The tricky thing about dream homes is that our fantasies can build them in a flash. But constructing tangible domiciles can take a while—a year, or maybe double that. “It is against our culture, where we want instant gratification,” says Sheri Barringer, co-owner of Barringer Custom Homes. “Building a home takes time, but it’s worth the wait.”
Add a hefty financial investment onto the laborious process, and the emotional journey can feel like a roller coaster. But just like with any ride, you’ll feel less unhinged when you know what to expect. Here’s a look at a typical custom build process—and the emotional ups and downs you can expect to accompany each stage.
Strap in, folks, and do your best to make this an enjoyable experience. “We do a formal groundbreaking, where they bring their kids out and we get them all hard hats and a shovel,” says John Sebastian, CEO of Sebastian Construction Group. “We work hard to involve clients, to keep the energy up and keep them excited.”
Pulling a building permit
In the Before Times, permitting took a few days. But during the pandemic, city permit centers were so burdened, residential projects could stall for six months, waiting for approval. “That’s out of everyone’s control,” reminds Sheri Barringer, who notes that pestering the permit office is a big no-no. The timing on permits in the first quarter of 2023: about eight to 10 weeks in University Park and two to three in Dallas.
Take Deep Breaths and Remember This
There’s a reason that “quick” and “custom” don’t go hand in hand. “The houses we do, they’re not cookie-cutter,” John Sebastian says. “There’s nothing repeated from another project; it’s not a cut-and-paste situation. I wish I could think this is like manufacturing bricks or something in a production line, but this particular, exact house has never been built before, so it’s gonna have some variables.” And in your most frustrated moments, remember that rarely will a builder purposefully drag their feet. “We have no incentive on our end to make the house go any slower than it should,” Michael Munir says. “All of us bill on progress, so if there’s not progress being made, we’re not making money.”
Earthwork and foundation
The foundation stage moves at a steady clip if the earth is dry, but progress is at the mercy of Mother Nature, and projects with basements can be especially troublesome after a storm. “The land has to dry out, so we’ve had foundations that would usually take six or seven weeks that took four or five months,” says Michael Munir, president and COO of Sharif & Munir Custom Homes. To stay sane, he suggests working ahead of your builder on design selections such as tile. “Use that time productively instead of being frustrated about what you see on site.”
Delusions of grandeur
Perhaps the speediest part of building is erecting the framework, or skeleton of the home. “It goes vertical quick,” says Blake Byrd, president of Knox Built Construction. “There’s a lot of joking, ‘Oh, this is going so fast, there’s no way it’s gonna take 16 months—we’ll be in this house in 10 months!’ ” Byrd says. “Well, that’s not exactly how it works.”
The rough-in, or mechanical stage, involves the home’s all-important guts: ductwork, pipes, electric wires. “If you’re coming by regularly, you don’t really see any change to the structure of the home, so it feels slow,” Byrd says. But builders warn against rushing this phase. “When people talk about the quality of building—that’s what’s going in behind the walls,” Barringer says. “It’s really important to have the right quality controls in place during this time, because it matters.”
Insulation and sheetrock go up in a matter of days, giving the project another burst of momentum. “Sheetrock flies up, and that really defines the rooms,” says Byrd. “It actually makes the house feel bigger.”
Fixtures and finishes
Many of your selections—cabinets, floors, tile, windows, and exterior elements—start to go in, and while it doesn’t necessarily move fast, you’ll see progress on new components with each site visit. “It starts to feel like the home is coming alive,” Byrd says.
Don’t expect painters to waltz in with rollers and slap on a coat of latex in high-quality homes. “The prep work for a high-quality home can take every bit of six to eight weeks,” Byrd says. “They’re coming in with auto body Bondo and touching up every corner at the base, all the door and window casings, bonding everything so you don’t see the seams.” The meticulous prep for museum-quality walls can feel like a drag. As Barringer puts it: “It’s just sanding, bonding, priming. Repeat, repeat, repeat.”
Trim out and punch out
While you’ll get some jolts of joy as appliances and countertops are installed, you’ll have to exercise more patience than ever during this final sprint. “It looks done, but it’s not done,” says Sebastian of the home’s final phase. “I always encourage a client: Let us fully punch it out before you start bringing in your artwork and furniture, because those things make it more difficult. That final fine-tuning—lighting adjustments, tweaking hardware to make sure everything closes properly—it could take a couple of months on some of these big projects. It’s like death by a thousand cuts.”
It’s finally done! (But now you have to move.)