Rethinking Construction Contracts: Moving Beyond Competitive Bidding

Rethinking Construction Contracts: Moving Beyond Competitive Bidding

When embarking on a construction project, project owners face a critical decision: how to select the contractor who will bring their vision to life. While competitive bidding has long been the go-to method for awarding contracts, it may not always be the most effective or beneficial approach. In this blog, we will explore the risks associated with competitive bidding and propose an alternative method: a merit-based system. We will explain what a merit-based system entails, how it can lead to better outcomes and the importance of an owner's representative in mitigating associated risks.

Competitive Bidding:

Competitive bidding, despite its apparent simplicity, carries inherent risks that project owners should consider:

Lowest Bidder Syndrome: Competitive bidding often results in a race to offer the lowest price. However, selecting the contractor solely based on the lowest bid can lead to compromised quality, corner-cutting, or disputes over change orders.

Limited Focus on Quality: Competitive bidding tends to prioritize price over quality. Contractors may be compelled to reduce costs by using inferior materials, less-experienced labor, or rushing the project to meet budget constraints.

Adversarial Relationships: The nature of competitive bidding can foster an adversarial relationship between project owners and contractors. Collaboration and trust, vital for project success, may be undermined when the contract is solely based on price.

The Merit-Based System:

To overcome the limitations of competitive bidding, a merit-based system provides a more balanced and holistic approach. In this system, contractors are evaluated and selected based on their qualifications, experience, capabilities, and proposed approach to the project. The emphasis shifts from price to the contractor's ability to deliver the desired outcome.

A merit-based system offers several advantages over competitive bidding:

Quality and Expertise: By prioritizing qualifications and experience, a merit-based system ensures that contractors with a proven track record of delivering high-quality work are considered, resulting in a construction project built to the desired specifications and standards.

Collaborative Partnership: A merit-based system fosters collaboration and a sense of partnership between project owners and contractors. Contractors are chosen based on their ability to understand project requirements and offer innovative solutions, leading to a more successful and harmonious working relationship.

Transparency and Accountability: Contractors are selected in a merit-based system based on their proposed approach, qualifications, and capabilities. This process ensures transparency and accountability, allowing project owners to evaluate each contractor's suitability thoroughly.

Similar End "Cost of Work": When a construction project is built with the same quality, specifications, and time frame, the end cost of work should be similar among competing contractors. The main differences lie in the contractors' overhead and profit margins, which are more transparently negotiated in a merit-based system.

Overcoming Risks in a Merit-Based System: The Role of an Owner's Representative:

While a merit-based system offers significant advantages, it is not without risks. Hiring an experienced owner's representative can help mitigate these risks. An owner's representative acts as the project owner's advocate, bringing valuable expertise and knowledge to the table.

Understanding the Risks:

One of the challenges project owners face in a merit-based system is their potential lack of extensive knowledge about construction processes and evaluating contractor qualifications. This knowledge gap can make it challenging to assess proposals effectively.

The Role of an Owner's Representative:

An owner's representative plays a crucial role in mitigating risks and ensuring the success of a merit-based system:

Project-Specific Experience: An owner's representative brings extensive experience working on similar construction projects. Their familiarity with industry nuances, challenges, and best practices enables them to identify the key qualifications needed to evaluate contractor proposals effectively.

Relationships with Contractors: Having established relationships with contractors, an owner's representative offers valuable insights into their capabilities, reliability, and performance. This knowledge is particularly beneficial when assessing a contractor's merit.

Technical Expertise: An owner's representative possesses technical expertise related to construction processes, contract negotiations, and project management. They can decipher complex proposals, review plans and specifications, and assess a contractor's ability to meet project requirements.

Objective Evaluation: As an independent advocate, an owner's representative brings objectivity to the selection process. They evaluate contractor proposals based on merit, considering factors such as experience, qualifications, and proposed approach. Their unbiased perspective helps project owners make informed decisions aligned with their project goals.


While competitive bidding has been the traditional method for awarding construction contracts, it may not always yield the best outcomes. By embracing a merit-based system, project owners can prioritize quality, experience, and collaboration, leading to more successful projects and stronger partnerships. The involvement of an experienced owner's representative further mitigates the risks associated with a merit-based system, ensuring informed decision-making and successful project execution.

Dubrow Group, a leading owner's representation firm, offers comprehensive services to project owners. With their expertise and industry knowledge, Dubrow Group acts as a trusted advocate, ensuring projects are successfully executed.

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