TV vs. Reality: How long does it take to build a new home?

In the real world, it takes time to build a new home – and for good reasons

Homes built by Dress Homes

Home built by Drees Homes

There are a number of well-produced home building and remodeling shows on television. Throughout most of these programs the builder/moderator explains the steps needed to complete the home or project and, perhaps, drives a few nails. Each segment is followed by commercials. Then, miraculously, after the final break, the home is complete, ready for move-in.

Unfortunately, in real life, it doesn’t work that way. Building (or remodeling) a home often takes a long time and there are a host of variables that can affect the timeline.

The accompanying graphic outlines the general steps in constructing a single-family home and gives a rough but typical idea of how long each step takes. The bottom line shows construction time is between five and six months. To this must be added another month to obtain permits prior to the start of construction.

According to the 2017 Census Bureau’s Survey of Construction, the average length of time, from start to completion, to build a single-family, contractor-built home was 8.1 months.  Construction time for a built-for-sale or spec house was 5.7 months. For an owner-built or custom home it was 11.2 months. 

Over the past 18 years, however, the contractor-built home figure has averaged 7.1 months and was significantly lower still in the years prior to that. The 2017 figures for such homes also varied by region, totaling 11.1 months in the Northeast, 7.2 months in the Midwest, 7.3 months in the South, and 9.9 months in the West. 

These figures do not include the time it takes to shop for an architect and/or a builder, select a site, develop a design and plan, and select finishes and features. Nor does it include possible pre-start delays such as unexpected bad soil or site conditions or trouble in obtaining approvals and permits. 

As you would expect, custom homes take much longer (total plan/build time of 10 to 16 months or longer) because you also have to obtain a lot, get permits, and work with a builder, architect and interior designer to design the home and then obtain plan approval. Estimates include: home design (1 to 6 months); estimations and contract approval (2 to 4 weeks); permits (2-4 weeks); interior design and product selection (1 to 2 months); construction (6 to 13 months). 

A tight schedule

Drees Homes, a large-volume, semi-custom home builder headquartered in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, capitalizes on extensive experience to shave construction time. Founded in 1928, the family operated firm builds in 12 markets in the South, Midwest and East.

“At Drees, we follow a 110-120 day construction schedule, depending on the product being built,” says Jocelyn Cates, Director of Communication. “This timeline becomes effective once we have broken ground on a home site, and concludes when we have our final warranty quality inspection.”

However, there is no precise figure for new home construction time. There are too many variables. “Potential causes for delay in our schedule include weather, which impact varies greatly from region to region,” Cates says, “Trade and product availability can be a hindrance to schedules as well. We’ve also seen that when homeowners decide to use an outside lender, that has been shown to slow the process.”

Variables that could impact the building time of your home may include the following:
  • The size and complexity of the home: Square footage, number of stories, and the amount of articulation and level of finishes in the design
  • Location: Building on a hilly lot or in an earthquake or fire zone will take longer, as will building in a rural or non-metro area
  • Weather and the time of year construction starts
  • Unexpected delays or shortages of construction supplies
  • Shortage of available subcontractors and skilled labor
  • Buyer procrastination in selecting options and finishes
  • Change orders during construction from the buyer
“Homeowners can effectively support staying on track with timeline by ensuring they make their home selections in a timely manner and avoid making any change requests,” adds Cates. “Minimizing changes is key in completing jobs on schedule.”

Steps in building a home

A chart showing the timeline of building a home.

Roy Diez is a freelance writer and marketing professional specializing in the architectural, building and construction industry. He is a former editor-in-chief of Professional Builder magazine.

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