What is a Building Estimator?


Put simply – a building estimator is responsible for preparing the budget for building and construction projects both big and small. No matter whether it’s for a single story house, or an extensive industrial construction site, the building estimator is expected to audit building projects, prepare cost estimates and manage overall building expenses. It is also the responsibility of such workers in more senior positions to negotiate the prices and rates with any sub-contractors and suppliers.

Estimators are also referred to as a construction economist, quantity surveyor, surveyor (quantity) and cost engineer.

What does a building estimator do?

Building estimators discuss details with suppliers, contractors, architects, builders, engineers and project owners to prepare and deliver estimates for the completion of a construction project. This includes:

  • Evaluate engineering drawings and architectural specifications
  • Assess any changes to the design to determine the impact on the construction costs
  • Draft a ‘Bill of Quantities’ to list all of the components needed to complete a project
  • Evaluate relationships with contractors and suggest payment amounts
  • Consult with governments and businesses
  • Complete feasibility studies to determine the value of a project before proceeding
  • Preparing tax depreciation schedules and monthly cash-flow forecasts for clients

What skills should an estimator have?

If you’re wondering about the importance of estimating the associated costs of a building project, let’s put it in another perspective. It’s an estimator’s job to ensure a construction project is profitable, whilst negotiating the best price to win a certain contract in competitive bidding situations.

This balancing of profit and loss, expenses and value, will ultimately determine the overall success of a project and keep everybody involved happy, whether builders, owners, stakeholders or otherwise.

It’s important to note, for any prospective estimators out there, that securing the business of a client does not always mean coming up with the lowest price. Much like with any service, if the quote is outrageously low, then the customer is going to become suspicious of the work quality and most likely opt for a slightly costlier competitor. Building and construction is the same. Quality is a huge deciding factor, which means that the lowest quote is not always the best option.


What to study to become an estimator in the building and construction industry?

There are multiple entry pathways when it comes to getting into building estimation. Firstly, there’s the practical experience option, where individuals seek a relevant apprenticeship with a registered practitioner. This approach involves both hands-on, practical experience, and classroom-based theory work. This knowledge is typically acquired through a registered training organisation that you and your employer will have to decide upon together.

At the end of this apprenticeship, an individual will most likely have obtained a Certificate III or other related qualifications in a relevant field and acquired extensive hands on experience in the industry.

Alternatively, some opt to complete a formal qualification— a degree, or diploma, in building and construction with a focus on management. While this entry pathway will provide extensive knowledge and valuable information, you will have to obtain relevant experience to complement these formal qualifications.

Is being an estimator hard?

Much like with any field, sometimes you won’t fully know the challenge of the role until you begin. However, if you’re someone who is logical and analytical, likes working with figures and adept at working with computers, then this could be the profession for you.

Construction estimators spend most of their time working in offices, however they are also required to visit construction sites, meet with members of the construction team, and visit clients.  Estimators usually possess good written and oral communication skills and are able to work both as part of a team, or on their own. As studying is a key milestone in this career pathway, being a building estimator does require a high level of skill in order to deal with complex problems.

How to become a construction estimator in Australia

If you’re someone who likes to know they have the potential to grow in a particular role, then becoming an estimator will provide you with a useful springboard into the building and construction industry. Through further education and upskilling, or simply with the right experience, you could progress into a range of senior positions. These can include: construction manager, project manager, estimating manager, and many other high ranking positions.

For more insight into becoming a building estimator, check out our student story on Amitesh Roy here.


This article has been updated and republished on 30 May 2023.