How to Build a House: Everything You Should Know

If you’ve ever spent time scouring the real estate listings in search of your dream home, you’ve probably arrived at the conclusion that such a place simply doesn’t exist. Indeed, when house hunting, compromise is an inevitability. You’re not going to find a property that’s totally aligned with your wildest dreams and expectations; the best you can hope for is to find a place that’s kinda close.

Or, of course, you can skip the real estate markets altogether, instead choosing to build your own house. There’s really no better way to ensure that the property is totally in sync with your specifications. The question is, is it really worth it to build a house? And if you do decide to move ahead with custom construction, what are the basic steps in the process?

Decide Whether to Build Your Own House

Let’s start at the very beginning: You’ve toyed with the idea of custom construction, but is building your own house really the best option?

As with most things, there are some pros and cons to consider. To begin with, consider some of the main benefits of building your own house:

  • You can get exactly what you want. The most obvious benefit to building your own house is that it allows you to make certain that every last detail is designed to meet your goals and expectations. You can truly design the house you want.
  • You can build almost anywhere. Well, anywhere you can find a piece of land, anyway. But with custom construction, you should find plenty of flexibility with regard to location.
  • A brand new home will likely have fewer maintenance issues. Even the most skilled contractors can make mistakes or cause construction defects. Generally speaking, though, maintenance issues are much more limited with brand new homes.

Now for the cons:

  • It’s expensive. Building a new house typically costs quite a bit more than buying an existing property.
  • Financing can be difficult. Getting a construction loan is usually a little trickier than getting a conventional mortgage.
  • Building a home takes time. When you make an offer on an existing home, you can often close in as little as one month’s time. With new construction, the whole process will take at least a year, potentially as long as 30 months.

Carefully weigh the pros and cons, sleep on it, and decide whether you’re really ready to build your own house. And if you are, read on to discover the steps in the process!

Steps of Building a House

The home building process can be divided into three basic sections: The steps you need to take before you build, the steps you need to take to complete the exterior, and the steps you need to take to flesh out the interior.

Pre-Build Requirement Steps

Before construction actually starts, it’s important to fulfill some basic pre-build requirements, defining the scope of the project so that you are ready for a smooth and successful process.

A few basic steps involved in the pre-build phase include:

  • Meet with different builders and determine which team you want to work with
  • Work with your designer to start brainstorming what you want the house to look like
  • Talk with your construction team about the project budget and potential cost-saving measures
  • Discuss different issues and obstacles that could arise, and sketch out best- and worst-case scenarios for the construction timeline
  • Evaluate the soil condition on-site to confirm that it’s ready to build
  • Check existing utilities, ensuring that your house can be hooked up/plumbed/etc.
  • Talk with your construction team about any green building options that are available
  • Make sure your construction manager has procured all the permits needed for the build to begin

In short, the pre-build phase is all about defining the scope of the project, preparing for all contingencies, and verifying that you and your builder are completely on the same page about the kind of house you’re building together. This is a crucial part of the process, as it both establishes expectations and lays the groundwork for a successful build.

Exterior Building Steps

The next phase involves building the exterior of the house. A basic summary of the exterior building steps includes:

  • Prepare the construction site and pour the foundation. Assuming you have the right construction permits, your construction crew will level the site and place wooden forms to serve as a temporary foundation.
  • Complete rough framing. Your construction crew will place floor systems, walls, and the roof. Sheathing will be placed on exterior walls, covered in a protective wrap.
  • Complete rough plumbing, electrical, and HVAC work. Licensed specialists will be brought in to install pipes and wires; sewer lines and vents; water supply lines; bathtubs and shower units; HVAC ductwork; and HVAC vent pipes.
  • Install the insulation. Next, insulation will be added to the home. This might include fiberglass, concrete blocks, cellulose, spray foam, or other types of insulation materials.
  • Complete drywall and start exterior finishes. This will include texturing and a first coat of exterior paint. Exterior finishes may include brick, stone, or stucco, among other options.

Keep in mind that, throughout this part of the process, you will have regular inspections to ensure that everything is being done safely and properly.

Interior Building Steps

As the exterior of the house comes together, your construction team will begin completing the interior, as well. There are a number of steps involved here:

  • Finish interior trim. Doors, windowsills, and decorative trim are all installed. Cabinets, vanities, and fireplace mantles are included, as well. Primary and final coats of paint will be applied. And, your builder will install hard surface flooring along with countertops.
  • Finish mechanical trims. Think light fixtures, outlets, and switches.
  • Install mirrors and shower doors. Your hard flooring will also be completed during this step.

As with the exterior building phase, the interior building phase will include several inspections, culminating in a final walkthrough.

What to Expect from Inspections

It’s important to understand that periodic inspections are typically mandated by law so that your home passes all relevant ordinances and building codes. (Specific mandates can vary from state to state.) While these inspections can seem like unnecessary hoops to jump through, delaying your progress, they can actually be critical safeguards, allowing your builder to catch problems early and address them promptly. Simply put, inspections help you verify the quality and safety of your home while minimizing potential issues later in the process.

Key Considerations When You Build a House

As you prepare to build a house, the entire process can understandably seem daunting. As such, it may be helpful to consider what other homeowners say about the building process. Here’s what many folks say they wish they had known before beginning their custom construction.

  • The schedule you’re provided is just a guideline. First and foremost, remember that building a house is indeed a process, and one in which things can and will deviate from the plan. So, while your builder will provide you with a general timeline, you shouldn’t get too attached to it. There will almost certainly be some delays or complications along the way, and it’s important to have that as your starting expectation.
  • You should design your dream house… now and for the future. Remember that this is the home you’ll likely be living in for a while to come, potentially decades. As such, it’s important to think not just about what you want now, but what you’ll need in the future. For instance, you may not have kids now, but you may have some in a decade’s time. Best to design your floor plan accordingly.
  • Finish the project before you move in. As your construction project nears completion, you’ll naturally feel excited to move in and start your new life in your new digs. However, it’s usually best to wait until the project is 100 percent complete before you move in. This will make it much easier for your building team to finish the project in a timely manner, without any undue hassle.
  • Don’t forget to plan for storage space! When designing your house, you’ll get excited about things like creating the perfect master bathroom, or developing a free-flowing open floor plan. You may even be pumped about picking out all the aesthetic finishes, like paint colors and carpeting. Storage is considerably less exciting, but it’s such an important thing to consider! Make sure you plan for some realistic storage options for you and your family.
  • Remember that not all contractors are created equal. Don’t go with the first construction company you come across. Instead, do your due diligence, interviewing a few contractors and comparing their rates as well as their communication and service skills. Don’t hesitate to ask for references or for examples of past projects. Shop around and compare until you find a contractor who instills confidence.
  • Consider investing some sweat equity. If you’re looking for ways to save money, there may be some minor projects you can tackle yourself, cutting down on labor costs. Think grouting the tile, even painting certain parts of the house. Just don’t take the DIY approach to major plumbing or electrical projects, which could be dangerous.
  • Stay neutral. In real estate, neutral colors are almost always preferable. Keep this in mind as you decide on paint colors, flooring, and other finishes. Yes, dark greens and vibrant pinks may look cool to you at the moment, but once you’re actually living in the house, you’re probably going to wish you’d opted for off-white and beige.
  • Plan for small expenses. Even if you get a construction loan, you’re likely going to end up buying some things out-of-pocket. In fact, you may be surprised at how many little trips to the hardware store you make as you try to get all the final details in place. Make sure you account for this as you think about the budget and scope of your custom construction.

A final thought: Most people who build a house wind up saying the experience was stressful but also rewarding. You’ll have some tense or frustrating moments during the construction process, but you’ll end up with a house you feel really excited about. Hang in there and trust the process!

Frequently Asked Questions About Building a House

Still have some unanswered questions about how to build a house? Here are some answers to a few of the most common inquiries.

Where do I start with the house building process?

Once you’re totally sure that you’re interested in building, the very next thing you should do is find a plot of land that you can build on. We also recommend consulting with a contractor fairly early in the process.

How much does it cost to build your own house?

The cost to build a house can vary wildly, depending on different factors. According to real estate experts, the average cost falls somewhere in the $165,000 – $482,000 range, with possible outliers at either end of the spectrum.

What’s the most expensive step in the home construction process?

Generally speaking, framing is what costs the most.

Is it better to build or to buy something already made?

This is a question you’ll have to think through on your own, starting with some of the pros and cons we mentioned above. Ultimately, there are some situations in which building won’t make sense. But there are also some scenarios in which it can be incredibly satisfying. 

Connect with Partners

One more thing: To ensure your construction process goes as smoothly as can be, it’s crucial to find the right partners.

Which partners will you need, exactly? We recommend assembling a team that includes:

  • A developer
  • An architect
  • A contractor/ home building firm
  • Inspectors
  • Key trade contractors, like plumbers, HVAC pros, etc.

 We’d love to facilitate some connections. Connect with partners whenever you’re ready to start your build.