By Marcus Carter
Las Mesa Fund Control & Escrow, Inc.


When evaluating a prospective loan for a new construction project, lenders must consider multiple factors, with one of the most crucial being the construction budget. It is essential to assess the accuracy, sufficiency, and level of detail in the budget, as inaccurate or insufficient budgets can lead to significant issues during the construction process. One key element that should be included in any construction budget is a contingency line item. This article explores the significance of contingency in construction budgeting and its role in managing unforeseen events and cost overruns.

The Role of Contingency

According to Webster’s dictionary, contingency is defined as “a provision for an unforeseen event or circumstance.” In the context of construction lending and projects, unforeseen challenges and items are common occurrences. These challenges can arise at various stages of construction, particularly during grading, site preparation, foundation work, and remodeling projects. Unforeseen items often result in cost overruns, where the actual cost of a budget line item exceeds the allocated amount. Cost overruns can be caused by factors such as contractor budget miscalculations, changes in material prices, labor cost increases, or additional circumstances not accounted for in the original project design or plans.

Factors Contributing to Cost Overruns:

Several factors can contribute to cost overruns, including changes requested by the owner, commonly known as borrower change orders. Any deviation from the original plan or design generally necessitates changes in the construction budget. While some changes may be minor and can be accommodated within the existing budget, others may require additional engineering, labor, or materials, resulting in significant budget adjustments. Moreover, property owners may choose materials that are more expensive than initially budgeted, requiring a change and increase in the budget. Additionally, material prices can fluctuate over time, emphasizing the importance of preparing the budget as close to the construction start date as possible to mitigate the risk of material cost increases.

Incorporating Contingency in Construction Budgeting:

To ensure effective construction budgeting, it is crucial to include a contingency line item. As a general rule, construction contingency should be allocated at 5% to 10% of the overall construction budget. The contingency serves as a source of funding for cost overruns resulting from unforeseen events, material cost increases, labor cost increases, or changes in material selections by the owner. A well-planned contingency line item acts as a safety net for the owner, lender, and contractor, providing the necessary funds to address unforeseen items that inevitably arise during construction projects.


In summary, the construction budget is a vital aspect of loan evaluation for new construction projects. Among the various factors considered, the inclusion of a contingency line item is crucial. Contingency allows for the management of unforeseen events, cost overruns, and changes during the construction process. By allocating an appropriate percentage of the overall budget to contingency, construction projects can mitigate the financial risks associated with unexpected challenges, material cost fluctuations, and changes in project requirements. A well-prepared contingency line item serves as a valuable safeguard for all stakeholders involved in the construction project.