The construction industry is complex and multifaceted, it is a combination of numerous aspects scattered throughout the construction of any project. You might be laying the foundation of a house or doing maintenance work on a commercial unit, billing is one of the critical components which will play a pivotal role in determining your project’s profitability and financial stability. In this post we will explore the most common types of billing methods, shedding light on their characteristics, advantages, and drawbacks.
Billing in construction involves invoicing clients for the services rendered, materials supplied, and labor employed during the construction process. Construction billing refers to sending your client a statement of charges for all the expenses associated with a construction project. Accurate record-keeping, detailed invoicing, and clear payment terms are crucial for billing.
Underbilling on the other hand is the failure to invoice for the total value of work completed within a given billing cycle. Overbilling in construction is the exact opposite of underbilling, i.e.; a contractor billing more than the work completed. You can learn more about these concepts here.
A construction billing method is a systematic procedure used by construction contractors to notify their clients about the payment that is due for the work. It is essential for construction accounting and the preparation of financial statements that you as a contractor choose the appropriate billing method in consultation with the client. The billing methods are divided into two categories i.e.; sub-contractor billing (T&M Billing, cost plus percentage, and milestone-based billing) and progressive billing.
Let’s have a look at the popular billing methods currently being used in the industry along with their advantages and disadvantages.
Time and Material (T&M) billing is a widely used method in construction projects where the scope and requirements are uncertain or subject to frequent changes. In this approach, the client pays for the actual time spent on the project, including labor, equipment usage, and the cost of materials used during the construction process. Contractors charge an hourly rate for labor and an agreed-upon markup percentage on materials.
Transparency, simplicity, and flexibility are three major advantages of the T&M billing method. It provides clients insight into actual expenses, fostering trust between parties and thereby allowing for adaptations to changing project scopes by accommodating variations in labor hours and materials. Since the method is straightforward to implement, it is suitable for small and short-term projects.
If you are going for the T&M method of billing you might face uncertainty regarding the final cost of the project due to fluctuating time and material expenses. Furthermore, as the billing is based on actual usage, disagreements may arise over the accuracy of the recorded hours and material costs.
Fixed Price, also known as Lump Sum billing, involves setting a predetermined total cost for the project before commencing construction. This billing method is commonly employed when the project scope is well-defined, and the parties have a clear understanding of the deliverables. At this time of billing, the contractor might agree to complete the project for a set price.
Lump sum billing in construction means cost certainty; clients can accurately budget for the project, knowing the fixed amount they are required to pay. The invoicing is simple and billing is straightforward since the amount is predetermined, saving time and effort on detailed documentation. Since the risk of cost overruns and expected expenses are borne by the contractor, the risk for the clients is tremendously reduced.
Changes to the project scope may lead to additional costs, which can trigger conflict as the contractor might not readily accommodate without negotiation and contract amendments. Moreover, the project faces unforeseen complexities, the fixed price might not cover the actual expenses, affecting the contractor’s profitability.
Cost-Plus billing, also known as Cost-Reimbursement billing, is an approach where the client reimburses the contractor for all the allowable costs incurred during the construction process. Additionally, a predetermined fee or percentage is added to cover the contractor’s overhead and profit.
This is one of the more transparent billing methods where clients have access to all expenses incurred during the project, ensuring transparency and accountability. Any changes to the project scope are easier to accommodate, as the billing is based on actual costs. This serves as an incentive for efficiency as contractors have a vested interest in optimizing costs as their profit is tied to the project’s overall expenses.
There is potential for disputes in cost-plus billing. Disagreements may arise over which costs are deemed “allowable” and whether they were necessary for the project. Due to the lack of cost certainty, clients may face uncertainty regarding the final project cost until all expenses are accounted for.
Unit Price billing is common in construction projects with repetitive tasks, such as road construction or utility installations. In this method, the contractor provides a price for each unit of work completed (e.g., per meter of road, per foot of pipe installed). This billing method works by dividing the projects into blocks or segments. These blocks remain undefined at the beginning of the project.
Both parties understand the cost associated with each unit of work, promoting transparency and clear expectations. Additionally, unit price billing allows for straightforward bidding based on the estimated quantity of units (blocks) required for the project.
The final project cost depends on the actual quantity of units needed, which may vary from the initial estimates. This uncertainty leads to unpredictable costs raising potential disputes with the clients. Clients may challenge the accuracy of the quantities measured and recorded, leading to conflicts over payment.
Progressive billing, also known as milestone-based billing, is a method of invoicing in which payments are made at various stages or milestones of a project’s completion. The specific milestones are predetermined and agreed upon between the client and the contractor or service provider. The payments are released on the basis of the project completed to date. Apart from including other information, the payment schedule is a crucial detail that you must include with the billing.
Progressive billing helps distribute the financial risk between the client and the contractor. Clients don’t have to make total payments upfront, and subcontractors can receive partial payments as they achieve project milestones, reducing the risk of non-payment or project abandonment. Receiving partial payments at different stages of the project helps the contractors maintain a steady cash flow, allowing them to cover ongoing expenses and invest in project resources, whereas, clear milestones and associated payments enhance transparency in the project’s progress and expected costs.
Implementing progressive billing requires careful planning and coordination between the client and the contractor to define milestones accurately and set payment schedules. This complexity may increase administrative work. If milestones are not well-defined or achievable, the project could experience delays, resulting in delayed payments for the service provider and frustration for the client. Adjusting project scope mid-way can complicate progressive billing arrangements, as the milestones may need revision, leading to potential disputes over payment adjustments.
Billing methods in construction significantly influence project management, financial stability, and client-contractor relationships. Each method has its strengths and weaknesses, making it crucial for both clients and contractors to carefully consider the nature of the project, its scope, and the level of uncertainty involved before choosing a billing approach. Open communication and well-documented contracts are essential to mitigate potential conflicts and ensure successful project execution. By understanding and utilizing the right billing method for each project, construction professionals can foster positive outcomes, enhance efficiency, and build stronger partnerships with clients.