The Construction Process From Vacant Land to Developed Property

Now that your plans are completed and you know exactly what to build, it’s time to get to work (or hire a contractor to do so). The construction process can seem daunting, but just like anything else, there is a logical process to follow that will break it down step by step and seem a little less overwhelming. If you are a DIYer, be prepared…this is going to be a major project that will require a significant amount of time and expertise.

The Order of the Construction Process

The construction process begins as soon as the first permit is approved. We will dive into permits a little more below, but essentially a permit is approved once the county or municipality has reviewed and approved your plans. There is a sequence that must be followed, and oftentimes, permits are issued separately for each step of the process. Each county or municipality is going to be a little different but here is a general outline of some of the major steps:

  1.  Survey, Address Assigned & Driveway Cut: The county is going to require that you produce a survey identifying the borders and boundaries of the property. They will use this to review your land plan and ensure you meet the required set-backs and lot coverage ratios. They will then likely assign an address to the property and will issue a permit for the driveway cut. This will be your main access point to the property going forward.
  2. Septic/Sewer: Before you are able to start putting in the foundation and building the structure, they will require that you have the waste-water treatment system in place. This is to ensure that a structure is not erected without it, therefore leading to possible groundwater contamination. You will need to ensure that your system is located far enough away from your water source to prevent any contamination issues (which will also be identified and approved in your land plan). If you are connecting to a public utility, they might start to excavate the areas where the lines will go prior to putting in the foundation.
  3. Water/Well: Next, you will want to get your water system in place, whether it’s a well, water storage tanks, or connecting to a public utility.
  4. Foundation: The foundation can usually be excavated concurrently with the septic/sewer and water systems in many areas so you can take advantage of excavating all areas as needed at the same time, instead of doing it in phases.
  5. Frame Up: Once the foundation is complete and sewer & water are ready to go, you can start to go vertical and build the structure.
  6. Roof: After the walls are erected you can install the roof and stabilize the structure.
  7. Weatherproofing: You don’t want to leave the wood frame exposed too long so as soon as the roof is installed and walls are up, start working to weatherproof the structure. There are a number of different materials out there and some of the more common types are Tyvek or WeatherSmart.
  8. Windows & Doors: This is the final step to actually weatherproofing the structure. With the walls up and the roof on, you are ready to put in the windows and doors.
  9. Plumbing & Electrical: With the structure fully weatherproofed, you are ready to start working on the interior and install the plumbing and electrical. First, rough in all the plumbing and wire the house with all electrical needed, and the last step comes with the finishes in place.
  10. Finishes: This includes everything from flooring to paint to putting on those electrical outlet covers. This is one of the most tedious steps as this involves everything needed to deliver the finished product. If you are working with a contractor, make sure you do a comprehensive walk through with a punch list to ensure they deliver exactly what you paid for.


Permits are issued by the county or municipality after they review the plans and confirm you are building the structure to code. Permits cost money, and they usually require physical inspections to close out and grant a certificate of occupancy or CO. The national average cost of a building permit is approximately $1,000 but it can be as high as $7,500 depending on which city, county or municipality you live in. Small towns or rural areas may charge as little as $100 for a single permit to be issued. has a great article that outlines the average costs for each renovation or improvement being considered that will help you to put together your budget. Permits are also usually issued in a sequence – meaning you don’t get all your permits at once. The sequence follows the order in which the property should be constructed to make sure each step is completed correctly, and they can monitor the build every step of the way. While permits can be tedious, they are issued to make sure the structure is built safely.

Time Limit to Build

This is an important consideration in the construction process. Once a building permit is issued, the permit will have an expiration date requiring you to complete the project within a specified period of time. Building permits can usually be extended with approval from the building department, but they will not allow them to be extended indefinitely and they will want to see progress between extensions. The time limit is a reasonable amount of time for you to complete that phase of the project but be aware of the expiration dates. If a permit expires, they will not reopen the permit and will require that you submit for a new permit and pay the applicable fees.

Side note – certain areas actually have a restriction on when you must initiate construction from the time that you purchase the property. This is not very common, but this is definitely one of the key questions to ask in your due diligence. If you end up buying a property with this restriction and didn’t intend to build right away, you could face significant fines. Again, this is rare, but don’t make the mistake of not asking if you don’t intend to build right away.

DIY Construction

In today’s day and age, there is a YouTube video for pretty much everything – including building a house or a cabin. If you are a DIYer, this is a great opportunity for you to add significant value to your property by putting in the sweat equity and building on your own. The building department will not discriminate and will approve your plans and permits as long as you are building to code. If you don’t have any experience building a home or working in a trade like plumbing or electrical, you might want to seek out the advice and expertise of some subcontractors. There are also some really cool kits and prefab homes that require less knowledge and expertise to construct. If you do it on your own, hire subcontractors, build from a kit, or get a prefab home delivered, you will still need to pull the applicable permits and have all the necessary inspections to get your certificate of occupancy.

Hiring a General Contractor

General Contractors (GCs) bring a lot of experience and expertise to help you avoid serious and costly mistakes along the way. But, beware – not all General Contractors are the same. Just like every profession and industry, there are always some bad apples out there. Make sure you go through an extensive interview and always ask for references from previous jobs they have completed. Call those references and ask for their honest and unbiased opinion. If a GC is reluctant to give you references, that is an immediate red flag. GCs are required to be licensed and maintain some continuing education, but there are plenty of horror stories out there about GCs who have taken advantage of their customers. Some of the advantages of using a GC are they oversee the entire process from start to finish including developing your plans, pulling permits and delivering the finished product. The biggest drawback is that you will need to pay for their services. GCs usually charge a premium for every service provided so anticipate you will pay approximately 15% – 30% more if you are using a GC. Lastly, GCs can’t do everything and still require a lot of input and guidance from you so be prepared to be very involved even though you have someone managing the build for you.

Best Time of the Year to Start

The best time of the year to start building is completely dependent on the climate. In Chicago, they have a funny saying that they only have two seasons; Winter and Construction season. This is because the winters are so cold that you can’t work outside.  The same is true in any area with cold winters. It is significantly more challenging to dig a foundation in the middle of winter when the ground is frozen solid, or to put on a roof when it’s snowing and freezing temps. So the common advice is that if at all possible, you will want to plan your build to start at the beginning of spring or early summer so you can get the foundation in, the walls up and the roof on before the weather starts to turn. Then when winter comes, you will be able to work inside the home with heat and shelter and finish your project.


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