Commercial Construction Tips – How to Stay On Budget

Keeping a commercial construction project on budget requires determination, vigilance, creativity in problem-solving, and diplomacy. It begins almost at the moment a project is conceived and continues throughout the entire construction period.

There are many reasons a commercial construction project will go over budget. Some causes simply can’t be adequately assessed or budgeted, such as delays and materials losses caused by a natural disaster. But many causes relate to poor planning and even weaknesses in the budgeting process itself.

Typical Cost Control Problems

Cost overruns on a construction project happen, despite the most careful planning and control efforts. Some common causes for overruns include:

  • Lack of a well-defined project scope.
  • Poor estimating methods (or standards).
  • Out of sequence start/completion activities.
  • Inadequate comparison of planned-to-actual costs.
  • Unanticipated technical problems.
  • Poor (or no) project management policy and control practices.
  • Faulty schedule resulting in overtime or idle time expenses.
  • Escalating materials prices.

Three Big Mistakes

Review some of the more egregious construction cost overruns of recent years and you might see a familiar pattern to budget overruns. They are commonly made mistakes that can be adjusted and corrected during the contracting phase of a project.

Managing these three weak areas may mitigate or eliminate many of the problems listed above:

  • Incomplete document design: a project owner may hand over the architect’s plans and specs to the contractor believing that every detail has been identified. In truth, the owner-architect agreement often only requires the architect to present the plans and specs of a general design intent. The complete in-depth details may not be included. The lack of complete design information places the contractor in the position of demanding more money for work that had not been clearly defined in the plans and specs. Multiple change orders and budget overruns result.
    • Resolution: the owner-architect agreement should specify that the architect will provide a 100% complete set of drawings, specs, and all related documents prepared by engineers (and others working on the project). Responsibility for overages caused by incomplete design falls back on the architect, not the contractor.
  • Complete review of documents prior to bidding: the contractor may seek additional compensation for necessary work that, according to the contractor, was “not shown on the plans and specifications.”
    • Resolution: the project owner’s contract language should stipulate that all contractors wishing to submit bids must affirm they have reviewed the plans and specs and fully understand the scope and intent of the project. Their price should cover all necessary work to fulfil the “implied or express design intent.”
  • The lowest bid: the project owner may face many pressures from investors, shareholders, and board members to accept the lowest bid. But lowest isn’t always the best. Underbidding can be risky and costly.
    • Resolution: work with trusted contractors who have completed projects similar to the current one. The contractor with a track record of successful on-time and in-budget builds is far more likely to be able to produce the same results for your project.

The root of successful budget containment lies in allowing a sufficient amount of planning time to thoroughly define the scope, schedule, quality, risk, resources, and budget for the construction project before the bid invitations are sent out to contractors.

Commercial Construction Tips – How to Avoid Going Over Budget

A commercial construction project can seem like a never-ending balancing act, like keeping a series of plates spinning. One plate represents keeping the project on schedule. Another spinning plate is ensuring that construction is completed properly and safely. And still another spinning plate is containing the project budget.

A commercial construction budget is influenced by a number of factors. Exceeding the budget can easily occur for reasons beyond the control of the owner, contractor, and project manager, including:

• A sharp increase in materials costs during construction.

• Weather fluctuations that slow or halt construction.

• Work stoppages.

• Frequent alterations to the design, materials.

Make a list

As one industry writer stated, estimating a project’s cost is the first step of construction cost containment. The project budget should list the essentials (non-negotiables) as well as the negotiables (the aspects of the project that can be reduced, modified, or eliminated in order to contain costs. Each line item should be carefully researched, sourced, and have a realistic cost applied to it. The budget should also include contingency funding.

Cost control challenges

Cost containment challenges are not always line item-related. There are a number of less-obvious but significant challenges to staying on budget, including:

• Poorly defined scope of project.

• Flawed estimating methodology

• Lack of project management policies and controls.

• Unrealistic scheduling.

• Insufficient planned-to-actual cost comparisons.

The big three

This trio of cost containment issues has been stated before and they are worth stating again. If The Big Three of budget issues are carefully managed, you can reduce or eliminate a number of budget overruns:

1. Incomplete design documentation: the architect’s rendering, plans, and specs that are turned over to the owner or project manager do not always include the in-depth details necessary for realistic budgeting.

a. Solution: the contract between the owner and architect should specify that all members of the architecture team will provide complete details, specs, documents, and drawings related to the project.

2. Pre-bidding document review: some contractors do only a general review of documentation before submitting their bids.

a. Solution: the language of the project owner’s contract should require all contractors who submit bids to acknowledge, in writing, that they have reviewed all specifications and plans. The bid price should cover all identified and “implied or express design intent” work.

Any materials or changes to design that the contractor feels are essential to successful completion of the project (but weren’t identified in the project/owner’s documentation) also should be included in the bid, along with explanations for the additional items.

This requirement should reduce or eliminate the need for contractors to seek additional compensation based on additional work necessitated by information “not shown on the original plans and specifications.”

3. The low-ball bid: underbidding can put the entire project at risk and cause it to far exceed the budget.

a. Solution: solicit bids only from trusted contractors who have successfully completed similar projects. They should have documentable records of completing projects on budget and on time.

Another cost containment option

Another cost containment option is to hire a skilled construction cost estimator. That person or team works with you to help you avoid out-of-control expenses, keep construction costs down, and ensure the project is completed within the agreed-upon timeframe.

It’s up to you

Ultimately, it is the owner and project team who are responsible for overseeing each phase, change order, and plan alteration to the construction project. There should be a well-defined process for change order submittal, review, and authorization. There also should be continual monitoring and updating of the budget so that you and your team know where the project financially stands all the way to completion.