From day one on a construction project, the number one question everyone has is whether the project will meet the expected budget. You can wait to answer this question at the end of the project when you can’t do anything about it, or you can assess where the project stands as you progress through the work, allowing you to act proactively if an overage is found. In order to assess the project costs before completion, however, you must forecast or predict the potential costs to complete the work.
A forecast to complete the project is a well-educated guess of how much you have left to spend to finish the work. It’s based on the current costs, the percentage of the project that’s complete, and what’s remaining to be finished. The better you are at tracking your costs, the easier it will be to predict how much is left to spend.
Before we get into how to forecast final costs on a construction project, let’s look at why it’s important to know how much the remaining work will cost you.
The importance of forecasting final costs
One of the primary benefits of forecasting costs is that you get an early warning if a project is losing money. Since many contractors rely on their profits to fund future work, losses on today’s job can quickly lead to real problems when it comes time to start the next one. Without adequate profits to fund the work, contractors have to rely on alternative financings, like bank loans or credit cards, that ultimately cost them more in the long run, further reducing profits. It’s a never-ending cycle of higher costs.
Predicting final costs also allows companies to identify their future cash flow needs and address any issues before they become real problems. If contractors know that they won’t have enough money coming in to finance their payroll or other necessary business expenses, they have time to move money from investments or seek lower-rate financing options.
Sometimes forecasting final costs can help contractors identify change orders that have been missed or haven’t been processed yet. If a change hasn’t been made to the project budget but extra materials have been paid for or work has been completed, it may show up as a cost overage. The contractor can then follow up with the owner or architect to determine the status of the required change.
Finally, forecasting allows companies to learn valuable lessons about the accuracy, or inaccuracy, of their estimates. If a contractor is always going over budget on labor costs, they will see that sooner and be able to adjust future budgets accordingly. This will make their estimates more competitive and lead to more work.
How to forecast final costs
One of the most important things you can do to help forecast final costs is to monitor costs as you go. If you’re relying on data from a single point in time to predict costs, it can be difficult to make the appropriate assumptions and gather enough data to accurately predict future costs. By tracking costs as you go, with an accounting system that supports job costing, you’ll be able to monitor the project’s progress and see cost patterns that may not be visible with a static report.
To forecast final costs, you’ll be looking at three data points: the amount remaining in committed costs, amount remaining in your budget, and historical costs. Based on these three data points you should be able to predict, with a reasonable degree of accuracy, the final costs for a specific scope of work. Let’s look at an example to help illustrate how these data points help predict future costs.
Let’s say we are forecasting costs for the concrete scope of work on a project. The contract with the concrete subcontractor was originally for $100,000, and they have billed $80,000 so far, leaving $20,000 to bill. This is the amount remaining in committed costs. Based on our original budget, we know that we still need to purchase some rebar that wasn’t part of the concrete contract for $5,000. We also know, based on reviewing past projects and the amount of work left to be finished, that we have about $30,000 in work remaining to be completed. So, how do we predict what our future costs will be?
Remaining committed costs: $20,000
Remaining in the budget: $5,000
Historical data: $30,000
The answer will be somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000, depending on whether we are looking at it for cash flow reasons or to assess what our profit margin is for this particular project. Either way, we are using the three data points to inform our prediction and will continue to improve the accuracy of each prediction as we analyze the data on more projects.
What to do when you’re over budget
The second most important question, after “Are we on budget?” is what to do when you’re over budget. The answer depends on why you’re over budget.
- If there has been a change in the project scope that affects the budgeted costs but hasn’t been reflected in a change order yet, that could cause an overage.
- If there was an unforeseen condition, such as bad soil, that caused additional costs, this may cause an overage.
- Or, if the general contractor or a subcontractor made an error in their work, that could also cause a budget overage.
Depending on the cause, the contractor will need to either ask for a change order or make an internal budget transfer. The internal budget transfer will move excess monies from one line item of the budget to another to help cure the overage. It’s important to note the reason for the transfer for future lessons learned.
How Premier helps you predict future costs
Premier has made forecasting future costs in your projects easier with its forecasting module. Using this module, project managers can account for unexpected costs and request internal budget transfers to cover overages.
To see how Premier can help keep your projects on track, request a demo.
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Dawn Killough is a construction writer with over 20 years of experience with construction payments, from the perspectives of subcontractors and general contractors. Dawn has held roles such as a staff accountant, green building advisor, project assistant, and contract administrator. Her work for general contractors, design firms, and subcontractors has even led to the publication of blogs on several construction tech websites and her book, Green Building Design 101.