The Importance of a Preliminary Construction Estimate

By Lorianna Kastrop, Vice President, The Kastrop Group, Inc. Architects

One of the services we provide to our clients is to obtain a Preliminary Construction Estimate (PCE) from a trusted General Contractor (GC) as soon as we complete the preliminary design phase and before starting design development and construction documents.  Why do we consider this step so important?  We have learned from long experience that what people want to build and what they can afford to build might be two different things.  We hear stories from people who have paid for complete construction document drawings, obtained planning department approval and maybe even a building permit before getting their contractor bids and finding out that they can’t afford the project as permitted.  This means that they literally have to “go back to the drawing board”.  It’s a big waste of time and money.

Instead, we encourage all of our clients to take an extra step when the preliminary design is complete enough for a good general contractor to give it a “ballpark price”.  This is not a bid, and it is not a binding estimate.  But it gives the architect and the client reassurance that the project is generally in the expected price range.  If the PCE is within the project’s construction cost budget, we immediately move ahead into the design development and construction document phases.

If the PCE is way beyond the budget, we can discuss options with the client.  Some of these options include downsizing the project, considering alternate materials and finishes, or taking a phased approach to construction.  These are just a few of the cost-saving possibilities, and the GC may suggest others.  All of these design considerations are relatively easy and inexpensive to do in the early stages of a project without having wasted a lot of the client’s time and money going down the wrong path.

Preliminary Construction Estimates take time and expertise.  Even though the client is not in any way required to use the general contractor who provided the PCE, we encourage the client to at least consider that contractor strongly when they get to the bidding stage.  It gives the GC an inside track for the project and makes it worth their time to help us in the preliminary stage.  (By the way, we don’t always request a PCE from the same GC, we choose from among several GC’s that we have worked with, based on the contractor’s experience with the type and size of project.)

The PCE also could highlight areas of concern, when a contractor tells us that something specific in the design may trigger a higher cost or require more lead time than is typical.

No matter what type of construction project you are considering, always ask your architect to obtain a Preliminary Construction Estimate for you as early as is practical in the design process, so that you don’t get stuck paying to redesign the project after the construction documents are complete.

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