Your team could easily be called first responders. When it comes to damage done to a home or business, your guys and gals are immediately on the job, bailing out water or stabilizing walls before any more damage is done.

In some cases, the worst is over before you arrive. There’s no need to jump in until you’ve had a chance to assess the situation and figure out how much the repairs will cost. Other times, the chaos has only just begun. Your job, first and foremost, is just to stop the tidal wave of repairs from growing any bigger and hope the client’s insurance claims adjuster will agree with the steps you’ve taken and pay you for the work you’ve done so far.

Receiving fair and accurate compensation for work done largely comes down to the abilities of the restoration company’s estimator. This is the person whose job it is to go out to the site, look around, and figure out just how much it’s going to cost to put the whole thing back together. Or, if the job site is inaccessible, do their best to decipher reports, photos, and even water-logged work orders sporting their own evidence from the job site. If that sounds like a challenge, that’s because it is. 

What makes a good estimator?

A lot rides on the restoration estimator doing their job right. For one, it’s their responsibility to make sure the estimate for the work covers all the company’s expenses for the project. Forget a detail, misidentify a material needed in the remodel, or underestimate the scope of the damage, and the estimate will be woefully low. It’s on the restoration company to foot the bill for work and materials not represented correctly in the approved estimate.

“[The estimator] needs to have a really good background in construction,” says Erica Kimble who spent three years working in the restoration field as an office manager. “He needs to be able to think in 3-D. He needs to understand how buildings and homes are built — to what standard grade. There are a lot of things he needs to physically understand to be able to walk into a room and know how to fix it because, without that mindset, you can’t know what you’re estimating.”

Tim Higley, an insurance claims adjuster with 30 years’ experience in construction, agrees. “The best guys I’ve worked with have a background in construction and 20–30 years of experience,” he says. That background is particularly important because, as any good restoration estimator knows, figuring out how something is deconstructed is just as important as knowing how it’s built.

Say a homeowner calls your company to take care of flooding in their home. The estimator will need to take stock of the costs for not just the equipment and time needed to dry out the room, but for ripping out the carpet and pad, pulling off the baseboards, taking out and replacing the damaged drywall and insulation, laying down a new pad and new carpet that matches the rest of the house, putting in the new baseboards, etc.

What’s more, they’ll need to make sure they have the right team for the job, with people who are efficient and well-trained. The gamble, here, is that if the team isn’t able to do the repairs in the estimated time, whatever additional time they put in is on the restoration company’s dime.

The benefits of job costing

If you haven’t put much time into job costing, you could be missing out on a more accurate method of figuring out which people are right for each job.

Say you’ve got a couple people you’re considering for a task. If you’re using a time tracking software with job costing, you could take a look at how long it took them to complete a similar job. Simply pull up the job code to see time logged, and compare the results across team members. It may be that one of your guys is more efficient than the rest at this particular job, which can come in handy when you’re trying to keep a project in budget.

Another place where job costing comes in handy is estimating the cost of the actual job. In every project, you’re bound to have gains and losses. Seeing where those losses are happening consistently can be very helpful in determining what needs to be done to make that particular job profitable.

Once you know how much it costs to perform a certain task, particularly in terms of hours of labor, you can make some key business decisions. You might find you need to send your team to more training or even refrain from taking similar projects in the future because you know it’s just not worth your time.

Matching the insurance adjuster

Not every restoration company sends someone out to do an estimate. Some wait for an estimate to come in from the insurance adjuster and just go off that.

“Why bother doing my own?” they might say. “In the end, I’m only going to get paid what they say I get paid.” In fact, there is a host of reasons why a restoration company should want to do their own estimate.

1. It never hurts to double-check. Different people see different things. Your guy may spot something the claims adjuster missed. You want the opportunity to compare the adjuster’s estimate to your own so you can make sure they’re accounting for all the damage you’re seeing. Claims adjusters will alter their estimates if you point out something they should have covered — provided you do it before the estimate has been approved. If you wait to point out additional damage until after the claim has gone through, you’re unlikely to get the insurance company to give you more money. If that’s the case, you’ll have to eat the costs.

2. It gets everyone on the same page. Say you’re replacing a damaged roof. You might assume the whole thing needs to go. When you compare your estimate to the insurance adjuster’s, though, you might discover they’re only covering the costs for a portion of the roof to be replaced. That kind of distinction is important because if your team starts tearing up roof not covered in the estimate, that’s materials and labor you’ll have to cover on your own.

3. It sets the tone for a good relationship with the insurance company. When your estimate matches that of the claims adjuster, it reinforces their trust in your company. They know you’re seeing the same problems they are and accounting for the same materials and repairs in Xactimate. Trust leads to referrals and a positive relationship moving forward. “We have some guys we like working with on a regular basis,” says Higley. “They’re the people who know what they’re doing.”

While insurance companies don’t recommend just one restoration company when a customer asks them who they should call — that would be a conflict of interest — they do often have a list of trusted companies customers can consider.

“It’s really in [the restoration company’s] best interest to put down an accurate estimate. Companies that bill incorrectly too many times don’t have a good reputation with us. That can affect our likelihood of recommending them for a job,” says Higley.

When in doubt, trust a pro

Who should be writing your restoration estimates? It’s an important question because the answer should be “someone who is extremely qualified and experienced.” Doing the job is only half the work — the second half.

Knowing how much the job should cost and who should be on the team for that particular project is the part that sets the stage for everything else. If you want to be successful from start to finish, on a budget that will cover all your needs to get the job done, don’t leave the estimate to anyone less than the best.