Show Me The Money!

24 08 2010

You’re a corporate executive, tapped by the executive committee to manage the build-out of your new corporate offices in an urban market place. If you are not an experienced construction, project or facilities manager, you might consider engaging a third-party project manager to oversee the process. That’s a topic for a different post, however. The following should provide a baseline for understanding the expected costs associated with the construction project.

The title of this post reminds me of the Tom Cruise movie, “Jerry McGuire“; but, it also brings to surface another movie that Cruise co-starred in with Jack Nicholson, A Few Good Men“, in which, after much interrogation by Cruise, Nicholson loses his cool and yells, “I want the truth!” “You can’t handle the truth!…“. Similar to Nicholson’s sentiment, I often wonder if some owners turn a blind eye to the negotiated fee structures and costs of general conditions submitted by varying contractors in a proposal for General Conditions and Fees. Is it  because they don’t want to know the true costs? I suggest to you that the person who elects to proceed with the contractor which has submitted a proposal to deliver services for less than the actual costs is not facing reality. Contractors, like any other professional service, aren’t in business to perform services for nothing, particularly with the liability and costs associated with product warranties. If the proposed fees and general conditions are less than adequate to manage a project effectively, and to cover the cost of the contractor’s overhead, what is going to motivate that contractor to complete the project at all, let alone on time; pay the subcontractors; maintain a lien-free environment; and maximize safety conditions? It’s got to be money, which has to be somewhere in the haystack; otherwise, someone will be holding the bag on an incomplete project with a bunch of irate subs pounding on their door! Be wary of the shell game.

Effective evaluation of the proposal for general conditions, profit and overhead will identify shortfalls and should include the following costs of the contractor’s general conditions at a minimum. If the proposed costs are not included in the breakdown of general conditions, ask yourself how the project can be managed effectively, and where the costs might be covered.

  • Estimated project schedule – be sure that the proposed schedule appears realistic, and that the general conditions reflect the proposed schedule.
  • Weekly or daily costs for extended general conditions – In the event of a schedule overrun due to owner’s changes or unforeseen circumstances out of the contractor’s control, there will typically be a change order for extended general conditions. Understanding the hourly labor rates will help minimize exposure here.
  • Preconstruction costs and time commitment by the precon team – How much time is the team able to commit to the project, and at what cost?
  • Full time supervision should be based on the hourly rate of the fully burdened cost of the superintendent at forty hours per week.
  • Is the superintendent qualified as such? Or, are you paying rates for a superintendent and receiving a foreman or laborer?
  • Estimating and project management – How much time are these disciplines devoting to the project, and at what hourly rate?
  • Project engineer and administration – How much time are these disciplines devoting to the project, and at what hourly rate?
  • Project foreman and labor – How much time are these disciplines devoting to the project, and at what hourly rate?
  • Safety director – How much time is this discipline devoting to the project, and at what hourly rate?
  • Temporary facilities – This may include equipment for maintaining indoor air quality. Is the project being charged for utilities, portable sanitary facilities, etc., and are these facilities necessary?
  • Field office – The project superintendent will require an on-site office or trailer, including office supplies, dependant upon the project magnitude.
  • Safety program and supplies – In addition to the safety office, what is being charged to the project; is it necessary?
  • Daily clean up – Necessary debris removal; maintaining a clean and safe environment.
  • Final cleanup – Often times this is considered a cost of work, and is bid to vendors as a separate line item.
  • Finish protection – The cost to protect the path of travel and all existing finishes. The removal, repair and cleaning of existing window coverings can be included in this section.
  • Trucks, oil, gas – Applicable to the general contractor’s project team only for the vehicles required for use on the project.
  • Project parking – Applicable to the general contractor’s project team only for the vehicles required for use on the project.
  • Security – Is security required? Are you being charged for security?
  • Insurance and bonds – The contractors’ liability insurance should be identified as a percentage of the construction cost. Other insurance items to consider: Subguard, performance bonds and builder’s risk insurance. Depending on the project, these items may be necessary, particularly with a general contractor that is not financially secure.

The general contractor’s fee for profit and overhead (often referred to as “Fee”), is intended to cover the contractor’s overhead and costs associated with managing the project not included in the costs of general conditions; i.e. project accounting, executive management, and other corporate overhead costs.  Once all corporate overhead is accounted for, the balance should be the contractor’s profit. Most general contractors in this sector operate with overhead costs ranging from an extremely lean 2.0% to a more standard 5.0%.

In most design/bid/build projects, the fee is typically applied to the hard costs of the project. The fee is added to the costs of liability insurance, general conditions and any construction contingency that is carried by the owner. This enables them to arrive at the total costs for construction, excluding fees for permits, special inspections, design and third-party management.

Including an experienced architect, designer or construction manager to your project team, among other things, will ensure industry accepted costs of general conditions are defined and addressed; reinforces a realistic schedule; and establishes a fee schedule which reflects current market conditions.

With the correct attention paid to negotiating the fees and general conditions with your contractor, one is assured of having a partner in the project; one that should be dedicated to meeting the project goals and collaborating with the balance of the project team in an effort to maximize the return on investment.

Swinerton Interiors, a division of Swinerton Builders, specializes in relationship based delivery of a full menu of construction services. Please visit our site to read more about our industry leading LEED experience, the innovative use of virtual design and construction (BIM/VD&C), and our commitment to preconstruction services. You can reach me directly at gwells@swinerton.com.


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