Updated: Nov 28
Building a custom home is a significant undertaking, filled with excitement and challenges in equal measure. In Part 1 of this series we went over the preconstruction process of assembling the right team, getting a design in place, and permitting. In part 2 I want to talk about what the actual construction will look like, including a general schedule, quality expectations, and payments.
Your home build will be a roller coaster of excitement; some phases are fun to watch and seem like they happen so fast (ex. framing) and others aren't as visually stimulating and seem to drag even if they're progressing like they should (ex. mechanical rough-ins). Every home is different from the next one, but in general the schedule of building a house is going to be pretty standard, especially along the critical path. Your build will follow the following phases (after pre-construction):
Grading - Preparing the land and underground utilities for vertical construction
Foundation - Building the base for your home
Framing/Dry-in - Creating the sturcture of the house and installing the main weather protecting barriers (roofing, weather resistant barrier, windows/doors)
Rough-in - Installing everything that goes into your walls and ceiling before drywall (electrical, plumbing, hvac, insulation, etc)
Exterior Finishes - Siding/masonry, paint, landscaping, etc. This should start after rough-in and concurrently with interior finishes
Interior Finishes - All of the pretty things you can see when the home is completed.
Punchout - The last bit of finishing stages, fixing mistakes, cleaning up, and making the home move-in ready.
Quality - An Important Conversation
It sounds like common sense that a $500,000 home can't have the same level of quality as a $5,000,000 home, but when you're the one paying someone hundreds of thousands of dollars of your hard earned money, you're still going to expect the highest quality. That's why it's important to have conversations with your builder early and often about these expectations. Many homeowners have an idea of what's good vs bad, but often don't have a "why" to back it up. I'd highly recommend starting with our series on Building Standards to help you know what those minimum standards are and communicate to your builder (in writing) if you want something better than that. The North American Homebuilders Association also sells a guide to minimum building standards, if you need additonal resources.
Another thing to consider when addressing quality is when will the work be up to standards. There are no perfect builds just like there are no perfect people, so inevitably something will get done wrong. What's important is that they get done correctly before it's all said and done and mistakes get caught and corrected before they become a bigger issue. Good builders/project managers will continually check their trades' work and communicate any corrections that need to be made. It's ok if you, as the homeowner, make lists as well, but be tactful how you communicate them. Even good builders who care about their houses and homeowners can get disenfranchised with a job if the bulk of their communication is getting told what they've done wrong. Talk with your builder early on about lists like this and how to best communicate them to each other.
One of the best pieces of business advice I ever received was "never mess with people's money". Money has so much emotion attached to it that it can ruin a business relationship in the blink of any eye; so it's important to address the costs and payments of a construction project as early as possible. Every builder will have a slightly different approach to payments, but there are some general rules:
Unless they specifically offer it as a service for a fee, a builder is not going to cash flow your construction project, so it's important to stay on top of your payments to them to keep your project moving.
A deposit should be expected, but be careful not to get too far ahead of the accrued expenses, and never pay anyone in full up front. Make sure they have enough financial incentive to come finish the job.
At the end of the project, make a list of what you need done (within the agreed upon scope) before final payment. When those items are addressed, make sure you make that payment in a timely manner. Even if you find additional items later, those should fall under your warranty.
Again, every builder is different, but at New South Homes our billing schedule is:
50% non-refundable deposit for pre-construction services, then the remaining 50% due with the pre-construction final deliverable
5% of the expected construction costs as a non-refundable deposit that will go towards expenses if the project moves forward
15% additional refundable deposit for cash flow at the start of construction
Expenses billed at least monthly (or as needed) until project completion
Final invoice billed with the Certificate of Occupancy
Let us know if you have more questions on the process of building a custom home during the construction phase and check out part 3, our final post of this series covering warranty and maintenance.