Any search on the internet for “construction manager” or “owner’s representative” will get you a long list of articles that put the two in contrast. It seems that most companies see the two as being mutually exclusive.
A survey conducted in 2021 revealed that:
What is an owner’s representative in construction?
An owner’s representative is hired to protect the owner’s interest throughout the process of the project. They’re brought in during the planning stage and stay right through occupancy. The owner’s rep monitors the budget, protects against fraud, and makes sure that everyone is doing what they’re supposed to do. The construction owner’s rep fees are listed as a separate line item on project accounting since they’re usually not part of the contracting company.
What is a construction manager on a project?
The construction manager is usually the person who oversees the actual building themselves. The term is usually used interchangeably with general contractors. The construction manager will hire the subcontractors, oversee the purchase and delivery of materials, and make sure that the details in the architect’s plans are included in the final project. They will usually meet with inspectors, oversee occupancy and building permits, and drive the construction itself forward.
Why is there a separation?
Often, there is a separation between the role of the owner’s rep and the construction manager. This is appropriate, as they are in different roles.
The owner’s representative is the strategic commander. They’re the ones who are in the room for the planning, the initial budgeting, and negotiations. Their very specific job is to look out for the owner’s interest. Those interests can be complex and multi-faceted. Often, they aren’t strictly financial, but aesthetic, temporal, and more.
The construction manager is the tactical leader. Their job is to take the plans and see that the project is completed. Organizing subcontractors, arranging for materials, and reviewing the project are all part of the job.
The case for an owner’s representative and a construction manager
Since the two roles are different, it’s worth having both an owner’s representative and a construction manager.
The owner’s representative is there early, watching the planning, auditing budgets, and keeping everything realistic and on task. Too often, in the early stages, the bidding contractors will low-ball numbers to win the contract. That might seem like a great idea, but it leads to unrealistic expectations. At least some of the cause of the cost and time overruns is that the contractors are putting in bids that are low-balled then need to make changes as reality sets in.
An owner’s representative is experienced and knowledgeable enough to flag those low-balled offers. They will sound the alarm when an offer is too low.
If there are budgetary or delivery changes, they’re the first ones to know and approve it. They’re the ones who can be the “bad guy” and ask the tough questions of the construction manager about how they got to where they are. The construction manager is busy with the project. They’re working with subcontractors and suppliers to meet the goals of the construction project. They negotiate with the suppliers for the right prices and the subcontractors to ensure timely work.
Do you need the owner’s representative and the construction manager to come from different companies?
No. In fact, choosing a single company to handle everything from inception to occupancy can make everything run more smoothly. Finding a single firm that can handle everything from the planning stage to turning over the keys will save you time and money.