Residential construction is one of the hottest markets in the US economy, accounting for more than $700 billion annually. Building a house is a big undertaking, both for first-time homeowners and seasoned homebuilders alike, from pre-construction (planning, financing, permitting, etc.) to the building phases required for occupancy (excavation, framing, electrical, etc.). And for both homeowners and contractors, time is money. So how long does it actually take to build a house in the US?
The short, unfulfilling answer is: “It depends.” The amount of time it takes to build a house will vary based on many factors. Luckily, the US Census Bureau tracks this data in the Survey of Construction. From single-family homes in the Northeast to multi-family dwellings in the West, we’ll break down the numbers that help you come up with a realistic time estimate.
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The average time to build a house in the US
In 2020, the average time to build a new single-family house in the US was 6.8 months, starting from the time construction actually began. This figure has remained fairly constant since the Census Bureau began tracking it, hovering between 6–7 months since the 1970s.
Note: This figure does not include the time from authorization to the start of home construction, which takes an average of one month.
Multi-family houses take longer to build, averaging 15.4 months nationally in 2020 (or 17.4 months including time from authorization to the start of construction). This includes houses with anywhere from 2 to more than 20 units. The average length of multi-family construction projects has risen steadily since about 2000, when it was just 9.8 months.
Keep in mind that this is the average time to build a house nationally. Depending on who is building, and where it’s being built, the actual time can vary quite a bit. Even the national average fluctuates from year to year. Below, we will outline the average time to build each region, as well as some historical data to explain how things change over time.
Home construction by builder type
One of the largest contributing factors to the average time to build a house is deciding who will be performing the work.
There are basically three options: homes built for sale by developer or contractor, homes built by contractors hired by homeowners, and owner-built homes. Each has its pros and cons.
Built for sale
Homes built specifically for selling are considered spec homes, and they’re the fastest to build. There isn’t any feedback from a customer along the way, and these homebuilders typically won’t waste time waiting on specific brand materials or products. It’s all about what’s available and what makes the most sense in regard to profitability.
When a homeowner hires a contractor to build their house, it’s usually considered a custom-built home. Custom-built homes take longer than spec homes for a few reasons. For one, the homeowner might have to purchase the property and finance the home in separate transactions. Also, the homeowner is likely to have specific desires and requirements that the general contractor will have to meet, and they often come with downtime. But, because there’s a seasoned professional at the helm, these homes are still relatively quick to build.
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There’s another option where the property owner either builds the home themselves or acts as their own general contractor known as owner-built. These projects take the longest for a few reasons, such as the property owner having another job and family life that must take priority over the build, or just simple inexperience. However, there can be significant savings.
US home construction by region
The average time to build a house for a single-family in 2020 in the Northeast among all build types was 10.7 months. That’s a stark increase from the mere 5.9 months it took to build a house 40 years ago.
For spec home projects, the 2020 average was 9.8 months. Projects led by a general contractor hired by a property owner took 10.8 months. For houses built by owners, the job took 12.9 months.
Northeastern multi-family house construction took an average of 17.5 months in 2020. Two to four-family projects took 14.9 months, while five to nine-family buildings took 23.4 months. The average dropped a bit to 14.9 for ten to 19-family projects, but then jumped again to 22.5 months for buildings with 20 or more dwellings.
- 5% of projects wrap up in under 3 months
- 28% of projects are complete within 4–6 months
- 25% of projects take 7–9 months
- 16% of projects take 10–12 months
- 9% of projects require 26 months or more for completion
Things move a little faster in the Midwest than they do in the North, with 7.4 months being the average time to build a single-family house in 2020. And these projects have remained fairly fast: They took an average of 6.5 months in 2001 and 6.9 months in 2011.
The breakdown for average build time by build type is 6.6 months for a spec home, 7.7 months for a contractor-built home, and 11.1 months for homeowner-run projects.
In 2020, it took an average of 14.8 months for Midwestern multi-family projects. For two to four-family structures, the average was 13.6 months. Five to nine-family structures took 16.7 months. For ten to 19-family projects, it took an average of 12.1 (making it the fastest multi-family type), while 20-family-plus dwellings took an average of 16.9 months.
The percentages breakdown as such:
- 10% of projects take 3 months or less
- 44% of projects take 4–6 months to complete
- 26% of projects take 7–9 months
- 10% of projects are completed in 10–12 months
- 10% of projects take 13 months
The year 2020’s average for building a single-family house in the south was 5.9 months, making it by far the fastest region for home building.
Homebuilding in the South has always been quick, with 1971’s average time being 4.4 months. Accounting for 2001’s 5.8 months and 2011’s 5.9 months, the workflow has remained pretty consistent.
Project leadership does make an impact, however: Spec homes took just 5.2 months in 2020, contractor-built homes took 8.1 months, and owner-built structures took 10.7 months.
Unlike other regions’ fluctuations in multi-family time frames, the time remains pretty consistent across dwelling units. Two to four-family units took 9.4 months (which is the outlier), five to nine-family units took 14.7 months, ten to 19-family units took 14.1 months, and units for 20 families or more taking 16.4 months. These numbers are good for a 2020 average of 14.7 months.
The project percentages break down like this:
- 54% of projects wrap up in just 4–6 months
- 22% of projects are completed in under 3 months
- 14% of projects take 7–9 months
- 6% of projects take 13 months or more
- 5% of projects take 10–12 months
While the average time to build a house in the West isn’t as fast as it is in the South, but it’s lightyears ahead of the Northeast. The year 2020’s average time to build a house was 7.5 months, up slightly from 2001’s 6.3 months and 2011’s 6.8 months.
Like any other region, the project type does play a role in the average. Spec homes took 6.5 months to build, contractor-built homes took 10.7 months to build, and owner-built homes took 14.3 months to build (the longest of the owner-built project timelines).
Building a multi-family structure out West took an average of 15.3 months. That average consists of the 13.1 months it takes to build a two to four-family residence, the 13 months to build a five to nine-family home, the 14.8 months for ten to 19-family buildings, and the 19.3-month average time for buildings with 20 or more residences.
Almost half of housing projects in the West take 4–6 months to complete on average, and the breakdown is as follows:
- 8% of projects are finished in 3 months or less
- 49% are completed in 4–6 months
- 22% of projects take 7–9 months
- 9% of projects take 10–12 months
- 11% of projects take 13 months or more
Factors that can increase build time
Obviously, there is a wide range of project timelines based on region and project type. Several factors come into play and cause these variances across the homebuilding industry.
House type and size
The type of house being built is a massive factor in the timeline. While there might not be a significant difference between modular and stick building in the long run, custom-designed homes will take longer to build than one out of a catalog.
Also, single-family homes simply take less time than multi-family projects as they require less plumbing, less electrical, fewer kitchens, and fewer bathrooms — all time-consuming projects.
The size of the house will obviously affect the build time as well — and just because a house is single-family doesn’t mean it’s small. In 2019, the average home size was 2,300 square feet — but the largest home for sale that year topped out at a whopping 70,000 square feet.
The building season in New England is considerably shorter than that of Florida. Frozen ground in the winter makes concrete hard to pour, and snow and ice can also make framing a perilous endeavor — situations that contractors in more temperate states don’t have to worry about.
While the South has hurricanes to contend with, the North has several months months of weather unsuitable for fast construction.
The plans might look great on paper, but things have a way of changing once those plans hit the job site. Unforeseen issues, miscommunication around the construction specifications, and jobsite curveballs can render plans useless and cause delays.
Payments are always an issue in construction, and one payment issue can completely derail a project timeline. If the property owner is dealing with some shaky financing arrangements, it’s bound to have a trickle-down effect before the project’s completion.
When payment problems plague a construction project, mechanics liens are often the fastest solution. While their speed is excellent for the contractors and subs, they can slow the project progress down tremendously.
A mechanics lien can make additional financing difficult to secure and make the property less liquid. If there’s a lien filed and property owner doesn’t square it away, it can actually cause them to lose the property altogether in a foreclosure suit. At that point, project timeline is the least of the concerns.
Supply chain problems
Builders consume a lot of materials in the process of constructing a home, and those materials aren’t always readily available. The ongoing lumber shortage will likely increase the amount of time it takes to build a home considerably when the Census Bureau’s data becomes available next year.
When a homeowner is building their dream home, they tend to involve themselves quite a bit along the way. They often change the plans, twist the specs, and ask the contractor to alter the plan. While it’s their right to do so, each change results in a change order and affects the timeline.
Owner-built projects often come off the rails a bit due to inexperience. Owners tend to make mistakes that seasoned GCs avoid. From scheduling subcontractors to finding the materials needed, inexperience can throw an estimated time of delivery for a loop.
4 tips to speed up building time
Some things that affect the timeline are unavoidable, but there are some you can manage. The following tips will help reduce the amount of time it takes to build a house.
1. Don’t leave financing up to chance
Make sure you have the financing required to finish the project. Nothing can cause a timeline to implode faster than a payment issue. Once subs and suppliers realize they’re not getting paid on time, it’ll be hard to ask them to complete the project in a timely manner.
Learn more about financing: Construction Finance | Overview, Resources & FAQs
2. Be clear about the contract terms
Choose a type of construction contract that works for both parties, and make the terms as clear and detailed as possible in order to avoid delays. Having a clear scope of work leaves less room for confusion, which means a contractor has a better idea of what’s expected. Also, be sure that the specifications are dialed in, and respond quickly to contractors if they have questions.
3. Plan out the schedule
One of the best ways to speed up the amount of time it takes to complete a project is by creating a detailed project schedule. This schedule will help keep the subs on track while also ensuring you’re able to manage their tasks and timing — a major consideration that can lead to a lot of wasted time.
4. Prequalify the contractor
Before you enter into a contract with a GC, you want to do as much research as possible. Not all general contractors are as well-rounded as they’d like you to believe. Be sure to get references to speak to about working with a particular GC.
It also helps to speak to some of the GC’s former subcontractors. These folks will know better than anyone the amount of time it takes to get paid and help you avoid any payment disputes that could obliterate the timeline.
Read the guide: How to Prequalify a General Contractor
Not every house is average
Knowing the average might help shed some light on how long your project might take, but they’re only a compilation of timeframes, not guidelines.
Your project could take significantly less than average or much, much longer. It’s important to do your homework and use the tips discussed above to ensure your project stays on track.