Types of Construction Contracts [Pros, Cons and FAQs]

Types of Construction Contracts [Pros, Cons and FAQs]

Types of Construction Contracts [Pros, Cons and FAQs]

Construction projects involve various contractual arrangements that dictate the terms, responsibilities, and obligations among parties involved. Different types of construction contracts exist, each with its advantages and drawbacks, catering to the diverse needs and complexities of construction projects. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into various types of construction contracts, highlighting their pros, cons, and the reasons for their use in the construction industry.

Navigating the intricate legal landscape requires the expertise of a seasoned commercial real estate lawyer. These professionals play a crucial role in ensuring that all parties involved are protected and understand their rights and obligations. From negotiating contract terms to resolving disputes, their comprehensive knowledge of construction law can be a game-changer for businesses in the industry.

Types of Construction Contracts

1. Lump-Sum or Fixed-Price Contract:

This contract involves a fixed price for the entire project, agreed upon before construction begins. The contractor is responsible for completing the project within the specified budget. Changes or modifications during the project may lead to additional costs.

2. Cost-Plus Contract:

In this arrangement, the owner pays the contractor for the actual costs of construction plus an additional fee or percentage for profit. It offers transparency in cost breakdowns but can lead to uncertainties regarding the final project cost.

3. Time and Materials Contract:

This contract involves paying for the actual materials used and labor hours worked, along with a predetermined markup for profit and overhead. It allows flexibility in the scope of work but can pose challenges in cost control.

4. Design-Build Contract:

Under a design-build contract, a single entity handles both the design and construction phases. It streamlines communication but may limit owner control over the design process.

5. Cost Reimbursable Contract:

This contract reimburses the contractor for all legitimate project costs, including materials, labor, equipment, and overhead. It provides flexibility for changes but may lead to uncertainties in final project costs.

6. Unit Pricing Contract:

In this type of contract, the pricing is based on specific units of work completed, such as per square foot or per unit installed. It simplifies cost estimation for repetitive or standardized tasks.

7. Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) Contract:

A GMP contract sets a maximum price for the project, protecting the owner from cost overruns. If the project costs less than the maximum, the savings might be shared between the parties.

8. Construction Management Contract:

Under this arrangement, a construction manager works alongside the owner, managing various aspects of the project, including budgeting, scheduling, and subcontractor management.

9. Turnkey Contract:

In a turnkey contract, the contractor takes full responsibility for the project’s design, construction, and sometimes, even the operation. The owner receives a completed facility ready for use.

10. Alliance Contract:

An alliance contract involves collaboration between multiple parties (owners, contractors, designers) who share risks, costs, and benefits based on project outcomes, fostering a more collaborative approach.

Why Use Different Types of Construction Contracts?

  1. Flexibility in Project Management: Different types of contracts offer flexibility in managing project risks, costs, timelines, and responsibilities, catering to the specific needs of each construction project.
  2. Risk Allocation: Various contracts allocate risks differently among the involved parties, allowing for better risk management and mitigation strategies tailored to the project’s nature and scope.
  3. Legal Compliance: Understanding and utilizing different contract types ensure legal compliance and protect the interests of all parties involved, reducing the likelihood of disputes and conflicts.
  4. Project Customization: Choosing the most suitable contract type enables project customization, aligning the contractual framework with the project’s unique requirements and objectives.

Types of Construction Contracts: Pros and Cons

1. Lump-Sum or Fixed-Price Contract


  • Cost Certainty: The fixed price provides cost certainty for the project, shielding the owner from unexpected expenses.
  • Simplified Budgeting: Clear, predetermined costs simplify budgeting and financial planning for all parties involved.


  • Limited Flexibility: Changes or modifications during construction can lead to additional costs and delays.
  • Risk of Overpricing: Contractors may add contingencies to the initial price, potentially resulting in higher overall costs.

2. Cost-Plus Contract


  • Transparency: Allows for transparency in cost breakdowns, facilitating better oversight of expenses.
  • Flexibility for Changes: Accommodates changes during construction without renegotiating the entire contract.


  • Cost Overruns: Owners might face unexpected cost overruns, as the final cost isn’t known until completion.
  • Potential for Disputes: Lack of clarity in cost documentation may lead to disputes between the parties involved.

3. Time and Materials Contract


  • Flexibility in Scope: Ideal for projects with uncertain scopes, allowing for adjustments as needed.
  • Cost Control: Owners pay for actual materials and labor used, providing better cost control.


  • Risk of Cost Escalation: Lack of a fixed price structure can lead to cost escalations if not managed carefully.
  • Potential for Disagreements: The absence of a fixed scope might lead to disputes regarding project completion and costs.

4. Design-Build Contract


  • Streamlined Communication: Single point of contact streamlines communication between the owner and the contractor.
  • Faster Project Completion: Concurrent design and construction phases often lead to faster project completion.


  • Limited Owner Control: Owners may have less control over the design and decision-making process.
  • Change Order Costs: Changes in design or scope might result in additional costs and delays.

5. Cost Reimbursable Contract


  • Flexibility for Changes: Allows for flexibility in accommodating changes and modifications during the project.
  • Shared Risk: Distributes risk between the owner and contractor, offering shared responsibility.


  • Uncertain Final Costs: The final project cost may not be known until completion, potentially leading to budgetary uncertainties.
  • Complex Documentation: Requires meticulous record-keeping and documentation, which can be time-consuming.


1. What is the most common type of construction contract?

The lump-sum or fixed-price contract is among the most common types, offering cost certainty and simplifying budgeting for construction projects.

2. How are risks typically allocated in construction contracts?

Different contract types allocate risks differently; for instance, fixed-price contracts often shift more risks to contractors, while cost-reimbursable contracts share risks between parties.

3. What factors influence the selection of a construction contract type?

Factors include project complexity, scope clarity, budget considerations, desired level of control, and the ability to accommodate changes during construction.

4. How can disputes be minimized in construction contracts?

Clear and precise contract language, comprehensive documentation, regular communication, and dispute resolution clauses help minimize disputes in construction contracts.

5. Which contract type is suitable for projects with evolving scopes?

Time and materials contracts offer flexibility for projects with evolving scopes, allowing adjustments without significant contractual changes.

6. How can an owner manage cost overruns in a cost-plus contract?

Owners can set cost caps or negotiate maximum pricing clauses to manage cost overruns in cost-plus contracts effectively.

7. What advantages does a design-build contract offer for construction projects?

Design-build contracts streamline communication, foster collaboration between design and construction teams, and often lead to faster project completion.

8. How do construction contracts accommodate unforeseen circumstances?

Some contracts include clauses for unforeseen circumstances, allowing for adjustments and additional costs if unforeseen events impact the project.

9. Can a fixed-price contract accommodate changes during construction?

While fixed-price contracts typically have limited flexibility, change order provisions can accommodate changes, but these may result in additional costs.

10. What role does a commercial real estate lawyer play in construction contracts?

A commercial real estate lawyer assists in drafting, reviewing, and negotiating construction contracts, ensuring legal compliance and protecting the interests of parties involved.

11. How does a contractor manage risk in a construction contract?

Contractors manage risks by conducting thorough project assessments, ensuring proper insurance coverage, and negotiating favorable contract terms that minimize their liabilities.

12. Can a contract be terminated before project completion?

Contracts often include termination clauses allowing parties to terminate under specific circumstances, such as breach of contract or failure to perform.

13. What are the key elements of a construction contract?

Key elements include project scope, payment terms, duration, responsibilities, warranties, dispute resolution mechanisms, and any specific project requirements.

14. Are changes and modifications common in construction contracts?

Changes and modifications are common in construction contracts, especially due to evolving project scopes, unforeseen events, or alterations requested by the owner.

15. How can parties protect themselves from contract disputes?

Thoroughly understanding contract terms, maintaining clear communication, documenting changes, and seeking legal counsel when necessary help parties protect themselves from contract disputes.