Q. What’s the best accounting software for job costing and tracking for a remodeling company?

A.Technology editor Joe Stoddard responds: Because getting off on the wrong foot with your accounting systems can lead to big hassles down the road, I’m hesitant to make any specific recommendations without knowing more about your business. One good resource to get you started is "Evaluating Construction Software," available online at www.cbczine.com/articles/selecting/eval_p2.asp.

Many smaller contractors are successfully using Intuit’s QuickBooks Pro (800/433-8810; www.quickbooks.com), along with Karen Mitchell’s system for setting it up specifically for construction. This may be all you need. Check out Karen’s forum at www.jlconline.com/forums/qbpro. One caution: Although QuickBooks Pro costs only a couple of hundred dollars, be prepared to spend considerably more than that to get it set up properly for construction.

Jim Erwin, an active contractor, has developed a forms-based add-on for QuickBooks Pro and Microsoft Office called BuildWorks (formerly GCWorks). BuildWorks is ideal for a company that’s starting to run into a wall with QuickBooks Pro by itself. It adds Excel-based estimating forms and dozens of construction-specific reports that are lacking from "stock" QuickBooks Pro. BuildWorks isn’t seamless, and you’ll need to cut and paste some information between programs. Still, it’s a giant step forward for most contractors struggling with QuickBooks and Office. Read my preliminary review at www.cbczine.com/articles/e-update05/buildworks.asp. BuildWorks is available from Synapse Software (800/420-2521; www.synapsesoftware.com).

If you’re planning to expand your business and want to avoid the limitations of QuickBooks altogether, you might want to look into the Master Builder by Omware (888/429-9941; www.omware.com). The Master Builder is an integrated accounting package with construction-specific modules for estimating, scheduling, and job costing. The modules have a common interface, making them relatively easy to learn. Omware has recently released a Solo (single-user) edition that is great for smaller contractors and is easily upgraded later to the Network edition if you need more capability. For more information on the Master Builder, see my review at www.cbczine.com/articles/mb7_10-01/MB7_oct00-1.htm.