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Virtual Estimating - The Experience

2 April, 2020

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Now that you have set up all this shiny new tech, how do you actually DO the estimate without being on site? Let’s start by defining “virtual estimate.” This is an evolving practice, so the definition of this word will likely change as time goes on. What we are talking about in this article are two different kinds of virtual estimates, but both are done off site. One is where a customer enters their information into an online form and then an estimate is generated. The second is when an estimate is completed via information from the client and a video call or more than one video call. There is a lot of debate on this, and you do need to make sure you have your ducks in a row if you are going to do this. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Contract clauses! Disclaimers! Most importantly HONEST conversation and don’t make promises where there’s a gap in information. Do all you can to ensure that neither you nor your customer are surprised. Get a business coach or join chatrooms or Facebook Groups to help you with this if you are just starting out. Now that I’ve scared you, there are contractors who have found success with it, and here are their stories:

Cabinets

Nick May, owner of Walls by Design in Denver, Colorado and grand master of the The Business Brush Group, specializes in cabinet refinishing and high-end residential. During very busy times of the year (spring and fall), the company was having a hard time getting to all the estimate requests in a timely manner. To avoid missing opportunities, May had his team from iMay Media build out a web based solution to provide virtual quotes. It was faster and saved gas if he could get the customer to enter the information he would typically gather through an email exchange.

The team built a web form that allows customers to enter important information about their cabinet job (type of wood, number of drawers, number of doors, etc.) and upload pictures. Once they hit submit, he receives the form and completes an estimate that is emailed to the client. “I can get an estimate back to them in as little as 15 minutes. It saves so much time.” Originally the form was just used on occasion, but due to a shelter-in-place order in the Denver metro area, May is doing all his cabinet pricing through this virtual system…and having success with booking projects.

It was a natural transition that didn’t require a bunch of tweaking. “I had already done a few quote just through email, and we created the form based on what I was already asking each time,” said May, “but we were not getting all the information, all the time, so I knew I needed a better system.”

You may be wondering if there are any issues with different surface conditions, or problem areas. “Since most cabinets are not painted, just a stained or clear-coated, that surface prep is very predictable. When we are painting previously painted cabinets, we quote surface prep at time and materials. If they do not let us remove 75% of the paint, we do basic prep, but do not offer our lifetime warranty,” said May. “Cabinet painting is fairly predictable, and we are very precise in the wording of our estimate. If we find something not included on our project review with the customer, we simply state that it is not included, and we give them a change order.”

May also added an option for a cabinet tune-up. Our trim carpenter goes in, adjusts and fixes drawers and doors. “This eliminates issues where they think we did not put things back together properly, but this happens with our in-home estimates as well.”

May is also launching an exterior painting company this spring called EXT Painting, where all the bids will be done using a similar virtual quoting system. 

If you want to add a virtual estimating portal to your website, but don’t want to build it, Nick offers a plug in to other contractors for a very reasonable price. Give him a shout at nick@imaymedia.com or join him on his Facebook Group The Business Brush Group. Lots of good stuff happening there.  

Exteriors

Chad Turpen walks us through how he uses Google Maps to get accurate measurments of exterior projects without stepping foot onsite. 
Check out his approach to virtual estimates by clicking the above image or here...

Chad Turpen, frequent APC contributor and owner of Turpen’s Painting has been considering virtual estimates for some time and is now building it into their website to alert customers of its availability. Turpen sets up a virtual estimate and walk through using Google Duo. “We use Google Duo, but you can also use Facetime. With Google Duo you can access via Android or iPhone." Turpen has teh customer walk them around the house during the virtual meeting and discuss special requests or areas of concern. Heis sure to disclaim to customers that if they skip problems or don’t show him all the areas of concern, it will cause an inaccurate estimate. “I am up front about the need to show us imperfections, cracks and everything now so that we don’t have pricing problems later. We do say that this is a virtual estimate, and that we will not know the price 100% until we get on site. After all there are things that we will see that they don’t. We do a walk through when we start the job to address any changes that may need to be made to the estimate based on unforeseen damage. That way the customer knows of any changes. Transparency and communication are very important." He wants to insure customers are aware of whats being done, and what they’re paying for. 

The transparency is also in the estimate itself. “We do include as much detail into each quote including amount of surface prep so if more work than we thought is required, we can show them exactly where that is. We really try to ask a lot of questions so that we can be as transparent as possible.”

Exterior measurements can be a bit tricky during virtual estimates, but Turpen uses Google Earth to help get dimensions. “We use Google Earth to get dimensions, linear feet and sq footage of exteriors. You can typically see three sides of the home. It can be hard to see the back of homes, but that’s when we’d use FaceTime or Google Duo so the customer can clarify any of our questions by showing us what we can’t see. 

Turpen notes that the most important thing is to be open, ask as many questions as possible and protect yourself.

Interiors

Chad Turpen did a great review of how he and his team perform video tours with clients via the free service, Google Duo. Watch that video here or click the image above. 

Matt Kunz is President of Five Star Painting and Protect Painters, a franchise serving exterior and interior projects. Kunz points out that their process involves human beings, calls and relationships. “For interiors, we use zoom or whatever video the customer wants. We get the measurements from the customer, but we are still building a relationship and taking care of the customer. In our current state of affairs, “We are seeing that customers are calling. They are stuck at their house and thinking of all the projects they want done.”

Even though they do not always do things 100% remotely, they have found that calls, emails and text all open up the lines of communication. “There is no defined start or stop. The conversation can continue and the relationship seems to be better.”

As far as protecting yourself and creating the most accurate estimate possible Kunz says, “Take your time with these. Just because it’s virtual doesn’t mean it’s fast. If we were doing an in person estimate and it takes an hour, then the virtual estimate is going to take as long. The customer deserves this and is paying for that kind of attention. If we see something when we get on site the customer, they know about increases before the first can of paint is opened. If it’s outside their budget, we won’t move forward.”

“Just remember to have good disclaimers, and remind the customer this is an estimate not an exactimate.”

Still have questions unanswered? Consider attending APC Contractor Tech Fest! Company reps of various platforms will be on site to answer any questions you may have and we'll have a pannel of pro contractors that have experience with virtual estimating. Learn more about Contractor Tech Fest Here | Register for Contractor Tech Fest Here

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