How long does it take to design and build a custom home?

How long does it take to design and build a custom home?

My usual answer is "about two years." That word "about" buys me a lot of leeway, however, for a true custom home designed by an architect and built by a local custom home builder in the $1million range, it is accurate.

This is a rule of thumb that I use to estimate design, bidding and construction time. This is the time from initial concept meeting to move in. Obviously, there are many factors that can affect this estimate greatly, but it is a good starting point.

Preliminary Design through Construction Documents

I ask for 6 months. It can range from 3 months to 12 months depending on how prepared the client is, the size of project, and the complexity of the design, etc.

Bidding, Contractor Interviews and Contract Negotiation

Three months is a generous time for this. Interviewing three (or more) builders can take some time to schedule. You do not want to rush the bidding process. Agree on a reasonable time frame with each contractor and get them to stick to it. This can be your first clue as to how responsive he will be during your project.


The rule of thumb from ground-breaking to move in is one year. A lot of factors can affect the construction timeline:

  • Size of project. Although smaller square footage can be more complicated, it does take longer to build a larger house.
  • Complexity of footprint. A more complex footprint will add some time to every sub from foundation, framing, trim, etc.
  • Weather. This is a real factor, however, it is often abused as an excuse. I use a program that keeps a record of weather for everyday of a construction project.
  • Number of specialty subs. The more subs your contractor has to schedule in the longer the construction project takes. Yes, more than one specialty can be working at a time, but there is a method to the madness and you want your contractor to be in charge of who comes in when.
  • Homeowner responsiveness. You have a great responsibility when it comes to keeping your construction process on schedule. You should be given a selection list with completion dates. You must make the selections by the date given. Without your timely decisions the project can come to a grinding halt. 
  • Your contractor. This is probably the number one contributor to how long your project will take. It is both an art and a science in scheduling a construction project. Ask your contractor’s references how the scheduling went for their project. How many days did it seem like the site was sitting idle? Were multiple subs crawling all over each other?

Given these three phases plus a little slush is how we come to two years. Yes, there are plenty of things you can do to speed up the process. First and foremost, in my opinion, is to find a really good architect that will not only design your home but will also guide you through the entire process. There is nothing that replaces the advantage of having an unbiased advocate on your side. Unfortunately, there are more things that can slow it down.

One thing I can guarantee, the longer you wait to get started, the longer it will be until you move into your dream home. Building a custom home is a complex and time consuming project. Take your time to do it right. Plan, budget and get a great team together!

- Sheri

As Founder and Principal Architect of Springhouse Architects, Sheri’s mission is to lead Clients through the building process with the Clients in control and Springhouse as their guide, advocate and ally.  With over twenty years experience in Residential Architecture, Sheri brings knowledge and confidence to your custom home project.

Lisa Saldivar