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How Long Will It Take To Build A Custom Home?

The second most asked question that a homeowner asks, is how long will it take to build my custom home? I bet you can guess the first question. After understanding costs, the biggest concern often shifts to thoughts of how long before I can move into my new home and how long will my family have to stay elsewhere? These are completely valid concerns, so lets dig into this so you can understand not only a range of time but also the key variables that you can and cannot control that drive the timeframe.



how long to select finishes

Based on our experience of building hundreds of homes of different shape, size, location and complexity, I can share that there are definitely a lot of variables that impact the timeframe from start to finish on a custom home. Having said that, lets just start with a wide range of 1-2 years. Yes, I know that seems like a ridiculously large range and we’ve had some outliers from this range that were shorter and longer. Our very first home took 7 months and we’ve had homes take 30 months. Yet this 1-2 year range will be where the vast majority of custom homes fall, so lets discuss the two phases – Pre-Construction and Construction, as well as their timeframe variables that may help you narrow the range for your custom home.


PRE-CONSTRUCTION PHASE

Since most homeowners only consider the Construction phase, it is important to consider the Pre-Construction phase in the timeframe as well. For some homes, the Pre-Construction can be equal to or more than the Construction phase. We believe that’s likely overkill but lets dig into what is included in Pre-Construction and how the timeframe of this phase can and cannot be impacted by you.


Land Evaluation & Acquisition: First there is the most obvious Pre-Construction item – do you have land to build your custom home? If you are looking in a development with ready inventory of buildable lots, this evaluation and selection timeframe can be short, but if you are like many homeowners, the process of finding, evaluating and contracting for land can take 3-6 months or more, especially in more highly desired neighborhoods. Once you have a lot under contract, there is also the timeframe to evaluate it. These activities might include surveys, geotechnical/soil testing, tree evaluation, or other activities if its waterfront (e.g., seawall, docks) or rural acreage (e.g., septic, well, utilities). While a survey can often be completed in a week or two, these other types of reviews can take some time.


Financing & Loan Closing: While the land may be the obvious key item driving the Pre-Construction phase timeline, two items may not be so obvious – financing and the selection of your design/build team. While these can be done concurrent to some activities, they often add unexpected time to the process. Lets discuss each. First, if you’re self-financing, congratulations, you just cut a good bit of time out of the process. If you’re not self-financing, speaking to 2-3 construction lenders to get pre-qualified can take a few weeks so make sure you understand their requirements.


Design/Build Team Selection: Selecting your design/build team. It’s possible that you’re going to be committed to a team based on your land selection or you might know exactly who you want to design and build your home. For most homeowners, they will want to conduct initial consultations and interviews with 2-3 firms before they select these services, which can take some time based on your and their availability.


Designing the Home: For entertainment purposes, lets say you have the land, as well as the design/build team secured, now lets discuss how the rest of the Pre-Construction activities can vary. The design of the home is driven by your requirement as the homeowner, but the turnaround time of your designer clearly impacts the time. We’ve had designers that provide a 1st draft in two weeks and revisions in 2-3 days. Other designers are busy and can take a month to get the first draft with revisions taking 1-2 weeks. Additionally, you are busy and you may not be able to give feedback immediately. Lastly, one of the most common timeframe expansions is the number of revisions. While 2-3 revisions is typical and can take a couple of weeks, it isn’t uncommon to see a design have 5-6 revisions or more. This can add several weeks to the timeline.


Selecting Finishes: While the home plans are being developed, the other key Pre-Construction activity is the selection of finishes. These are items such as appliances, flooring, cabinets, counters, and fixtures. While you may not need to select every item during Pre-Construction, the more that is selected at this phase, increases the accuracy of your cost while also helping the timeframe during the Construction phase. Like the home plans, the time to do this activity is driven by your availability and ability to make decisions. We’ve seen this process take 2-3 days and we’ve seen it go on for months. Just as you’ve had assistance with the design of the home, it’s equally important to have assistance with finish selections to expedite this decision process.


how long to design custom home plans

Contracting with a Builder: Once all the design and selection is done, the builder can now accurately estimate the cost of the project and provide you with a construction agreement. For those financing the construction, this agreement is required for the lender to do their final work and prepare closing documents. We’ve seen some lenders do this process in a couple of weeks while others can really drag on.


Obtaining Permits: Once the construction agreement is signed, the last activity for the Pre-Construction phase is permitting. Where we build, obtaining permits is taking 6-8 weeks, but I know from talking with my builder colleagues in other parts of the country that there are some that can walk in and get their permits the same day that they apply, while others wait 10-12 weeks.


As you can see the Pre-Construction phase has a lot of moving parts. As a result, we’ve seen this process take as short as 3-4 months and as long as 8-9 months. Same result – permitted plans ready to begin construction, but a possible 6-month difference based on the many variables above.


CONSTRUCTION PHASE

With Pre-Construction taking 3-9 months of the timeline, lets not forget we still have to build your custom home. So how long will that take and what drives this timeline? Recently, we have seen the Construction phase timelines range from 12-16 months. Again there are outliers, but lets discuss what variables you can and cannot control during this phase.


You’ve done the hard part. An incredible number of decisions have been made during the Pre-Construction phase, so the Construction phase should just fly by. Right? Maybe, but we always say it’s not if, but when you’ll hit the bump in the road. Some bumps can be seen easily, while others will not.


how long to construct a custom home

Demolition & Site Preparation: The first item in this phase that can extend the construction timeline has to do with site preparation. If there is an existing home, pool or other structure to remove, that will take a couple of weeks to complete. Similarly, if the site is unique, for instance waterfront or mountains, you can expect a good bit of additional site preparation. This might include excavation, seawalls, pilings, etc. Most of these activities must be done prior to starting the foundation and other construction activities, so the extent of this this work will extend the construction timeline.


Size & Complexity: Believe it goes without saying but a larger, more complex home will take longer to construct than the smaller, less complex, but here’s an example. Recently, we completed construction on a 4,000 square foot home that was moderately complex in 12 months, while it took us 18 months to complete a 7,200 square foot home that was highly complex. Enough said.


Foundation & Shell: The Foundation and Shell of the home often seems to get completed very quickly. Two months after starting the footers, you may be looking at the roof and feel like you’ll be done in a couple of months, but not so fast. This can be very misleading. There is a lot of work to be done. Yet while this step can go quickly, depending on how the engineering has been done, it can have many variables that extend it. Block construction and concrete pours will need to cure which can extend timelines. Installation of steel beams and columns, for example, may also extend timeframes. Although 2 months is very possible, we’ve seen these other engineering items double or triple this timeframe.


Rough In & Finishes: The next stages of construction for rough in and finishes involve many more vendors, so timelines can slow simply by labor and material availability. During the Covid pandemic we saw dramatic increases in material delays. Even today we have some appliances that are ordered 12 months before they are needed simply due to the supply delay challenges. A necessary way to manage these delays is often to reselect items with shorter delivery times.


how can I shorten time to build a home

Weather: While weather is often used as a convenient excuse for delays, it is real. and highly disruptive. Given the 35-40 vendors involved in construction, a weather disruption can have a ripple effect and make rescheduling vendors difficult. Some vendors, especially exterior work, simply can’t work in high wind, rain, snow or cold for safety reasons. In some areas of the country, this can be built into the schedule. Cold weather areas know they often have to complete their exterior and shell work before November, otherwise, the interior work can’t be done. It really doesn’t matter how many heaters or dehumidifiers are used if the windows, doors and roof aren’t completed. Yet other areas that have Hurricanes and Tropical Storms, find it much more difficult to plan these events in their timeline. Simply the threat of a Hurricane or Tropical Storm will increase the timeline by 1-2 weeks while the project prepares for the event and then reschedules work after the event hopefully passes without damage.


Change Orders: Without a doubt the variable during the Construction phase that you the homeowner can manage to minimize increases to the timeline, is to keep any changes to a minimum. Even though most decisions were made during the Pre-Construction phase, changes to the home design or finish selections during Construction can add significant time. What may seem like a small change, requires new bids, specifications and quotes that can delay vendors just when they are scheduled to do the work. Getting them back on the schedule, isn’t easy. Larger changes, can add weeks and months. Recently we experienced a homeowner that decided to add a fireplace to their home during construction. Between the new design time, permitting time, selection and quoting, this seemingly small item resulted in a 6 month increase to the timeline. Bottom line, the fewer changes, the shorter your Construction timelines.


Unique Construction Techniques or Materials: Lastly, I want to make a mention of unique construction materials and/or techniques. Builders and vendors can easily estimate timelines for work that they’ve done before. What frequently throws a wrench in the timeline is estimating work that they rarely or have never done before. As an example, several years ago before modern home styles became more prevalent, we were asked to do a floating staircase. It was new to us and our stair vendor. As a result, the timeframe estimates were far less accurate than they are now that we’ve done these many times.



Wrap Up

While we believe there is a wide range of 1-2 years to complete a custom home, understanding the items you can adjust can both set the right expectations and allow you to adjust, if needed. Just make sure to keep in mind that the Pre-Construction time is equally if not more important than the Construction time. All the best with your custom home project!



Additional Resources

  • Architect - An architect's perspective of this question

  • Calculator - A construction calculator

  • Angi - Formerly Angie's List, this article gives their take on the timeframe

  • Bob Vila - The former This Old House host gives his take

  • PreCon - Some details on preconstruction

Comments


“I have known Jon for many years. He and his team at Owners’ Ace are an invaluable resource to anyone looking to design and build a custom home. Having their assistance makes a complex process so much easier and successful. I recommend Owners’ Ace to my clients and to anyone looking to build their dream home.”

BG Holmberg, Top Custom Home Realtor in Tampa Bay Area

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