Written by Justin Maritz
As we approach Christmas, it is not only household budgets that are feeling the strain. The development and construction sectors have been under pressure for a while, and one of the key concerns expressed across both sectors is whether projects are stacking up financially: do they have the financial underpinnings to get to the finish line?
From our viewpoint at White Associates, the single biggest thing you can do to stop your project from grinding to an expensive halt along the way is to undertake proper, detailed feasibility of the concept at the earliest possible stage. If your feasibility is set up well, you will be able to make more informed decisions early on – and particularly key decisions about design deliverability.
More and more projects are coming to us with unrealistic budgets for proposed developments, which can be quite worrying. We are seeing more proposed developments coming to us that already have Resource Consent with an unrealistic construction cost expectation.
Carrying out a robust feasibility estimate/masterplan is the best early decision-making tool you can have in your kit, as it helps you to answer the all-important question: ‘is our project the right one for this site?’ Essentially, this activity requires us to focus on the worst case, not the best case. We’re realistic, which means that if that early cost is too high, we can help you work to come up with good options and solutions.
The more detail you have, the more detailed the outcome will be. If you understand your feasibility, you’ll know if your project stacks up, from the start. There is nothing worse than setting a designer off blind. It’s much better to go to a designer with a realistic budget in place, then everything will work together better. You can then work through the process methodically in a planned and organised fashion, in a reasonable amount of time – and get a much better result in the end.
What does this involve? When you’re doing a feasibility study, you need to get as informed as you can early on to understand all potential issues on site such as geotech, the product you intend to sell, what specs you’re going for, and to get informed early of potential issues along the way.
Once a realistic budget feasibility is set, it should be managed accordingly to ensure risk allocations are managed well between all stakeholders to the benefit of the project and budget. It is prudent at this stage to make allowances for risk that may or may not occur in order to have a realistic level of headroom in your budget for unforeseen costs.
Good feasibility work will also help you to understand the outcome equation better. As highly experienced cost planners – across commercial, residential, prisons and educational sectors in particular – we use our experience to inform detailed outcomes. We know that our work is one side of the coin, but if you can see more clearly what a project is going to cost, you will be able to answer the all-important questions.
Commercial developers want to ask: “Am I certain that I can get my expected return?” and the public sector asks: “Am I certain that I can get value for money from this project?”
We know that experienced developers understand site constraints and project deliverables and go in with eyes open, get a feasibility to be realistic, understand then how the return and margin works, so they can then make good decisions. We work with developers to do a high-level cost estimate early on, so they can then make a decision as to whether to proceed on current path or not, as they know what expected return should be.
This approach then allows room to manoeuvre. Feasibility gives your project a range, bandwidth: an estimate of costs at $x, but realistically this can be plus or minus 10%. It’s the range you need to consider.
If you do this early enough, you can understand the margin you can work to achieve, and also understand for example if there is potential for an infrastructure upgrade. Then you can head down a targeted process, making informed decisions at each stage – not just land somewhere and go ‘oh’… We say, take the surprise factor out of the process.
So, if you’re planning to make a Christmas cake, we say make a Christmas cake: don’t make a mince pie. When you open your presents on Christmas Day, be happy because you got what you wanted.
If you are building right now, or looking to do so, we recommend that you use a QS to:
1. Undertake robust Cost Plan – giving you best- and worst-case scenarios that you can test
2. Benchmark – against buildings that function and look like what you want to create
3. Ensure your feasibility has headroom – don’t look at a perfect world, look at the real world to give you room to move.