Purpose Proper definition of level of development (LOD) is one of the significant issues in building information modeling (BIM) applications; however, it is still not adequately addressed during BIM implementations. The purpose of this paper is to investigate and describe the current practice in defining the LOD in large-scale BIM-based projects and identify the challenges and solutions that were provided. Design/methodology/approach Four case studies were performed at four different types of large-scale projects to depict the current practice in determining the LOD and the required properties of elements that are going to be included in a BIM model. Semi-structured face-to-face interviews were performed to collect information from six professionals from four international firms. Findings The findings of the case studies revealed that defining LOD is an ambiguous process and requires high-cumulated experience. The results provide the challenges, adopted solutions and lessons learned. It was highlighted that the cost of including an element or related information in the model should be compared to the benefit of having that information in the model from the perspective of defined BIM uses. Research limitations/implications - The findings are based on the projects that were performed in three developing countries. However, the main contractors were international companies and the construction management firms were well-known companies in the USA. In the future, additional case studies can be performed in other countries to identify similarities and regional differences. Practical implications - The results of this study can be used to highlight the current needs in determining the LOD and guide the efforts for developing standards and policies in the AEC sector to streamline BIM adoption process in practice. The practitioners can utilize the findings of this study to increase their efficiency in adopting BIM and to decrease the time loss and cost overruns. Originality/value Most of the previous studies investigated the benefits and challenges when adopting BIM, and few of them considered LOD definition as a core part of this process. This study specifically investigated the current practice in determining the LOD and the required properties of elements that are going to be included in a BIM model. It also described the applied solutions and lessons learned in the case studies.