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The Building a House Timeline: It's More Important Than You Think


May 08, 2020 by Laura Agadoni

Whether you're building a house to be your primary residence (that's the only way to get your true dream home, after all) or you snagged a great deal on a teardown on primo property, having a timeline is probably more important than you think.

Average amount of time to build a house

It generally takes between 6.5 and 10.5 months to build a house from the ground up, according to the National Association of Homebuilders. This includes obtaining permits and assuming all the construction work goes according to plan with zero setbacks, such as bad weather, or, you know, a pandemic.

Assuming there will be delays, you can probably count on your exact timeline being tweaked. And that is all the more reason to create a building timeline -- to know when to step things up if need be.

Whether your build falls on the shorter or longer end of the spectrum often depends on where the build will take place and the builder. Note that spec homes -- new, move-in ready homes built by construction companies -- are completed the fastest.

The timeline is shorter, on average, if you hire a contractor versus tackling the homebuilding job yourself: The average time it takes a contractor to build a custom home is 9.4 months, and it takes the average homeowner about a year and a half to get the job done. New home builds tend to go quickest in the South Atlantic region and slowest in the Middle Atlantic and New England regions, according to the National Association of Homebuilders.

Before you start your house-building project

Before creating your construction timeline, you need to do some prep work. You first need to find and buy a lot, hire an architect to draw up house plans, obtain the proper permits that allow you to build, hire a contractor (if you will be using one), and line up a home construction loan.

The pre-building process can take some time. Getting the proper building permits alone can take about a month, and finding the right contractor can also be time-consuming. Once you've completed the prep work, the real job begins.

How to create a construction timeline

Here's what to include in your homebuilding process. This will give you an idea of whether milestones are being met. These times can vary depending on many factors, such as the square footage of the home, weather conditions, contractor schedules, etc. When building a custom home, you will need to discuss each step with your builder to allow for a more realistic timeline.

Step What It Entails Timeline
Groundbreaking Preparing the lot 1 to 2 weeks
Footers and foundation Pouring the concrete slab About 2 weeks
Framing Building the walls and roof 1 to 2 months
Mechanicals Siding, roofing, plumbing, electrical, and HVAC 2 to 4 weeks
Insulation and drywall Also includes painting the walls About 1 to 2 months
Flooring and trim Also includes doors, cabinetry, shelving, and other finishes 1 to 2 months
Exterior finishes All the finishes outside the home, such as brick, siding, stucco, or stone 2 to 4 weeks
Fixtures and appliances Includes sinks, toilets, showers, bathtubs, kitchen appliances, and light fixtures 1 to 2 weeks
Driveways and walkways Also includes exterior doors About 1 week
Cleaning Getting the home ready for move-in About 1 week
Landscaping Putting in grass, shrubs, flowers, and trees About 1 week
Final Inspection A certificate of occupancy before closing About 1 week
Walk-through Your chance to inspect everything and learn about the home's features About 1 week, including needing to schedule it
Closing When you can move in About 1 week, including needing to schedule it

Ground-up construction versus renovation

Breaking down the homebuilding process sheds some light on the complexity of the project, so much so that it might get you thinking of throwing in the towel and just renovating the home you're already in. Here's how long typical renovation projects take:

Renovation Type Timeline
Room addition 6 to 16 weeks
Kitchen 3 to 12 weeks
Bathroom 3 weeks plus
Basement 3 weeks plus
Deck 1 week

Note that you will likely need a permit to do a renovation, but a renovation permit is usually easier to get than a new-build permit is.

Another consideration is that it's generally more expensive to build a home from the ground up than to renovate. With a renovation, you can choose what you wish to renovate, only doing a room or two, as opposed to building a whole new house.

The decision on whether to build from the ground up or to renovate depends on what you have in mind. You're more limited on what you can accomplish with a renovation. With a new build, you're limited only by your imagination, and of course, you get a brand-new home. If you have the time, money, and inclination to build a new home, then that might be the right decision for you.

Complete teardown or fix-and-flip

Real estate investors who buy homes to either fix and flip or to buy and hold to rent out almost always look for the best deal possible. And that often involves buying fixer-uppers. The more desirable and less costly solution for investors is generally to improve an already-existing property, but sometimes, a teardown might be the better option.

For example, if a home sits in a great location but is in terrible shape or has experienced functional obsolescence -- the design or size is not what people are looking for anymore -- a teardown might be in order.

But a teardown involves additional steps before the new build can take place. For example, you must get a permit to do teardown work. You'll also need to get all the utilities disconnected and properly taken out. And, depending on local zoning laws, you'll need to have the site inspected for hazardous materials, such as asbestos, lead-based paint, and potentially underground storage tanks, removing any hazardous materials that may be there.

The importance of a good construction crew and contract

Whenever you hire a construction crew, it's important to make sure they're up for the job. Make sure the general contractor and the subs they will use are licensed; ask for a list of all the subcontractors and proof that everyone holds a license in the specific job they will do. Interview several builders, and review their portfolios. The more experienced the contractor, the faster the job will go.

Once you've settled on a builder, review the contract carefully before you sign. Here's what to look for:

The work to be done

This part of the contract describes everything the project manager must do to complete building your home, including getting the proper permits before beginning the work. Drawings and specifications should be attached to the contract for both you and your contractor to reference. Make sure specifications match what is outlined in the contract.

When the work will be completed

This is where your construction timeline comes into play. It allows you and your builder to be on the same page every step of the way on what should be completed and by when. There should be allowances for bad weather, inspection delays, or other issues beyond the contractor's control. For delays other than those specified in the contract, it's a good idea to include language in the contract about charging the contractor for each day they go beyond the deadline.

Payment schedule

The contract should specify when and how much you need to pay throughout the project. Usually, owners pay contractors some money upfront and then fund the rest of the project in intervals.

Miscellaneous

Your contract should have sections for how to change the scope of work, what sort of warranties you have, how to resolve disputes, and what constitutes a breach of contract.

Timesaving tips on building a new house

A construction timeline can help you get the job done as quickly as possible. Chances are, while your house is being built (if you plan to live there), you're renting a place and might also be paying for a storage unit for your furnishings. The longer you wait, the more money you're spending. Here are some ways to shave off some precious time:

  • Make sure you and your contractor are on the same page regarding the scope of work. If things need redoing, you have added more time to your construction process and timeline.
  • Consider a simpler layout and floor plan wherever possible. The more complex the plans, the longer the build will take.
  • Choose the start time. Usually, home builds go fastest when started in the spring because of the better weather. But if you live in a mild climate, you might wish to consider fall for the speediest build since the demand for contractors and subcontractors is usually less during the fall and winter.

Regularly look at your timeline to ensure your project stays on schedule. If something needs to happen before work can proceed, for example, you can be proactive by reaching out to the right people to get that part of the job done. Reminding everyone of the deadlines agreed to in your contract and staying on top of things can help ensure a timely build.

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