Construction Prices : the Market Effect

Skitmore, Martin (1987) Construction Prices : the Market Effect. University of Salford Environmental Resources Unit , Salford, United Kingdom.

Abstract

Teachers of construction economics and estimating have for a long time recognised that there is more to construction pricing than detailed calculation of costs (to the contractor). We always get to the point where we have to say "of course, experience or familiarity of the market is very important and this needs judgement, intuition, etc". Quite how important is the matter in construction pricing is not known and we tend to trivialise its effect. If judgement of the market has a minimal effect, little harm would be done, but if it is really important then some quite serious consequences arise which go well beyond the teaching environment. Major areas of concern for the quantity surveyor are in cost modelling and cost planning - neither of which pay any significant attention to the market effect.

There are currently two schools of thought about the market effect issue. The first school is prepared to ignore possible effects until more is known. This may be called the pragmatic school. The second school exists solely to criticise the first school. We will call this the antagonistic school. Neither the pragmatic nor the antagonistic schools seem to be particularly keen to resolve the issue one way or the other.

The founder and leader of the antagonistic school is Brian Fine whose paper in 1974 is still the basic text on the subject, and in which he coined the term 'socially acceptable' price to describe what we now recognise as the market effect. Mr Fine's argument was then, and is since, that the uncertainty surrounding the contractors' costing and cost estimating process is such that the uncertainty surrounding the contractors' cost that it logically leads to a market-orientated pricing approach. Very little factual evidence, however, seems to be available to support these arguments in any conclusive manner. A further, and more important point for the pragmatic school, is that, even if the market effect is as important as Mr Fine believes, there are no indications of how it can be measured, evaluated or predicted.

Since 1974 evidence has been accumulating which tends to reinforce the antagonists' view. A review of the literature covering both contractors' and designers' estimates found many references to the use of value judgements in construction pricing (Ashworth & Skitmore, 1985), which supports the antagonistic view in implying the existence of uncertainty overload.

The most convincing evidence emerged quite by accident in some research we recently completed with practicing quantity surveyors in estimating accuracy (Skitmore, 1985). In addition to demonstrating that individual quantity surveyors and certain types of buildings had significant effect on estimating accuracy, one surprise result was that only a very small amount of information was used by the most expert surveyors for relatively very accurate estimates. Only the type and size of building, it seemed, was really relevant in determining accuracy. More detailed information about the buildings' specification, and even a sight to the drawings, did not significantly improve their accuracy level. This seemed to offer clear evidence that the constructional aspects of the project were largely irrelevant and that the expert surveyors were somehow tuning in to the market price of the building. The obvious next step is to feed our expert surveyors with more relevant 'market' information in order to assess its effect. The problem with this is that our experts do not seem able to verbalise their requirements in this respect - a common occurrence in research of this nature. The lack of research into the nature of market effects on prices also means the literature provides little of benefit. Hence the need for this study.

It was felt that a clearer picture of the nature of construction markets would be obtained in an environment where free enterprise was a truly ideological force. For this reason, the United States of America was chosen for the next stage of our investigations. Several people were interviewed in an informal and unstructured manner to elicit their views on the action of market forces on construction prices. Although a small number of people were involved, they were thought to be reasonably representative of knowledge in construction pricing. They were also very well able to articulate their views. Our initial reaction to the interviews was that our USA subjects held very close views to those held in the UK. However, detailed analysis revealed the existence of remarkably clear and consistent insights that would not have been obtained in the UK.

Further evidence was also obtained from literature relating to the subject and some of the interviewees very kindly expanded on their views in later postal correspondence.

We have now analysed all the evidence received and, although a great deal is of an anecdotal nature, we feel that our findings enable at least the basic nature of the subject to be understood and that the factors and their interrelationships can now be examined more formally in relation to construction price levels.

I must express my gratitude to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors' Educational Trust and the University of Salford's Department of Civil Engineering for collectively funding this study. My sincere thanks also go to our American participants who freely gave their time and valuable knowledge to us in our enquiries. Finally, I must record my thanks to Tim and Anne for their remarkable ability to produce an intelligible typescript from my unintelligible writing.

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ID Code: 59748
Item Type: Report
Refereed: No
ISBN: 9780901025104
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > BUILT ENVIRONMENT AND DESIGN (120000) > BUILDING (120200) > Quantity Surveying (120203)
Divisions: Current > Schools > School of Civil Engineering & Built Environment
Copyright Owner: Copyright 1987 University of Salford
Deposited On: 08 May 2013 05:13
Last Modified: 08 May 2013 05:13

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