qualifications. The winner is based on price and qualifications.
For construction it’s almost always the lowest price unless someone has proven themselves unreliable.
- MemberMarch 11, 2012 at 8:49 pm
Good luck with that SOQ path to getting work. If you have loyal customers you are good. We used to be in the same position until they all retired or died. Now we have to bid for anything we get, which is mostly nothing. I might be inclined to agree that price bidding is bad except for the fact that surveyor’s fees are essentially ‘corporate yacht money’ for contractors: the more they spend on you, the less they have for tootling around on the water. I think most contractors would avoid hiring surveyors if at all possible. You see this when they pre-cost our fees at $1000 on multi-million $ projects. Yes, this happens quite often. The assumption is that they will find someone to squeeze and which will be a fraction of their profit margin. I noted the thread from the guy who calls on contractors after they have been awarded. I hate to say it, but if they hire you, you are their squeeze point. These are the contractors who made no effort to solicit survey bids. Or, if they did, you came in lower than the lowest guy. You gotta wonder how much $ you left on the table. My experience in doing this is that I end up with a lousy contractor and spend too much time avoiding tables over which I can be bent.
The problem with SOQs for construction is that when that happens, we will all be in the game of competing with, or working for the large firms with lots of dog-n-pony showability. SOQs only work when you are involved with the project owner. Sub-contractors who are required to bid competitively will only search out the cheapest guy who has not screwed them. Personally, I think it is no less hazardous to compete against DEA and CH2MHill for work than it is to price myself against back-yard surveyors. The industry needs a new paradigm. What we surveyors should do is to provide a rate sheet of all work, then provide estimates for time on the project. I have tried this and the format works well. I broke the project into all its elements (concrete, sewer, water, grading, TESC, etc) and then provided an estimate of time each element would take. I did this for the layout and travel time as well. Unfortunately, it has never been successful because it is uncertain where standard, fixed-fee bids are not. If we were all to use this format, then the contractor could do reasonable estimates (our fees are only about 1-2% of the total job) and if anything went sideways, it is likely a change order or otherwise the responsibility of the owner, not the general.
For the guy who says he bids cheap and looks for change orders, I think that is a lousy way to bid work. Do you also play lottery as a source of income? Most savvy contractors will find a way to screw you out of your base bid and will do the change work themselves based on your first layout. Not to mention, the change orders will never make up for the $ left on the table from your low-balling.
Our state association is currently lobbying the AGC and the state to change the way contracts with surveyors are handled. We want consulting agreements not sub-contracting agreements. This is a start to redefining the contractor-surveyor relationship. The next step is understanding the value of our own services and the tremendous risk inherent to construction. If you don’t think so, you have not done enough of it.
- MemberMarch 11, 2012 at 10:52 pm
2% about hits it on the head.
It does not take too much time or effort to construction survey a million dollars worth of work. In fact we do about that much per day on our job. You give me 20k a day and I will self insure myself and pay for any mistake that I might make.
And BTW, Im not sure where your friend staked the inlet wrong (maybe on the wrong continent), but an inlet costs about 5k time and materials, and thats even breaking it off in you. Maybe there is more to the story that your friend isnt being straightforward with (like maybe he staked 8 catchbasins wrong).
- MemberMarch 11, 2012 at 10:53 pm
> Our state association is currently lobbying the AGC and the state to change the way contracts with surveyors are handled. We want consulting agreements not sub-contracting agreements. This is a start to redefining the contractor-surveyor relationship. ….
Great, this is exactly why I started this thread. Until we start looking at ourselves as not being one of the trades, we will continue to be recognized as such.
- MemberMarch 11, 2012 at 11:00 pm
> And BTW, Im not sure where your friend staked the inlet wrong (maybe on the wrong continent), but an inlet costs about 5k time and materials, and thats even breaking it off in you. Maybe there is more to the story that your friend isnt being straightforward with (like maybe he staked 8 catchbasins wrong).
Probably also included the cost of relocating the culvert(s) tied to the inlet.
- MemberMarch 11, 2012 at 11:24 pm
> In all the surveying companies I have worked for over the last 15 years, I have never heard of being selected only on qualifications. All construction and even 99% traditional projects require a price to be submitted. For municipal projects you always have to submit a price with the qualifications. The winner is based on price and qualifications.
> For construction it’s almost always the lowest price unless someone has proven themselves unreliable.
I approach the construction and boundary jobs the same. Regardless if the potential client calls me or if I see a project in the paper which needs surveying. I provide my proposal of scope and schedule along with a statement on experience and qualifications. If the potential client expresses interest, from there I enter into negotiations on price which can either be a T&M or LS basis. We end the negotiation with either a contract or he can go find someone else. Never, ever do I give a LS price and then let him go bid shopping with it.
More than a few times I have ended negotiations with the potential client declaring my Lump Sum price is too high, only to have them come back a week later saying they want my service after all. At that point I tell them I will take the job on a T&M basis only. I make a point throughout the process to let them know I don’t bid work. It works for me.
One point of all this is that I have made the distinction between bidding work and negotiating price. They are not the same thing. The negotiation of price comes only after the client has been educated on scope, schedule and qualifications.
AND a negotiated lump sum price is not allowed to be shopped. Either they sign the contract or they go elsewhere.
- MemberMarch 11, 2012 at 11:34 pm
> Probably also included the cost of relocating the culvert(s) tied to the inlet.
Maybe, but not likely, even if though, that would be a good point. The friend either has the strength of business to absorb his error or he doesnt, which I am speculating is probably the case, due to the backcharge being in dispute. You do not get very many of those errors of that proportion ( laying out an entire system in the wrong place) before you are labeled “that guy” and have “that reputation” and have to go back to land surveying.
Risk? There is some, and it is not for the weak stomached, but very manageable if you are well trained and prepared. It is no where near the risk that the people have that are willing to give us $.02 on every one of their dollars just to do something that we claim to be experts in.
- MemberMarch 11, 2012 at 11:39 pm
> > Probably also included the cost of relocating the culvert(s) tied to the inlet.
> Maybe, but not likely, even if though, that would be a good point. The friend either has the strength of business to absorb his error or he doesnt, which I am speculating is probably the case, due to the backcharge being in dispute. You do not get very many of those errors of that proportion ( laying out an entire system in the wrong place) before you are labeled “that guy” and have “that reputation” and have to go back to land surveying.
> Risk? There is some, and it is not for the weak stomached, but very manageable if you are well trained and prepared. It is no where near the risk that the people have that are willing to give us $.02 on every one of their dollars just to do something that we claim to be experts in.
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