How to avoid a budget blowout

There are many words to describe a construction project. Words like ambitious, exhilarating, and fun. Or challenging, difficult, even stressful.

Commercial and residential builds alike are opportunities to present creative designs which embrace location, highlight the structure’s form and function, and imbue the essence of the owners.

But no matter the size of the project – renovating an existing home or developing an aged-care facility – if the numbers don’t stack up, it’s not an enjoyable project for anyone involved.

That’s why more and more New Zealand architects and engineers are turning to quantity surveyors for project support. They’ve learnt there are three key moments in a construction project where the assistance of a professional number-cruncher offers them financial certainty and saves them from budget strife.

Moment 1: Before construction

Picture this: your clients are excited as they look over the drawings. You’re pretty stoked with how you’ve captured their design desires – you might even submit the project for award consideration. But then they read the projected costs, which somehow are well beyond the original budget cap. The financial parameters were mistakenly pushed aside in favour of design excellence. Yup, there are awkward conversations to follow.

How does a quantity surveyor (QS) stop this scenario from happening? Simple: they work the numbers.

Sometimes called a cost planner or value engineer, a quantity surveyor works with architects, designers and engineers to make sure the costs of the design stay within budget. Need a rough estimate of what a project is likely to cost (a feasibility study) from your initial measurements and design sketches? Ask your QS. They can even compare your project with others like it, for additional peace-of-mind.

Then, when you’re considering using a different cladding, the QS can calculate how that will impact the construction cost. They can advise on the implications of ‘bespoke vs off-the-shelf’ design or materials. Your quantity surveyor is a wealth of knowledge on product specifications, and they expertly structure construction projects to make cost tracking easy.

If a QS is part of the initial project-enquiry conversations between architect and client, it can be easier to confirm early on that the design goals and budget are likely to be compatible.

After the concept plans are finished, a QS can compile an indicative budget. This is the perfect time to double-check the numbers are healthy, before the working drawings are started. If, at this point, costs do need to be massaged, your quantity surveyor can make practical recommendations on alternative materials, design or construction methods.

Now you’ve got the signed-off working drawings, the QS can provide a full scope of works and schedule of quantities, perfect for providing the tendering builders. This means all tenders are based on the same amount of materials and labour. Your QS can even handle builder vetting, builder allocation and project contract management.

Finally, you need a detailed plan to be confident the project cashflow is sufficient for each stage of construction. Enter the QS once again, breaking out their cost management calculator and rolling up their sleeves.

Phew! And that’s all before the first sod has been turned.

Moment 2: During construction

Imagine a construction project where one person is responsible for keeping costs on track. That’s the role of the QS. When there are the inevitable changes to the project (such as unforeseen delays or variations to the design and construction method) the quantity surveyor can determine the cashflow impact these have on the expected progress of the build.

As well as managing the ongoing costs, the QS can prepare the documents the bank needs to see before they release the next draw-down amount. And for some projects, the quantity surveyor can even resolve any disputes that arise between the building contractor, designer and client.

But that’s not all…

Moment 3: After construction

When the construction is completed, the site is clear and tools put away, the quantity surveyor’s calculator is busy again working out the final costs. They can prepare a statement of accounts which provides a breakdown of costs for all aspects of the project. That way, it’s easy to analyse the construction efficiency, and see what discrepancies there were (if any) between the initial budget and the actual spend.

Not to be overlooked, your QS can prepare a written insurance replacement estimate for the building. After all, you want to make sure your investment is adequately protected, right?

There you have it – the three moments in any construction project that smart architects, designers and engineers avoid budget blowouts, thanks to the expertise of a friendly quantity surveyor.

Speaking of friendly QS, it’s no surprise that Property Values Ltd are happy to help with your feasibility cost plan, concept cost plan, value engineering, detailed drawing cost plan, materials and associated design costs plan, and even advising on builder vetting and builder allocation.

Makes sense, really.

James Cameron is a professional quantity surveyor, licensed building practitioner (carpentry, Site 3) and director of Property Values Ltd.

021 288 1311

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