Just as no two builders construct a home the same way, no two pro dealers' takeoff systems are completely alike. But regardless of the different software, personnel, or customers that might be involved, the common goal dealers share is creating a takeoff that is accurate and efficient in its use of materials. Over the past 30 years, the art of the takeoff has evolved. It began with a salesperson sitting down with a blueprint and a ruler for several hours, manually figuring out the needed materials and supplies to build a building, plus a few more hours to fi gure out the prices behind each piece of material.

The advent of new software and hardware has moved takeoff duties from the sales team to an estimating department that performs the process much quicker.

Duffy Waters, national accounts manager at Activant Solutions, the Livermore, Calif.-based technology provider of business management solutions, suspects that more than half of the industry is using a centralized estimating department instead of a salesman in the takeoff role–more than 90% of the dealers in this year's ProSales 100 conduct their own in-house takeoffs. With the use of a digitizer, which resembles an electronic pen, an estimator can save as much as 70% of the time once spent with ruler and actual pen.

Software such as Activant's also allows for subsets that, once programmed into a takeoff system, remember how a particular builder constructs a home, how it uses its materials, and its likes and dislikes. For instance, one builder might double up 2x10s when framing while another might prefer laminated beams. "Builders span lengths a different way over a window or a door," Waters explains. "It helps if the takeoff person or the system knows the builder."

Not Gone

Through stored subsets, an estimator can keep track of the nuances of 200 builders. Of course, much of the information about a builder comes from a salesperson who is more likely to know the actual builder. Despite the advances in technology, the salesperson is not disappearing from the takeoff process and, in some cases, remains very much in the forefront.

"The best person to do the takeoff is the salesperson and not an estimator," says Phillip Flanders, vice president of purchasing for VNS Corp., the Vidalia, Ga.-based dealer. Flanders' rationale is that the salesman can help close a sale by knowing more about the job than does the actual client, in addition to knowing the needs of the client. Some of the larger builders VNS deals with require the dealer to convert a takeoff to the builder's personalized spreadsheet as opposed to the dealer's spreadsheet. "The salesmen must know how to do their takeoffs and understand the building process," Flanders says.

Before and estimator or salesman can even get to work, clear, complete, and accurate drawings and specifi cations are critical to sound takeoffs, says Keith Sackett, vice president of estimating at Carter Lumber. Also important: good communication during the takeoff process. When an estimator needs quick answers to a question, he requires that the outside sales rep know the builder. Fluid communication is also needed when more than one estimator is involved in the process, such as truss, fl oor, and panel designers.

"All need to know what they are fi guring out and how it effects the next step in the process," says Sackett.

Going Green

The National Association of Home Builders' recently released Model Green Home Building Guidelines emphasize reducing materials and waste. Dealers and builders alike should be able to meet the criteria with an accurate takeoff.

"A good takeoff of materials is within 5% of what is on the blueprints," says Matt Hansen, owner of Reno, Nev.-based Takeoff Construction Estimating. "Obviously, it's subject to manipulation. Often, they don't build the actual house that is on the blueprint."