One of the most common questions that architects get asked is ‘how long will it take to build a new custom home?’  The process depends on a lot of factors, but by breaking the entire project down into chunks we can create an accurate estimate.

Folks often forget about all the up-front work that has to be done long before anyone swings a hammer on the job site.  The initial chunk of work consists of things like land surveys, architectural design, building permits, zoning approvals and engineering.  This is the type of work completed by an architect or design professional.  Finding someone to do all the initial work is your first task, and how long it takes is up to you. Once you’ve hired an architect, it can take many months of going back-and-forth before everyone is happy with the floor plans and the initial design work.  I would budget at least six months for this process, if not more.  You’ll have to live in the final result for years so it’s best to take your time at this stage!

The next step is applying for building permits.  This can happen once the major design work is completed.  You don’t have to decide on every little detail at this point, but you should have the floor plans laid out with all the properly sized spaces.  Depending on how busy your local building department is (and if they want to make any revisions to your plans) this process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.  Your building department official may require changes to the engineering or drainage before they issue any permits and allow you to begin construction.  Also beware of any other authorities that may require approvals for such things as tree removal, species relocation, waterway intervention. They can add weeks or months of time if you’re not prepared but a local architect should have a good understanding of what will be required.

Once you have all your permits and approvals, you need someone to actually construct the house.  This is usually done by sending the construction drawings out to a number of contractors and getting quotes on the cost of actual construction.  The best contractors are usually busy so it may take a few months to come to an agreement with a builder that’s available and one you’re comfortable with.  Even with the contract finally signed, they likely won’t be ready to start right away.

Finally, construction begins!  I recommend that you allow about one year for the physical construction of the house.  This is a healthy estimate that leaves some room for poor weather, delivery delays and unforeseen problems.  The time-frame may be slightly shorter or longer depending on the size and complexity of the house, the location, and how organized the project manager is. 

So here is the estimated timeline to build your new dream house:

Step 1:  Find an architect

  • This part is up to you and may take weeks, months or years if you’re not in a rush

Step 2:  Preconstruction – approximately 1 year

  • Assemble Professionals (1 month)
  • Design &  Construction Drawings (6+ months)
  • Permits & Approvals (1-2 months)
  • Contractor Pricing & Bidding (1-2 months)

Step 3: Construction – approximately 1 year

  • This should be roughly enough time to get everything finished and ready for move-in day

Overall, expect the process to take about 2 years from start to finish.  This also assumes you have land to build on or will be able to find a building lot quickly. There is a certain amount of patience that is required in order to properly align all the pieces of the project, so take your time.  From my perspective, a client that’s in a huge rush is an immediate red flag because I know there will be issues down the road when things are taking longer than they had hoped.  Take your time, plan ahead, and remember that more work done up front equals less time and headache during construction.

You’ll only get to build a new house once or twice in your lifetime, so take your time and enjoy the process!

How Long Does it Take to Build a House?