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Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2001
A generous part of what I do, in the hours not spent trading stories about grumpy oldsters with Stu on a jobsite, is estimating time.

Construction being what it is, there are really only two factors which determine the final cost of building stuff. Labor and materials.

Come to think about it, those are the two factors for most any profession. Except exotic dancing, maybe. When you get into that whole body cultivation thing. And the low overhead.

Figuring up the materials is pretty easy. You look at a new store to construct, say Wilma's Witchcraft Boutique, and you factor in so much drywall, so many metal studs, cabinets, wall coverings, paint, on and on. You add in a little for waste, you mark everything up because you're the one handling it (as opposed to Wilma), and presto - you have a monetary number for materials.

Estimating time is another matter entirely. This is the crapshoot of the game.

If you based your estimate entirely on how you would perform on a job, and how long you'd be willing to work every day, you'd arrive at this nirvana figure that would undoubtably please the client to no end.

If you used a more realistic approach, you'd have to account for such things as waiting 4 hours for a port-o-jon to show up, 3 trips back to the door supplier to exchange a door which they furnished warped and hopelessly dinged up, the wasted day when the generator crapped out and you had to stop to fix it.

If you were REALLY honest about the hours on a job, you'd throw in two hours a day spent doing nothing but standing around, digging in the pockets of your toolbelt in search of that elusive but oh so necessary drill bit that Stu actually filched from you last week.

In other words, to estimate time, you use the tried and true SWAG system. Systematic Wild Ass Guess.

If you're in competition with another firm to get the job from Wilma, you hope they do too. Nothing makes you look more like a chisler than to be twice the price of somebody else. Then you have to take the haughty air of one who is wiser than his competitor. You know, the "If he can do it for that amount of money, let him have the freaking job. He's gonna lose his shirt."

Of course, if you've had the opportunity to meet Wilma and she turns out to be a psychotic and evil woman who will grind your bones to make her bread, you have to double your labor figure from the start. Because it will take twice as long to finish her store as it should, and you will lose several months off your expected life span to boot.

If Wilma turns out to be a good witch with long legs and a penchant for wearing short skirts at progress meetings, you add in the factor of distraction.

Well, actually you think about it but you never do. Might even cut the price a little. I'm all for rewarding a client who improves the scenery on a dreary day.

That's why they give out those construction calendars with Bambi posed on a filthy scaffold clad in nothing but suspenders and a nail pouch. Or at least they used to give them away. The bastards down at the lumberyard have started cutting back on the freebies. The coffee, the barrel of shelled peanuts. The calendars.

I suppose I ought to interperate that as a reason to not linger when leaning with dug in elbows on the lumber counter, jawing with the salesman about the weather and upland bird hunting and the deplorable state of framing lumber these days.

That ought to free up at least one hour of my day.

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