Truth be told, for all parties involved in a construction project, it’s the bottom line that's the top concern. Owners and developers, architects and engineers, general contractors and subs, and consultants—every member of the team is ultimately—if not overtly—focused on the project’s profitability.
While this is the case, conventional approaches to cost estimating that many owners and developers have come to rely on may not always yield the best or expected results that benefit all parties. Budget shortfalls can often happen when they rely on data that is outdated, or when obtaining costs from a single source without enlisting a second pair of eyes to provide independent assessments and monitoring of budgets.
An alternative—working with an independent cost manager—may be a new concept for some owners, but holds far greater promise of saving them [and their team members] money and time. By treating the client’s investment as if it were their own, and actively serving as the client’s advocate, an independent cost manager adds quantifiable value to their work. Engaging a cost manager in the earliest stages of a project has a relatively modest impact on the process and timeline and can help to avoid snowballing setbacks as the project progresses.
Here’s a checklist of some key go/no-go indicators that cost managers use to put a project on the road to profitability:
- Scheduling. Hindsight may be 20/20, but in construction, foresight offers greater value. Cost managers use both historical and predictive data to determine the best time to break ground on a project and calculate its duration. Drawing on their knowledge of manufacturing and global logistics, cost managers can chart a reliable course for timely sourcing and procurement, resulting in an optimal schedule that appropriately captures project delivery risks.
- Market conditions. To make the most of investment dollars and establish a favorable financing environment, cost managers factor in real estate trends and cost variances for different locations. As part of the due diligence process in the early stages of a project, a cost manager can also advise clients on the programming of a building. Replacement cost estimates can reveal a building’s true value in the market, maximizing its selling value. This allows owners to see if the numbers work, and to make a go/no-go decision on the path forward.
- Procurement. A conscientious cost manager can advise their client about the advantages and disadvantages of a variety of alternative construction delivery systems, such as design-bid-build, design-assist, and design-build, helping them select the method that best aligns with their budget and schedule goals.
- Pricing. Lately, material, labor, and equipment costs have been exceptionally volatile. Unlike contractors and sub-contractors who draw solely on their past experience from the builder’s perspective to guesstimate these prices, cost managers minimize unexpected and unwelcome budget disruptions by using highly targeted, real-time data to accurately project future pricing trends. This forms the basis for creating a provisional budget for the various project-building components [i.e., structural system, exterior wall, lighting, and HVAC systems], an essential tool for developing and analyzing the project construction budget.
Watching for Red Flags
If a cost manager isn’t on board for the initial stages of the project, there are still opportunities to enlist their aid; in fact, there are critical situations when reaching out to an independent cost manger can mean the difference between a successful, profitable project and a resource-sapping undertaking. These three red-flag scenarios include:
- “Free” estimates. Often offered as an incentive for prospective clients by contractors, free cost estimates are frequently based on non-competitive data from a single source that may not reflect current dollar values or cost influencers, and therefore may not equate to a comprehensive construction cost. Third-party cost managers work only with fresh data—in many cases, proprietary—that accounts for current market conditions, is tailored to the needs of specific projects, and provides realistic cost information throughout the course of a project.
- Doubts from the design team. If the design team says the budget is inadequate, there is an opportunity to mitigate that before resorting to value engineering. Working directly with the design team, a cost manager can guide them through the process of identifying and selecting alternative solutions that won’t derail the design—or the budget.
- Rapid cost escalation in design-build projects. The efficiencies of the design-build delivery method are predicated on an accelerated schedule and a reduction in change orders. If there is a delay in any phase of the process, costs can quickly soar. A cost manager can step in and make new budget projections that can help reduce loss.
Once a cost manager has created the optimal scenario for the project, it’s a “Go” to the design phase. Having prepared cost estimates based on the schematic design documents, design development documents, and construction documents, the cost manager can provide guidance to the design team related to the cost impact of design decisions throughout the design process. Armed with this information, a realistic budget can be created, giving the design team a solid foundation on which to build, and minimizing budgetary surprises as the project moves into construction.
With construction costs typically making up about 70% of an owner’s budget in a project, there’s a lot at stake in a building project. When engaged at the outset of the job, a proactive cost manager will not just protect that investment, they will identify ways to increase the profit margins throughout the process. There’s little doubt that engaging a third-party cost manager adds a small cost up-front, but it will yield a larger payback; one that also pays it forward in terms of client service.
Museums | Jun 6, 2023
New wing of Natural History Museums of Los Angeles to be a destination and portal
NHM Commons, a new wing and community hub under construction at The Natural History Museums (NHM) of Los Angeles County, was designed to be both a destination and a portal into the building and to the surrounding grounds.
Codes and Standards | Jun 6, 2023
California’s new power grid modernization plan furthers ambitious climate goals
California’s new $7.3 billion grid modernization plan is a crucial step in furthering its ambitious climate goals. The board of governors for the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), the state’s grid operator, recently approved a strategy to build thousands of miles of new high-voltage transmission lines.
Mixed-Use | Jun 6, 2023
Public-private partnerships crucial to central business district revitalization
Central Business Districts are under pressure to keep themselves relevant as they face competition from new, vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods emerging across the world’s largest cities.
Contractors | Jun 6, 2023
Gilbane Building Company promotes COO to its chief executive post
Adam Jelen has been with the firm 18 of his 30 years in the construction industry.
Multifamily Housing | Jun 6, 2023
Minnesota expected to adopt building code that would cut energy use by 80%
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz is expected to soon sign a bill that would change the state’s commercial building code so that new structures would use 80% less energy when compared to a 2004 baseline standard. The legislation aims for full implementation of the new code by 2036.
Healthcare Facilities | Jun 5, 2023
Modernizing mental health care in emergency departments: Improving patient outcomes
In today’s mental health crisis, there is a widespread shortage of beds to handle certain populations. Patients may languish in the ED for hours or days before they can be linked to an appropriate inpatient program.
Student Housing | Jun 5, 2023
The power of student engagement: How on-campus student housing can increase enrollment
Studies have confirmed that students are more likely to graduate when they live on campus, particularly when the on-campus experience encourages student learning and engagement, writes Design Collaborative's Nathan Woods, AIA.
Engineers | Jun 5, 2023
How to properly assess structural wind damage
Properly assessing wind damage can identify vulnerabilities in a building's design or construction, which could lead to future damage or loss, writes Matt Wagner, SE, Principal and Managing Director with Walter P Moore.
Cladding and Facade Systems | Jun 5, 2023
27 important questions about façade leakage
Walter P Moore’s Darek Brandt discusses the key questions building owners and property managers should be asking to determine the health of their building's façade.
Retail Centers | Jun 2, 2023
David Adjaye-designed mass timber structure will be a business incubator for D.C.-area entrepreneurs
Construction was recently completed on The Retail Village at Sycamore & Oak, a 22,000-sf building that will serve as a business incubator for entrepreneurs, including emerging black businesses, in Washington, D.C. The facility, designed by Sir David Adjaye, the architect of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, is expected to attract retail and food concepts that originated in the community.