Back when I was selling my own remodeling jobs, my computer-generated presentation packages would often allow me to lock out the competition. Sometimes, they’d never even get to present their bids. I started relying on CAD and CAD-assisted estimating to help sell jobs in the 1980's, and by 1990 or so I had ditched AutoCAD in favor of SoftPlan (www.softplan.com) to estimate and sell jobs because it was so much faster and more accurate.
I recently upgraded my CAD software to SoftPlan Version 14, including the optional no-cost remodeler configuration. Whether it’s new construction, additions, interiors, kitchens and baths, decks, or even commercial remodels, there isn’t much a remodeler would need from design software that this release can’t provide. The software is equally adept at producing quick presentation drawings and cost estimates as it is at producing detailed working drawings and professional marketing materials.
Of course, SoftPlan is by no means the only game in town — we’ll take a look at some other CAD and CAD-assisted estimating (C-AE) options during the coming months — but it sets a pretty high bar, so it’s a great place to start talking about what to look for in today’s 2-D/3-D CAD (a complete list of version 14 features is available at www.softplan.com/v14features/v14features.htm) :
Better estimating integration: Highlighting an item on the SoftList takeoff report can locate it on the drawing. This feature will shave hours, if not days, off the pricing of complex projects and should reduce errors as well. Additionally, the SoftList Estimating module now integrates with Intuit QuickBooks, generating either QuickBooks Estimates or Purchase Orders directly from the SoftList materials report. Advanced users can maintain their cost information in another estimating package (or even in Microsoft Exel) and connect it to SoftList.
Improved drawing workflow: Previously, if you needed to regenearate sections or elevations because of floor plan changes, any detail work such as notes, dimensions, or hatching had to be redone from scratch. Now, those items can automatically be merged into the new drawing, saving hours of tedious reworking.
Better communication tools: Text from Microsoft Word, tabular data from Excel, and even images or clips from PDF files can be copied and pasted directly into SoftPlan drawings, making it easy to combine manufacturer specs and cut-sheets. The optional ReView module ($200) and free viewer make it easy to share work with subcontractors, suppliers, and clients who don't have SoftPlan.
New presentation modes: In addition to photorealistic renderings, SoftPlan now offers two "hand-drawn" looks: "sketched," which resembles a hand-sketched presentation drawing, and "illustrated," which looks like a pen-and-ink drawing.
Something for everyone: SoftPlan 14 has managed to maintain "point and click" ease-of-use for beginners while giving more experienced users the ability to control every aspect of their drawings, both on screen and when printing. If you use Google SketchUp (www.sketchup.com) or "Autodesk 3ds Max (formerly 3D Studio Max; http://usa.autodesk.com), you can now create your 3-D objecs in those programs and import them to your SoftPlan libraries.
Pricing: SoftPlan retails for $2,385 for the first seat. SoftList adds $600, and SoftTalk, a voice-activation module is $200. Additional seats cost $895. A Lite version is available for $985. Upgrades from version 13 start at $695.
— Joe Stoddard is an industry consultant and the director of builder operations for Dynami Solutions. Reach him online at www.joestoddard.com.