It may start as a dream and end up as reality but what are the steps to building a house? Understanding everything you need to learn and achieve may thrill you or scare you. Let’s explore building a custom home and other choices including spec or tract homes.
This article is written from the perspective of homes built in America. Different countries have quite different rules and processes, please be aware and find out from your local government bodies what’s required in your area.
We’ve built and renovated homes in England and America. We’ve also worked as real estate brokers in Illinois with many home buyers and builders. Review from our quick links or dive in for a thorough read of the steps to building a house.
What is a Custom Home?
A truly custom home would be plans you design from scratch. You would have an architect design your house based on your input and his knowledge. You choose every single finish used both outside and inside the house. All of this must pass your local village rules and depending on where you are building, there may be HOA rules you have to comply with.
Many home builders and online architects offer ready to go plans. You can customize the plan, tweak it if you like to match your needs. Then you take the plan and customize exteriors and interiors, again complying with local government rules. Your timeframe is likely to be over 1 year. Custom homes are often larger and this can add to the construction timeframe.
The steps to building a house that is custom designed needs time and patience.
What is a Spec Home?
There’s a builder either in the process of building a house for profit or ready to build for a buyer ready to sign a contract. The builder is building for a profit. He usually has a plan or two in mind for the lot. He’s already got permits if the build has started.
A buyer may get interior finish choices depending on the current stage of build. A buyer can also just let the builder finish according to his original plan. Most builders have a set level of finish available for buyers to understand what the price will buy them. Upgrades can be added, again depending on stage of construction. They can even ask for plan variations if ground has not been broken.
A spec home will not take as long to build as a custom home. Your timeframe is going to be about 1 year, dependent on ease of obtaining permits, stage of construction, location, weather and your finance. Some builders will carry the cost if building has started, from ground up you’re likely going to need construction finance.
Are Tract Homes a Better Option?
For the fastest buy into a newly built house, most areas will have builders in the process of building a tract or subdivision of new homes.
These homes are more like buying an off the shelf house but it happens to be new. The builder will have bought the land, divided it into lots and has a selection of house plans to choose from. The earlier you buy the more choice you have. Choices include lot, model and finishes. If you arrive to buy at the end there will be a lot less choice in everything.
The advantage of a tract home is you could move right into a move in ready and complete house. Prices are fixed by the builder and published so you know the costs upfront, something needed by many to obtain finance. Construction finance is not usually needed. A decent deposit will hold a house, usually somewhere between 10% and 20%. Your mortgage will close when your house is ready to occupy. The builder carries the cost of the building is his finance arrangements.
Tract homes are also a way to buy either a condo or townhouse. Tract homes are often referred to as cookie cutter homes.
From this point on we’ll talk about steps to building custom homes. If you choose a spec or tract home, just understand there will be less for you to do.
Custom Homes – Steps to Building a House
You’ve decided you want complete control of what your dream home is going to look like and where you want to build it. There’s nothing as exciting as this choice. We’ve built custom construction and are about to do it again for our retirement home.
How to Choose Location & Land
Location comes first and depends on your circumstances and desires more than anything else. Are you looking to stay local or move away. Both require some deep thought and conversation and should not be a knee jerk choice. Take your time. Sleep on it for a while, certainly more than a day! We spent a year after deciding our location before we took any additional action.
The beauty of retirement is we are using a 5 year plan to get there. You may have a lot less time but the location is critical. Do research into schools, hospitals, taxes, infrastructure, everything your family wants and needs. It might be a good idea to have one or two, a backup if you like.
Once you have decided on the location you’ll need to establish if there are any lots available for sale. Depending on the area you have chosen land may be freely available or in short supply. Have you decided on how much land? Does your area offer the size you want? There are plenty of online places you can search for lots for sale. At this point, I would notsuggest engaging a real estate agent. You need more time to research and think. So try Realtor.com or Zillow.
Choosing a lot on which to build can be full of surprises.
- Consider the direction of your front and back yard.
- Some larger lots or acreage need well and septic systems, understand the costs. At the time of writing $30k-$50k.
- Does your lot have utilities run in or is this a cost you’ll be bearing.
- Understand what’s behind your lot. More building? Conservation? Future retail expansion?
- If schools are important, check with the district you want to be in. Some subdivisions are divided when it comes to school districts.
- Never rely on listing sheets or agents when it comes to schools.
- Learn about the soil types in your area. It may dictate your foundation type and cost.
Many lots can be viewed from the street. Drive by any lots of interest if you can, you’ll learn a lot. You might find the lot is very narrow, not what you want. The lot may be on an upward rise, perhaps not suitable for your walk-out basement. There could be a house on the lot, either old or maybe burned down. You may have the expense of clearing first, a size able addition to your cost.
This is a quick way of discarding the lots you would not consider. Once you are down to a short list, find a local real estate agent to help you. Before hiring an agent, ask what experience they have and have they ever dealt with lot sales in the immediate area, and new construction. A local agent may also have builder recommendations.
Every lot on your short list should be walked. So take your boots and walk around each lot. It’s the only way to get the true lie of the land, see what’s beside you and behind. Make sure the pricing is on point, there’s no reason to ever overpay.
Soil tests are a critical part of buying your lot. Some lot sellers may have recent soil test reports for you to review. We always suggest you pay for your own tests and make any lot purchase contract subject to the results allowing you to build your home. Skipping this could result in a failing foundation.
You may wish to buy your lot first, well ahead of your build. You can also wrap your lot purchase into a new construction loan with a one time close.
How to Choose Your Builder
The steps to building a house involve both plans and builders. Some choose plans first, others may choose a builder first. Neither is wrong.
Choosing a builder is a hard part of the process of custom home building. You can seek local builders online. Perhaps you know someone who used a builder and recommends them. You may have seen a builders sign in front of a house being built. Yellow pages? Flyers or postcards you may have had? Most places have many builders to choose from. How to choose?
- Interview three builders if possible and ask questions.
- Find a builder with experience in your type of home build. Walk-out basement, brick or stone, contemporary styles, log cabin and so on.
- If you already have your basic plan done, get quotes. Give the builders a break down of what you want in your house.
- Look for builders with knowledge of your local building codes.
- Ask builders whether they sub contract or use in house tradesmen. Find out locale of sub contractors.
- Ask each builder how busy they are and how long they expect to take to build your house.
- Can the builders work to your timeframe?
- What guarantees are offered? Completion time guarantee and home construction warranty.
- What are the consequences to a builder not meeting his guarantee, make sure it’s not just a paper statement.
- Learn what happens if during construction something occurs that means a redo. Are they insured?
- How often will your builder, general contractor or his foreman be onsite?
- When can you visit?
- Where do you choose finishing products, inside and out?
- How much notice and time do you have for your decisions?
- Can a builder make minor changes during construction?
- Does the builder have any suggestions and do you understand them?
- Is your builder responsible for obtaining permits or does he want you to do that?
- Will your builder comply with permit rules? i.e. taking out a road bond for $10,000?
As you can see, choosing your builder as one of the steps to building a house, is very important. I am sure there are more questions you may have. Write them down as you think of them for your meeting.
Once you have appointed your builder, go over it all again. Builders assume you know everything. When it comes to building a house, you know very little. Do not sign a contract until you understand it all and have your finances in place. As necessary for your area or peace of mind, have an attorney review any contract before signing.
One important factor to consider when choosing a builder is the finance aspect. Learn more about new construction financing in the section below.
First Step – Which Plan To use
Whether you want to design from scratch or select an existing plan, perhaps making plan modifications, you’ll need an architect. Most architects have plans they’ve drawn before or even sell online. This can keep your plan costs down. Designing from scratch may run you $5,000 – $10,000 or more.
Choosing an architect is the same as choosing a builder. Look for one that has drawn the type of house you want before. Property styles add nuances to a plan, something your architect needs to know-how.
Remember the architect is not just drawing a flat floor plan of your house. He has to understand all the engineering aspects. He designs and draws your house in layers from the basement to the roof. He adds layers for plumbing and electrics. He must add the windows, doors, and all the local building codes must be complied with to ensure your permit will be approved.
Can You Use Pre-Drawn Plans?
To keep costs down you can search for a pre-drawn plan set. There are thousands available online! Before starting a search:
- Make a list of everything you absolutely must have.
- Place each item in order of importance.
- Consider the size of the house too as this will affect your cost.
- Then add what you would like and finally your dream things.
One of the most important things in our retirement home is a big mudroom. These are hard to find. We also wanted the mudroom to have a door to the yard not to the garage. While impossible to find these and our next list, we have found plans that can be easily modified to give us what we need.
It is cheaper to modify a plan than it is to start from scratch.
When you find plans you like, consider your lifestyle and play out scenarios. For us it’s so much about 4 dogs, anyone would think we are mad. What I am trying to do is limit the mud coming into the house. You cannot ask dogs to take boots off. So we want a room for them to dry off or be washed off. I’ve lived with a poor scenario for so long I want it fixed for the new home.
I have found a plan that has 95% of what we need and the modification makes it about perfect. And that’s what building a custom home is all about. We’ve chosen a Donald Gardner house plan, you can too, just click below.
Will You Need New Construction Finance
New construction finance is available again. After the real estate collapse in 2007/8/9 financing new home builds was the hardest of all steps to building a house. Unless you had near-perfect credit and huge down payments, lenders were turning the other way. In 2019 lenders are looking at good credit and reasonable down payments and offering one-time loan closes again.
If you already own the lot, its value might be considered as your down payment. Find lenders that specialize in new construction loans. Your builder or agent might have a few connections to help you.
One final step. Approving the builder may be something your lender insists on. This is a throwback to the collapse. Your lender wants to be sure your builder is not about to go bankrupt and walk off-site. This is not the time to choose a new startup home building company! Understand this process is to protect you as much as the lender. It can take 3 months for approval to be given.
Let’s Get Your New Home Build Started
The construction schedule for building a house is pretty much the same in all areas and is controlled by the inspections required on your permits.
Before you can apply for the permits, you’ll need to have your lot, plans and builder chosen. Permit applications will need this information and any subcontractors’ details. Permits have a cost, find out how much your location charges. They can be over $10,000, others are as cheap as a few hundred.
Included in the cost is a review of the proposed construction and any inspections your local village or town mandates. Common inspections are lot grading, foundation, utilities, plumbing, electric, framing, roofing, house completing, landscaping and perhaps a final inspection to issue a certificate of occupancy.
If you are building in an existing subdivision where roads are complete, the builder may be required to deposit a road bond fee. This ensures if he causes damage to the roads, the repair cost is not yours or the local government.
As you can see the steps to building a house require a lot of groundwork. This can take a considerable amount of time.
The first thing needed is to clear the lot. This can be removing topsoil or a tearing down an existing house. It may include removing an existing basement. The lot needs to be graded for water runoff. Then your lot will be staked for basement excavation and footings pouring. Your builder will likely need to add sediment fencing and a construction zone fence. You may have seen these, they are black and orange respectively and usually 3-4 feet high.
Note: If you use an existing foundation, the age of your house is considered to be the age of the foundation.
Don’t ever plant shrubs and flowers before you build. They’ll be trashed, guaranteed. Hold your landscaping ideas for the end of the project.
Breaking Ground & Your Foundation
Once the prep is complete the diggers will dig out your foundation area and basement if you’re having one. The builder will install wood forms in which your foundation concrete is going to be poured. You’ll likely see re-inforcement rods being added.
If you building on a slab, the entire pad will be poured shortly after. If you’re having a basement or crawl space, your footings will be added, these are likely to be layers of rocks. A slab of concrete on the top will likely be added later. Your builder will coordinate the best time based on the house build and access for cement mixers. Drainage will also be added to the inside and outside of the foundation and footings
Inspection-Your foundation and footings need time to dry. Your permit will dictate how many inspections are needed and when. The inspection steps to building a house must be completed and approved before the project continues.
At the same time, any utilities like gas and electrics, major plumbing and water supply, sump pumps, wells, and septics will be underway. Your foundation is a complex and expensive part of your new home. It’s also when the biggest machines are on site.
Once your foundation inspection is passed your builder can start building walls. He needs the electric supply for many construction tools from this point on.
Your builder is responsible for making sure all the materials arrive onsite at the right time. To go vertical you’ll see either lumbar or steel being delivered. Most US homes are frame construction. Exteriors are added after. In England, the exteriors can form part of the structure as the home is built. Log cabins are also wood as part of the structure.
Framing is also an expensive part of your home and forms the shape as well as providing the structure that everything else is adhered to. The frame will go up quickly. The first floor, followed by the floor, the second floor, the attic floor, roof trusses, window frames, door frames, basement framing if you are having a finished basement. The roof plywood goes on after that and very quickly your new home is under roof – somewhat. Exterior windows and doors are installed.
Sub-Contractors Start To Work
The next series of additions to the construction are the steps to building a house that makes it liveable. HVAC, plumbing, electrics are all roughed in. Additional electronics systems can be roughed in at this time. An inspection is likely due at this time for framing completion.
Your roof goes on next. You may be having a clay tile, asphalt, wood or metal roof. Each needs to be chosen for your needs, location, desire, and cost.
Your chosen exterior products will be added and any chimneys built. Exterior farming may be needed for archways, EIFS, stucco or decorative walls. Exterior trim, gutters, downspouts are added. Now your house should be completely under roof, and dry inside. The door can be locked and the house is secured. This is important as many of the interior products to be used need to be kept from thieves. They are easier to steal and can be pricey.
Inspections are needed at this point to be sure all codes have been complied with. No-one wants to start adding drywall to have to take it down again.
Interior Finishing Steps to Building a House
Of all steps to building a house, I consider interior finishing to be the one I want to be perfected. After the insulation is ready your builder can start with drywall. This means a lot of cutting, nailing, taping, sanding and priming ready for paint.
After the walls come the floors. This includes installing tiles, wood, carpet, Staining wood and sealing. Your walls may be painted before or after floors, a lot depends on your builder in which order he does the interior finishes.
All windows and doors need to be framed out and painted inside. Interior cabinetry is installed, your kitchens and bathrooms start to take shape. Appliances can be installed, as will sinks, toilets, baths, shower stalls. Staircase railings, doors, and drawers get handles and windows get latches and fly screens.
The HVAC will be completed with wall grills, floor vents, and the outside unit. Interior plumbing gets completed. The electrics are completed with switches and sockets. Final plumbing is completed with faucets, showerheads, and connected any appliances. A final plumbing and electric inspection will be completed.
If you are having a basement finished at the same time, expect your builder to chose whether to do this as he goes or add it at the end. It’s a matter of making the best use of his tradesmen or sub-contractors.
The interior finishing of your home can take several months as it’s one of the biggest steps to building a house. However, the weather is no longer a factor. Once the heating is installed the tradesman can work in the warm. The heat helps to dry out any leftover dampness.
Making Your New Home Perfect and Ready
The last steps to building a house happen on the outside. Patios, decks, steps, driveways and sometimes a final grade will be completed last. Your house will be cleaned of all debris, your builder will have a cleaning crew go through to make the house spotless.
All the builder’s equipment needs to be removed for the site. You should do a walk through with your builder and create a punch list. Anything wrong needs to be put right. Most builders achieve this within 30 days. Some items might prevent a final inspection, some may stop you from getting an occupancy certificate. Your builder is happy to get this done, he wants his final payment from you or your lender.
Critique your house, check everything works. You are doing this with your builder, likely he has not done it on his own. You are helping him and yourself.
Your Custom Home is Complete
There are over 200 steps to building a house, we’ve outlined the important ones and compressed some others. Just remember that for custom-built homes, you’ve got a lot of choices to make along the way. You are going to choose flooring, cabinets, light fixtures, appliances, decorate tiles, toilets, bathtubs, shower floors, handles in and out, doors interior and exterior, sinks, countertops and so on. The list seems endless!
I hope I have not missed any steps in building a house. This was a long post and if you find a step I missed, just let me know and I’ll add it in.
The residential building construction process is one for experts. I am a firm believer in hiring experience and expertise. The building construction process from start to finish does not end at the house. You or your builder may need to add a few more steps. You may need to bring road access, Your lawn may need to be totally seeded and growing, you may to install fencing. Education on all the steps to building a house in your chosen neighborhood, is what you should strive to achieve.
Best of luck if you’ll be building a custom house. We don’t offer a sample residential construction schedule, with steps to building a house but this guide should help you.