INTUIT'S QUICKBOOKS AND MICROSOFT OFFICE are the software programs used by the majority of small-volume builders. Unfortunately, they aren't very home builder–friendly straight out of the box. The BuildWorks system resolves that by providing an extensive set of software tools that nails QuickBooks and Microsoft Office together, creating a complete home builder management system. Version 4.0 is the most capable BuildWorks to date.

BuildWorks was created by Jim Erwin, a home builder and land developer in Rochester, N.Y. According to Erwin, the software adheres to the best management practices developed by noted home building industry consultants Chuck Shinn, of the Lee Evans Group in Littleton, Colo., and Steve Maltzman, of SMA Consulting in Colton, Calif.

The BuildWorks approach allows small-volume builders to control their costs and cash flow by adapting concepts found in big builder systems, such as option/upgrade packages, weighted draw schedules, and purchase orders. But, unlike bigger integrated software all-or-nothing, forms-based 4.0 is modular and can be time and need allow.

BuildWorks 4.0 consists of an Excel-based “Navigator” that links dozens of Word and Excel estimating, management and accounting, production, sales and service, specifications, and PDA templates and forms. Navigator also has a fully configured Quick-Books Pro/Premier 2004 company file, tailored specifically for home builders. Tight integration and data synchronization between the Excel-based forms and QuickBooks deliver functionality neither “stock” program can offer by itself.

For example, job costing is difficult to set up in off-the-shelf QuickBooks. BuildWorks 4.0 remedies that by using an expanded QuickBooks chart of accounts instead of the typical “Items” list. That way, committed costs are reported straight out of the general ledger with no chance for error and are sent back from QuickBooks into the Excel-based job-cost templates for further analysis QuickBooks cannot provide.

This tight QuickBooks integration extends to change orders and scheduling. Change orders entered in BuildWorks automatically update project budgets in QuickBooks and then feed the Build-Works project schedule, which automatically recalculates the finish date, as well as the draw and project schedule.

BuildWorks also solves the problem of organizing project documents by creating a new set of job-specific folders each time a project is set up. No more searching your hard drive—all documents for that job are linked from the BuildWorks Navigator, neatly organized in one place. From the Navigator, documents can be edited, printed, faxed, or e-mailed to whomever needs to see them.

BuildWorks is about as automated as an Office-based system can get, but installing and configuring it is still not as simple as it would be for a “one-box” product. The forms-based approach is flexible, but the trade-off is having to deal with a lot of pieces that need to be configured separately. However, Build-Works 4.0 has made some big strides over previous versions in user friendliness. It now ships with a variety of much-improved setup, training, and help resources that ease the learning curve. Both Web-based and live training are available for a fee.

BuildWorks 4.0 comes in several versions, ranging from $1,195 to $2,995 for a site license. The Home-builder edition reviewed here is $2,395, with a 90-day money-back guarantee. BuildWorks installs stand-alone or in a network environment for PCs or Macs. The number of actual users will be limited by the number of valid QuickBooks and Microsoft Office licenses, which are not included in the price. BuildWorks 4.0 requires Windows 2000 or XP Pro, QuickBooks 2004 Pro, Premier, or Enterprise, and Office 2000 or later. For Macs, it requires OSX 10.2 or later, QuickBooks Pro 6, and Office X.

Joe Stoddard is a process/technology consultant to the home building industry. Visit his Web site at