To make the process of assessing and pricing a large fire-restoration project faster and easier, I store my estimating gear in a handy toolbelt with loops and pouches for everything from my tape measure to my camera. As I walk through the house, I draw a sketch of the floor plan, labeling each room and noting dimensions. Then I walk through again, this time with a pad of preprinted estimating sheets on which I check off, in detail, all the work that needs to be done, room by room. I make a final trip through the entire house taking pictures.

Back in the office, with my sketches, checklists, and photographs in hand, I prepare a detailed cost estimate using insurance-industry pricing standards developed by the Bluebook Residential & Light Commercial Cost Guide for Cleaning, Reconstruction & Repair ($89.95, written by Daniel E. Josipovich, 888/425-8326, www.bluebook.net). I...

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