New Home 101: Building Your New Home, Part 2

Power tips showing how a design decision can affect the organization of your new home.

After the home is built (and during construction), it's time for an inspection. Check out this guide for all the info on inspections.

This article is the second part of a three-part series discussing the new-home building process. For part one, click here. For part three, click here.

Building Timeline

A production home typically takes from five to seven months to complete, while a custom home can take up to a year or more, not counting the design and permitting phase. The length of time it ultimately takes depends on multiple factors including the size and complexity of your design, the availability of labor and materials, whether your site has already been prepared for building, and even the weather. If you choose a particular cabinet that happens to be out of stock or are unlucky enough to have a hurricane, blizzard, or tornado hit the area where your home is under construction, it’s possible that you’ll have to wait a little longer for move-in day.

Your builder can give you a good sense of the progress being made on your home while it’s under construction, but one of the first reasons for a delay could be a slow permitting process.

“Building normally starts within thirty to forty-five days of a contract signing depending on the permit process, the weather, and availability of materials and labor,” says Meritage Homes’ Angel Boales.

Once construction has begun, the timeline depends on what you’ve chosen to have built. If, for example, you’ve chosen a relatively small home, stuck to the originally designed floor plan, and have declined to add extensive custom-made trim or tile work, your home is much likelier to be completed within six months or so compared to a buyer who has opted for a fresco to be painted on one wall, mosaic tiles in each bath, a spa bath with curved glass walls, and hand-carved filigrees on the stair rails.

If you are as eager as most buyers are to move into your new home, you can help keep your builder on track by avoiding change orders. Your builder asked you to make your choices for structural options at the time you signed the contract or within a short time period after that date, and then gave you a second deadline for your interior choices. If you decide when your home is half-built that you want to add a sunroom or redesign your kitchen layout, you may not necessarily be able to make that change. Even if you can, there’s no question that making changes will slow the building process while the builder obtains new permits and brings back the plumber and electrician and other contractors. Cosmetic changes such as picking new cabinets may seem like less of a big deal, but your builder has to order these materials and this could also cause a delay.

Not only can change orders delay construction, but they also can add to the cost of your home. This is why builders spend so much time, energy, and money on developing robust websites and training consultants to help you make a good (and final) decision from the beginning.

Inspections and Visits

Several inspections of your home will be conducted at various stages of construction by city or county inspectors. These are usually done without the buyer being present, says Dennis Webb, vice president of operations for Fulton Homes in Tempe, Arizona, but your builder will be in attendance.

Inspection 1: After the foundation has been poured and cured, an inspection must be done to make sure the work meets the local code of building standards before additional work can be done.

Inspection 2: Once your framing is in place, an inspection must be done before your drywall goes up to make sure that everything inside your walls has been built according to the permits and code.

Inspections 3 and 4: In some jurisdictions, inspections are done simultaneously on your plumbing, electrical, and mechanical systems.

Inspection 5: Before you are allowed to move into your home, your builder must obtain a Certificate of Occupancy based on a final inspection by your city or county government authority.

Ask your builder about which of these inspections you can attend. It’s a good idea to follow along so you can see what’s being inspected and understand what’s behind your walls. Many builders also schedule a walk-through for buyers early in the construction process for this purpose — as well as a final walk-through for buyers shortly before you close on your home.

“Once your framing is up but before the drywall is installed, buyers should do a walk-through with the project manager to go over all of the options again and to check out the wiring to make sure it’s what the buyers requested,” Webb says.

You should expect to spend an hour or two at this pre-drywall inspection. You may want to bring along a notebook and some paperwork, such as information about the selections you made including both standard and optional features, along with a diagram if you have one of where you want to install your telephone jacks, cable outlets, and electrical outlets. Your Realtor, if you’re using one, should also attend the inspection.

Seeing your home being built is an exciting experience, and it can be hard not to want to be on site every day. But, it’s important to adhere to your builder’s rules about when you can visit the construction site. Instead, make the most of the times when you are able to check on the progress on your home.

“I’ve bought several new homes and had a custom home built and my main piece of advice,” says Leslie Finn, a buyer at Brookhaven at Johns Creek, “ is watch the progress of the building and make sure even little things like phone jacks are put in the right place.”

When visiting, it’s important to respect the time of the workers who are building your home and not to interfere with them. In addition to safety issues, keep in mind that the builder (and not you) owns the home during construction and is responsible for the job site and home until closing. That’s why it’s best to visit at the specific intervals called for in your agreement. That allows you to satisfy yourself that everything is being done to your contract’s specifications.

Should You Get a Third-Party Inspection?

If you’ve purchased an existing home in the past, you probably had a home inspection on the property before you finalized your contract. Most homebuyers opt for a home inspection on a resale home so that they can find out the condition of the home’s systems and appliances and to find out if there are any costly repairs to make. While most buyers make their purchase offer for a resale property contingent on the outcome of a home inspection, even buyers who want to make a non-contingent offer on a home sometimes choose an “information only” inspection to learn more about the home they’ve purchased and how to operate it, as well as to budget for future home repairs.

Now that you’re buying a new home, you may be wondering whether you should hire a third-party home inspector for your newly built residence. Clearly you don’t need information about the age and condition of your appliances or systems — they’re all new. As you learned above, your builder and your local jurisdiction will make multiple inspections to see that your home is being built according to regulations. In fact, a new home will have to meet the latest building codes, which are likely to be at a higher standard than those under which older resale home were built. Regardless, you may still want to have your own inspection done.

“I always recommend that buyers hire a third-party inspector on a new home so that they have an extra person to review the construction and to check to see if any mistakes have been made,” says Raylene Lewis, a Realtor in College Station, Texas. “It’s good to have another professional opinion to help you decide if you need to ask your builder to make any minor repairs and to make sure no one has forgotten something like insulation in the attic.”

The decision to hire a third-party inspector on a new home is entirely personal, but many buyers find that for peace of mind they prefer to have an outside opinion in addition to the inspections handled by the builder’s staff and government employees. Depending on your location and the size of your home, a home inspection will cost $250 to $400.

If you choose to hire an outside inspector to supplement the other inspections on your home, it’s best to schedule that inspection within a few days before your closing so that your home is complete or nearly complete and your builder has time to make any required repairs. Since your builder owns the home until closing and is responsible for safety and security on the construction site, your builder will set an agreed time for the inspection and likely require that a representative of their company accompany the inspector during the appointment. You should definitely plan to attend this inspection, too. Your builder will want to see a copy of the home inspector’s report when you receive your copy.

For more expert advice on buying and building a home, check out the free eBook download of New Home 101: Your guide to Buying and Building a New Home at 
NewHomeSource.com.

Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades. You can find her on Google+.

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