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Q&A with Handy Mac: We may be hoodwinked

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Mike has a question about building terminology.

Q: We have received quotations for a large renovation to our home, and all the builders are using the terms “provisional sum” and “PC item”. Can you explain, in layman’s terms, what these mean as we are concerned we may be hoodwinked.

A: These terms are often used, and the amounts given for these items are usually supplied by the architect or quantity surveyor, but as you ask the question, I assume these professionals are not part of the process.

In basic terms, a “provisional sum” is an amount allowed for a supply-and-fix item for which details are not available at time of tender. For example, there may be no electrical drawings so a provisional sum would be allowed for electrical work. A “PC item” is usually an amount allowed for a supply-only item.

An example of this would be “Allow an amount of R100 per m² for the purchase only of floor tiles”, and the builder would quote for the tiles to be laid under a separate item. In both instances proof of the final amounts must be shown.

In the case of electrics, once the drawings are available you should insist on getting two or three prices for this work. In the case of tiles, the final account would be adjusted based on invoices provided by the supplier of the tiles.

To compare your tenders all these amounts should be removed from all the tender amounts so you are comparing like for like. This is why, on larger contracts, I recommend employing the services of a quantity surveyor whose role it is to sort out items of this type, and to ensure you are not paying more than you should.

* If you have a question for Don, please send it to or SMS only to 082 446 3859.


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