The job walk, which is completed prior to estimating in the bid process, is more important than it may seem. Usually, the invitation to bid contains instructions and information relating to a pre-bid job walk site inspection, or site visit. Complying with these instructions is necessary.

The "Invitation to Bidders" becomes part of contract documents the contractor will sign when the estimate is successful and the project is awarded. If the estimator has not visited the site, a subsequent change order may raise questions that are difficult for the contractor to answer.

The job walk is an item of considerable disagreement within the estimating community. Many regard it as an excuse to escape from the office; this attitude can lead to serious problems.

Some company executives intent on getting as many bids out as possible will gamble time allocated for the prospective job walk at the estimating table. The job walk is intended as a time for the estimator to collect and assess information about the existing conditions of a project, thereby avoiding claims later.

Some firms believe if all concerns found on the job walk are covered in the bid, then the contractor will not get the contract. Perhaps so, but an educated estimate is far better than the surprise that awaits the firm that skipped the job walk.

It is fairly common for claims to arise from conditions that weren't noted during the job walk. To defend against claims arising from the lack of a job walk, some invitations to bid require that the bidders show up for scheduled job walks. In many cases, the language of the contract assumes that the bidders have made a site visit. An instruction to visit the site that is included in the invitation to bid will likely deny the contractor a successful claim later if differing conditions are discovered.

Much of the value of the job site visit depends on documentation. In some urban areas with differing governmental jurisdictions, the first important task is locating the job site. Vague descriptions, such as "at the corner of North and West Streets," are insufficient, because an adjoining city's post office may serve a small parcel of land in another city.

The same holds true for utility companies with overlapping territories. If an address has been assigned to the job site, a quick call to the city's planning department should clarify the issue. If not, the assessor's map may be the only way to locate the properties' inspection agencies. Once locations are nailed down, the estimator can verify any local code amendments that may affect the project and get the necessary information from the utilities.

Differing conditions are the bane of many claims. The estimator should be familiar with the project before the job walk. Most contracts specifically reference that the contractor has inspected the site, and a job walk helps prove compliance.

On the other hand, those estimators that gamble on the job walk lay the company open to difficulty in trying to show that conditions have changed. Contractual language may actually prevent a contractor from getting a change order for conditions that should have been expected.

Other clauses, such as Changed Conditions, make it the contractor's responsibility to notify the awarding authority as soon as the condition is uncovered. Failure to do so may cause forfeiture of any future claims for the condition.

To ensure uniformity, estimators may develop a site visit standard report or checklist.It may be uncomfortable to request a detailed list of names of whom attended the job walk, but if the awarding authority compiles such a list, bidders who show up are entitled to copies of it. This listing proves who attended the site visit. The report should name the person conducting the site visit and contacts for further information. A competitor's failure to attend a job walk, as indicated by the attendance sheet, may be the basis for disqualifying a low bidder since they failed to observe the requirements of the bid invitation to attend a job walk.

An inexpensive camera is invaluable for visual documentation, especially if it prints a date. Including a newspaper in the photo further establishes the date. Photos will also help estimators refresh their memories or concentrate on a particular problem during the estimating process.

Estimators should pay particular attention to conditions that may affect the labor for the project. NECA's Manual of Labor Units indicates a list describing the typical site conditions; any variances need to be considered.

Projects involving alterations to existing buildings are of particular concern on a job walk. In most instances, there isn't enough time to dig into the vagaries of existing construction. This requires additional skills in making bid-sensitive judgments.

If accurate as-built plans are not available, the temptation to reuse parts of the existing system in an alteration may be great. However, the estimator might be better off abandoning existing systems and installing all new wiring.

After all parts of an estimate are considered and it is time to "sharpen the pencil," the facts garnered on a job walk may provide a thorough insight to the project.
Management, in their final review, may disregard the estimator's information, but if the estimator fails to provide the facts, it suggests a lack of professional pride.

DAVID is a professor of electrical technology at Long Beach City College, Calif., a consultant and an expert witness. He can be reached at (562) 597-1877or by e-mail at edavid@lbcc.cc.ca.us.