Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Picture Perfect Package

“At first we were looking to buy an existing home,” Connie Nickerson explains about her plans with husband Barry Cole. “But we didn’t see anything we liked. Then we started thinking, why buy someone else’s home. We’re just going to tear it apart and rebuild it anyway. Let’s build our own right from the start.”

Connie and Barry knew this from experience. The home they wanted to move out of was modular and, in the time they lived there, they had modified it extensively - practically rebuilding it - to suit their specific desires.

Once the decision to build was made “things just fell into place,” says Connie. They were suddenly given an offer too good to turn down. “The piece of land next door to us was put up for sale and the real estate agent contacted us to see if we were interested.” Since oceanfront property in the area never lasts long, Connie and Barry jumped at the opportunity. The wedge-shaped, heavily wooded, five-acre lot was the perfect location for a new home, situated on a hill with a majestic view down to the Atlantic. Plus, it was convenient for Connie and Barry to live in their old house next door and supervise the construction.

Then the search for a suitable home plan began. After an extensive search through numerous magazines and brochures, the couple found their way to Buck’s Home Building Centre in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia.

It was there that Connie and Barry found the right home for them: the 2300 square foot, one-storey Sinclair in Home Hardware’s Beaver Homes & Cottages Design Book. “The Sinclair had everything we wanted in terms of space and layout,” says Connie. At Buck’s, the couple also found Peter Biddle, who helped them plan and price their project and who also helped with the modifications Connie and Barry wanted.

“Peter helped us out tremendously,” Connie says. “He’s the one we leaned on the most. The three of us put our heads together and there was a lot of talking and a lot of thought put into revising the plans.” Numerous modifications and upgrades came out of these brainstorming sessions. The wall between the master bedroom and the second bedroom was removed, creating a wonderfully spacious master suite. The en suite bathroom was extended by two feet. Interior doors through the house were changed to French doors to let in more sunlight. Exterior French doors also replaced the sliding patio doors leading outside from both the Master bedroom and the dinette. Pocket French doors now separate the family room from the rest of the house.

In order to maximize the home’s stunning ocean view, the great room window was replaced with a much larger 151-inch plate glass window with sidelights that open. Connie and Barry even added a patio that, while not included in the original plans, was also a Home Hardware design.

Peter made a significant contribution as well when Connie and Barry’s previous house didn’t sell as quickly as they’d hoped. The foundation for the new home had already been poured, but Peter suggested the couple put a hold on construction to relieve the pressure until a buyer had been found.

The foundation was covered using traditional methods, but this proved insufficient in the face of coastal wind and rain. “At first, water was getting in to the basement,” Peter says, “but then we came up with an idea that worked.” Being beside the Atlantic Ocean inspired an innovative solution. “We decided to try a boat covering. We put that over the foundation and it worked perfectly.”

Soon after, Connie and Barry’s old house sold. The closing date meant that construction timelines on the new home were tight. Construction began on May 15, and Connie and Barry had to be out of their old home by July 30.

Once again, Peter Biddle proved a strong asset. “I always recommend a few different contractors,” Peter says, “so that customers can interview them and pick the one they feel they can work with best.” Connie and Barry chose Darrell Wentzell Carpentry and couldn’t have been happier.

“The carpenter was excellent,” Connie says with enthusiasm. “We’d recommend him to anyone. In fact, from our front window we can see him working on his next job, building a lighthouse museum.” Barry concurs with Connie’s assessment. As a retired electrician, he has been on countless construction projects and has seen everything that can go wrong on job sites. He found nothing to worry about through the entire process. “It was the cat’s meow, like they say. The home is well planned and designed and everything just fell together like a jigsaw puzzle,” Barry says. “We’re very proud of this home.”

“It’s lovely and quiet, “Connie adds. “You can’t even hear the rain when it’s raining. It’s a really well built house.”

For Peter Biddle and Buck’s Home Building Centre, such customer satisfaction is the ideal outcome. “Our job is to take the stress away from the customer,” Peter says. “All they have to do is pick up the phone and call us and ask to have the job done. My greatest satisfaction at the end of a job is shaking hands with the customer and asking if they got everything they wanted.”

In the case of Connie Nickerson and Barry Cole, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Custom Homes at Package Prices

“I wanted a custom home, but I did not want to pay a huge custom price,” explains Rob Myhre, proud owner of this beautiful new river front home, near Lake Erie, Ontario. “I had a friend purchase a building through Ted Costen at the J & K Home Building Centre in Brantford and he thought it went well, and he saved a lot of money. Personally, my biggest concern was quality. I wanted it done right. I thought: let’s just check out these packages”

So Rob did. Ted remembers the project well: “I had done a house in St. George for a customer and Rob knew the owner. He mentioned that I was able to massage the plan and the budget to suit them. So Rob came to see me.” It was an unusual project in more ways than one, “The house was going on a sloping river front property,” explains Ted. “It needed some engineering, huge pilings, and there were a lot of costs associated with this. Rob needed to make the house cost-effective, and that’s something that I really like doing.”

Rob and his family also had very specific criteria for any new home they chose to build: “Main floor, one story, ravine walkout, near the water and more a California style,” he lists off. “And we wanted three-bedroom, a big master and a big party area.” Above all, “We wanted a quality home. We didn't want formal living or dining, all we wanted was a large great room. A two-person home built around entertaining, for family and friends coming over,” he remembers.

The lot, though perfect and to their specifications, required the services of an engineer in order to build. “I’m on the south side of Black Creek, and that side is totally ravine,” says Rob. “I would say that my property is in the middle of the ravine, probably about 140 feet from the water right up to the top, and it’s quite a slope.” Though it was what they wanted, the site posed some unique challenges: “Because of the proximity to the water, the City made us do tests in order to determine the stability of the soil, to see if we could put a foundation on it. The closer that we got to the water, the deeper the foundation had to go.” The dimensions of the pie-shaped property also created additional issues, “With everything being so tight, we not only had to get a huge backhoe in there to excavate,” Rob explains, laughing, “We had to be able to backfill!”

Foundation and engineering challenges overcome (and apparently worth every penny) Rob and his wife had settled on Home’s Silver Maple model with some custom modifications. “I wanted just a single level with a walk out,” he explains. “We liked the outside [of the Silver Maple], and then we found an interior that we liked and had Ted work on that.”

“I love the creation of the interior plan,” says Ted “The creating is the high point of working with the customer. When all that happens and they finish happy, I’m really happy.” The home included many changes and upgrades, among them a high-end front door. “We put a lot of windows on the back and that just lightened it right up,” he continues. “It has 10-foot ceilings in the basement and we put steel beams in so we didn't have a bunch of posts in the way.”

Though he’s been helping people build their dream homes with Home Hardware’s Package Sales program for 30 years (“I have over 400 of them between Durham and Tobermory!”) Ted clearly views Rob’s project as one of his most memorable, “It’s amazing, for a 1500 square foot home,” he says. “It’s almost trickery, because it’s really enormous. It shows really well for a house that’s not a monster. We massaged the plans to suit them so that the only thing that was about the same was the doorknob on the front door. The front yard is very small, so he doesn't have a lot of maintenance, they have a gourmet kitchen, they can go out the back of their house and get right on their yacht and go out into the harbour... They didn't cut a corner anywhere.”

Ted’s services did not stop with the sale. He handled the many revisions to the building plans, the permit processes and assisted Rob in co-ordinating with and getting quotes from tradespeople. Because of Home’s unique “on time delivery” program, materials for package homes are delivered to the building site on an as-needed basis, eliminating delays and reducing the damage done by the elements as well as limiting “shrinkage” from jobsite theft.

As far as the timing went, everyone seems pleased with the outcome. “I've heard of people going two years building a new house,” says Rob. “We started July 7th and we finished May of the following year. I felt really good about that.” Though he admits that there were the occasional stresses and strains, given the unusual location he was really happy to have it done in that period of time. “Would I do it again?” he asks, pausing for thought. “I think so!”

Because the lot was so unique, and because Rob’s list of must-haves was so specific, in the end this truly was a custom home, but without the custom price tag. Because of Ted’s experience he figures that, “By the time Rob and his wife were done, and even with all the upgrades, it was still about $40,000 cheaper than the other nearest quote. He was a happy guy. What I’m waiting for now is for them to give me a referral,” he says, laughing.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

It's All About the View

When Karen and Jeff Coles decided to build their retirement home, on the shore of Bellwood Lake in Southwestern Ontario, there was one aspect of the house that was crucial: the view. There’s little point in living next to a beautiful body of water if you can’t enjoy it in panoramic splendor and from every angle. “It’s all about the view,” Karen says.  The ability to capitalize on that was one of the reasons the Coles chose their home from the Beaver Homes & Cottages Design Book.

After purchasing a lot by the lake in June 2009, the Coles were planning to sell their home and design a new modest cottage for the waterfront property – all that the municipality would allow. A change in legislation made a larger home possible and discussions were held with an architect whose quote was out of reach. Fortunately, a neighbour had picked up a copy of the Beaver Home & Cottage Design Book. Karen looked in it and thought, “Wow, there’s some nice stuff here.” They selected the Beauport II model and the journey towards stunning views began.

After discussing how the Beaver program works with a Home Hardware Building and Design Consultant at a Toronto Home Show, the Coles were given “a fair and reasonable quote.”

Then the work began in earnest. Modifications to the Beauport II design were made over the winter, and the revised plans were ready for construction to begin in the spring. Karen runs down a list of some of the key modifications. “We got the biggest windows we could get and we opened up the walls around the stairwell. We completely changed the second floor loft, making it larger and more open. We even had the position of the main support beam moved, which they did after consulting an engineer. All of it was no problem at all.”

“We didn’t have to pick everything all at once,” Karen points out. “We could change our minds as we went along and it was not a problem.”

“As contractors, we know that if you buy a package it’ll be cheaper than doing it piece by piece,” Karen says. “And Home can supply absolutely everything – kitchens, flooring, light fixtures, plumbing – everything.”

Even that, however, is not the whole story. Flexibility is integral to any project in the Beaver book.

“Building the house through Home was wonderful because there were some parts of the job we wanted to do ourselves, or have our own people do, and that was never a problem.”

Modifications were made at every stage of the process, not only during the planning process.  “We didn’t have to pick everything all at once,” Karen points out. “We could change our minds as we went along and it was not a problem.”

As a result, the colour of the siding was changed three weeks before it was due to go up. Interior door designs were changed along the way as well. The stairs were made wider too “and it didn’t cost us any more money.”

Even with all that versatility and accommodation, “the best part,” Karen says, “was the schedule.”  The Beaver Homes & Cottages consultant at Home worked along with Karen and Jeff so that material was always delivered exactly when it was needed. “I don’t think there was a single day that I had to wait for anything,” Karen says with satisfaction.

Since the drive in to the site is like most cottage country roads, curving and sloping, “it was adventurous at times for the deliveries but the guys did a great job.” Nothing was late or arrived incomplete.

As a result, in addition to being on budget, the job was also completed on time, with construction beginning in early June and finishing by the first week of November.

What’s most remarkable about the Coles’ decision to use Home and their experience with the process is that they run their own contracting business, J. A. Coles & Sons Ltd. So they know how projects ought to go and they recognize when a job is handled in the right way.

“This expertise led to one other unique modification. There are three fireplaces in the house.” Karen says. “As a masonry contractor, Jeff built two of three fireplaces with stone from our own beach.”

In the end, the Coles got the outstanding views they were hoping for. And their views of the Beaver building process are pretty nice, too.