When it comes to building a custom home, every client wants to know how long it takes to build a house. You may be thinking about when to put your current house on the market or trying to line up temporary housing while building the new home. Or you may just want to know when you can move in to your dream home.
Generally, six to eight months is a reasonable timeline for building a custom home, although it can certainly take longer sometimes. Unique situations, such as what we face in the post-covid economy, can add a significant amount of time to the build schedule for various reasons we’ll cover below.
Lots of basic factors go into the time it takes to build, including:
- The size and complexity of the house
- How much land must be cleared and leveled
- The process of bringing utilities to the land
- Accessibility and potential weather delays
- Availability of contractors and materials, including special-order items and back orders
Then there are some other factors that come into play, like the process of selecting materials and colors, changes that get made, scheduling, and a whole lot of other variables. Let's take a closer look at some of these.
Selecting materials and colors
Selecting all of the materials and colors up front can save weeks of time in the building process. By selecting everything up front, the builder can ensure products are available on-site when needed to reduce delays. In contrast, choosing materials and colors at the last minute will almost always cause delays while waiting for products to arrive.
This is especially true in what I call the “post-covid” economy, where supply-chain issues and labor shortages seem to be the norm. Builders continue to get surprised by long lead-times on items that used to be easy to get, and the sooner you can make selections and the builder can order materials, the better.
Every change you make, no matter how small, can cause delays. Some items, like paint color, can be changed relatively easily, but a change to tile color could result in waiting on new tile to arrive and delaying the rest of the project.
More importantly, making multiple changes can cause a contractor to reschedule due to uncertainty. That contractor wants to know that the job is 100% ready for the work he needs to do. If there's any doubt, he'll likely move on to the next job that is completely ready, which means your job gets further delayed.
As with making selections early, the more things you change during construction, the more delays could get multiplied with the post-covid issues. For example, if a change would require adding 100 square feet of floor tile, and the order has already been placed for the original amount, getting the additional tile might take weeks, or additional material from the same dye lot might not even be available. Or, if a change requires a contractor to spend an extra week on the job, he might leave it unfinished in order to move to a job that was already scheduled, coming back to yours when he has an opening in his schedule.
During the construction of an average size house, about a third of the total time is consumed by gaps between contractors or between phases of the building project. Even with the most experienced builder and seasoned scheduler, those gaps are often unavoidable. They could happen because of contractor availability (running behind on another job due to last-minute changes), weather delays, or delays while waiting for a building inspector.
With custom home building, unlike spec home or tract home building where contractors are more interchangeable (a production builder building 20 homes at once won’t worry about which painter paints which house), the choice of contractors becomes more critical, and most custom home builders will have long standing relationships with only one or two contractors for each phase. The advantage of this kind of structure is that the contractors know what the builder (and the builder’s client) expects, making the work go much more smoothly. However, during times of extremely high demand or labor shortages, the custom builder will end up waiting longer for the particular contractors to become available. This can add to the schedule gaps mentioned above.
Many other variables
Building a house is a complex process, and then you multiply it by the fact that builders may have multiple jobs in progress at one time. Trust me when I say your builder spends a great deal of time planning out those jobs. But even when they do, unexpected stuff comes up.
Let's say a master bedroom requires an air conditioning return air vent located very close to where you want a recessed light fixture. The electrical plan will show the fixture, but typically there's no pre-planned layout for the heat and air vents. If the heat and air contractor doesn't pay close attention, he might end up putting the return vent where the light is supposed to go. If the electrician shows up after the heat and air guy is gone, there's going to be a delay waiting for the heat and air guy to come back and move the vent.
Multiply that conflict by ten jobs and 20 or so contractors and suppliers, and you'll see that there are plenty of opportunities for problems to crop up that cause delay
When you're talking to prospective builders, be sure to ask how long it takes to build most of their houses and how they handle delays that occur. Experienced builders will plan for some amount of delays in their timeline, and they'll have a process for communicating with you about any delays that will impact the final timeline.