How to Prevent New Home Building Delays

Homeowner actions have a real impact on how long it takes to build a new home

Builders on construction site discussing plan

One way to ensure your new home is completed on time is to set firm deadlines with your construction team.

Building a new home is a long, complex process with a range of forces that can cause delays. While events like unexpected snowstorms are out of anyone's control, most delays result from individual actions, including the actions of homeowners.

Things the homeowners can do to keep the project on schedule include sticking to agreed-on deadlines, giving the architect and builder the information they need when they need it, and being thoughtful about changes.

Here’s what you can do to keep your own new home building process on track:

Set deadlines

Most architects and builders really want to get jobs done promptly, but without firm dates the schedule can slip. That's why you want a design and construction team that insists on deadlines for everything from meetings to project milestones.

The most important deadline is the last one, and you want to make sure the builder can meet it. "I always tell clients to start with the end date and work backward from there," says Michael Wood of Providence Homes in North Richland Hills, Tex. "If your child is starting high school next September and you need to be in the home by mid-August, then make this clear from your first conversation."

Once you have a preliminary design, the builder should be able to give a rough estimate of the timetable for permitting, site work, framing and finishing. If the design makes your move-in date unattainable, then the options are postponing the date or the revising the design.

Look for specificity when having these conversations. "The plans should take a couple of weeks," may leave too much wiggle room. "We will be ready to pour the foundation on October 15 and will complete rough framing by December 31" provides more accountability.

Note that schedules tend to be more predictable when building a production or semi-custom home than with a custom home. The latter can drag on if not carefully managed.

Finalize design decisions early

Of course the need to take deadlines seriously applies to you, too. In fact many builders say that homeowner indecision is the biggest cause of delays. "The homeowners are an important part of the team when it comes to keeping the schedule," one builder told us. "When things get delayed, 99 percent of the time they did not make decisions by the deadline."

Indecision is most common when making design and product choices. With near-limitless options in countertops, fixtures, tiles, windows and other products some homeowners find it hard to settle on a particular model, style or color.

The same goes for deciding on plan details. "Vague plans can stop a project in its tracks," says Wood. For instance if you don't take time to specify electrical outlet locations you could realize after the home has been framed that they don't work with your preferred furniture layout. "Or you may find that the recessed lights aren't exactly where you wanted them but the ceiling hasn't been framed for lighting at the proper locations, and we need to bring the carpenters back," he adds.

The point here is that the more thought you put into the plans and specifications, the more likely the project will stay on schedule. Delayed decisions can stretch the timetable and raise costs—sometimes dramatically.

But agreeing to make timely decisions and actually making them are two different things. Some people have a hard time visualizing how the inside of their home will look, which causes a lot of anxiety. If you're one of those people, then the best investment you can make is to hire a good interior designer to help you. "I always encourage a good interior designer," says Tim Grady, a custom homebuilder in Orange County Calif. He finds that it makes the decision-making process considerably smoother.

Participate in pre-construction meetings

With the plans done and the contract signed, it's time for the pre-construction meeting. This is your chance to confirm product selections and make last-minute corrections before work starts. It's the equivalent of a pilot's preflight checklist.

Prep for the meeting by carefully reviewing the plans and specifications, and by showing up with all your questions in hand, no matter how small. Did you neglect to ask where the floor drain in the garage will be? Ask it now. Do you want to confirm the locations of hose bibs, outdoor lights and attic hatches? Nailing these things down now will reduce the need for changes that could delay the schedule later.

This is also a chance to clarity procedures. Who should you call with questions once construction starts? Can you visit the site during construction? If so, when and what are the rules?

Done well, a good preconstruction meeting eliminates uncertainty and misunderstanding. It goes a long way toward ensuring a trouble-free project.

When building as a couple, it's best if both of you attend this meeting, even if one will be the primary decision maker, advises Wood. "This will help reduce conflicts and misunderstandings that could stall the job later on."

Be careful making changes

Contractors don't like to make changes after work begins, and despite what you may have read on the internet, most don't make extra profit on them.

That's why smart builders push clients to make decisions early. Changes made late in the design stage can delay the completion of plans and the securing of permits. Changes made after project kickoff can extend build time.

For instance deciding after the home has been framed that you want a bigger window or door could mean reframing the rough opening, as well as a delivery delay while the builder waits for the new model.

The same goes for plumbing fixture changes that require the moving of pipes. If you decide to change the vanity in that powder room to a pedestal sink, the builder's staff has to cancel the order for the vanity and possibly for the vanity top. If the items have already shipped, the supplier will likely charge a return or restocking fee.

If the pedestal is a special order it may take extra time to get. If the hot and cold water pipes are already in place the plumber will have to move them (the supply pipes for a pedestal need to be closer together than those for a vanity), and the plumbing inspector will need to be scheduled. If the wall was already finished, the drywaller has to be called back. This can throw things off by a week or more.

Even something as simple as a change in cabinet door style, if made too late, can add weeks to the job if the manufacturer doesn't have it in stock. The same goes for items like flooring and paint colors.

This is not to discourage legitimate changes—after all it's your home. And not all changes cause delays. You need this quantified, however, so a well-organized builder will insist that you sign a written change order that includes the extra time and money it will cost.

The bottom line is that the most important thing homeowners can do to ensure a smooth project is to work with the architect, builder and interior designer to make as many decisions as possible before work starts. Builders obviously prefer this. And because early selections eliminate stress, expense and delays the homeowners who take this advice tend to be glad they did.
Charlie Wardell has twenty years of experience writing and editing about home building for Architectural Record, BUILDER Magazine, Coastal Living, Fine Homebuilding and The Journal of Light Construction. A licensed builder, Wardell has also built new homes.

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