By Joe Stoddard. While over 350,000 contractors use QuickBooks and QuickBooks Pro accounting software (, it has always lacked the industry-specific features needed to hang onto builders for the long haul. To address the problem, Intuit, which publishes the software, has unveiled QuickBooks Premier: Contractor Edition ($379.95).

The new version has all the functionality of generic Quickbooks Pro, along with new specific features for contractors. For example, a new change-order feature and improved chart-of-accounts.

Costs and benefits

While the new features enhance an already good accounting program, they're not a substitute for a true business or project management system. For example, the new change-order feature simply adds a record of a change to the tail end of an existing project estimate, assuming you've created an estimate inside of QuickBooks. While better than not documenting the change at all (a sin many small contractors are guilty of), the new feature won't substitute for individual change-order requests that bear the signature of the buyer and that document the change's impact on the project budget and project schedule.

It is now possible to create a report detailing expenses not assigned to specific projects (for instance, office help, long-distance charges, and so on)--in theory, in time to invoice those costs directly to specific projects, thus recovering some cash. But a home builder working on fixed contract prices will have to be content on using the information to adjust prices down the road.

Product confusion

The product selection water is muddied by the fact that Intuit offers the new product through the same retail channels as QuickBooks Pro. For instance, do you need to purchase Premier: Contractor Edition if you're considering BuildWorks or another third-party package, or is plain-vanilla QuickBooks (or even Quicken) good enough? Or, do you skip the QuickBooks brand altogether and go straight to Master Builder or some other enterprise accounting/project management system?

Jim Erwin, the developer of BuildWorks says that the more reliant contractors are on stand-alone QuickBooks Pro, the more they will want to upgrade. "For our users the upgrade to the contractor version will be suggested but not mandatory, at least for now."

According to Intuit, the determining factors in whether to upgrade are the number of employees (the Contractor Edition is intended for small businesses with fewer than 20 employees) and whether or not a contractor needs true project management features vs. simple accounting enhancements. If your company has over 20 employees, runs multiple companies or communities in multiple locations, and/or wants an integrated relationship between purchasing and scheduling, it will be better served by an integrated builder package such as Master Builder. But, for smaller home builders the program will be a welcome addition to their software toolbox.

QuickBooks has taught a reliable old software package some new construction-specific tricks.

In The Box

QuickBooks Premier: Contractor Edition new features at-a-glance.

Interface enhancements:

* New "Contractor" drop-down menu

* New graphical navigator showing construction process

* New help menu

Process enhancements:

* New change-order feature

New job-costing reports:

* Job costs detail

* Job costs by vendor

* Expenses not assigned to jobs

* Unpaid bills by job

* Unpaid job bills by vendor

Other new contractor-specific reports:

* Job status

* Time by name with billable status

* Time by name and job with billable status

* Time by name and item with billable status

* Certified payroll--box 1 employee information

* Open purchase orders by vendor

* Open purchase orders by vendor detail

* Vendor account information

* Customer account information