Secret #80: Substitute Final Bonds

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Secret # 22 covered the bonding of started projects.  Secret # 73 is about Substitute Bid Bonds. In this article we will look at cases where the contract was already secured with a surety or cash bond, but a new bond is under consideration.

Consider a number of scenarios:

  1. We are currently working on a case where a client put up full collateral (cash bond) because they did not have a bonding relationship. They contacted us to provide a surety bond that will enable them to recover their cash.
  2. A bonded project could unexpectedly require a replacement bond if the original is nullified by legal or administrative action. (This has happened!)
  3. Similarly, an otherwise valid bond may be deemed unacceptable if the surety’s A. M. Best rating drops below the obligee’s requirement.
  4. We have seen cases where a contractor wishes to voluntarily replace a bond because their new surety offers significantly better terms. (Only advantageous under certain circumstances, such as? Answer below. *)

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These are all legitimate reasons to issue a performance and payment bond on a project that is underway – and already bonded. So how does the underwriter approach these opportunities?  How can the contractor and agent prepare for this process?

The first question for the underwriters is whether they are subjected to adverse selection.  There could be physical or financial problems on the project that make a bond claim likely.  A thorough investigation will ensue.

Assuming there is no adverse selection, the underwriter’s first task is to determine the status of the project.

  1. How far along is the work?
  2. Has it been performed correctly and to the obligee’s satisfaction?
  3. Is the contractor up to date paying for labor and materials?
  4. Is the job on schedule?
  5. Does the project owner know of any disputes, delays or problems of any kind?

Will the obligee go on record stating that so far, everything is OK? The underwriter will require such a letter in order to proceed.

Typically, when the new bond is issued, it will cover the entire project back to inception.  If the original contract is the subject of the new bond, it will cover the entire dollar amount of the project including the completed portion.  As a result, the contractor may have to pay two bond fees.

The only way to avoid this is to draw up a new contract for just the remaining work.  In most cases, this is not an option.

It may seem that bonding a partially completed project is attractive. After all, part of the risk has been eliminated! In reality, due to the fact that all aspects of the completed work are guaranteed by the new bond including the prior materials and workmanship, the new underwriter faces nearly the entire risk.

When you add the possibility that the underwriter may be subjected to adverse selection, most sureties are cautious when issuing a substitute final bond.

* The timing must be right. If the purpose of filing a replacement bond is to pay a lower bond fee, the greatest advantage is at the beginning of the contract when a full refund may be provided by the incumbent carrier.

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