I don't much like allowances, which let homeowners postpone decisions that really should be made before the project even breaks ground. After all, those same choices will still have to be made once construction has started — under pressure, to keep the schedule on track. But the reality is that some clients have a lot of trouble selecting finishes — floor coverings, electrical fixtures, tile, and the like — before the house has been framed and they can visualize the interior spaces. And in today's consumer-driven marketplace, that makes allowances unavoidable.

The biggest headache with allowances is that each of the parties involved in the project — the owner, the architect, the designer, the contractor, the suppliers, and the trades — may have a different understanding of what the allowance includes and how it gets implemented and paid for. Consequently, the allowance process is not only frustrating...

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