Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Building your Dream with Home

When it came time for Mike and Joan Smith to realize their plans for leaving the 'Big Smoke' and relocating to Ontario's near North, they knew what they wanted, "We lived and worked in Toronto for over 40 years," explains Mike, a former executive in the insurance business. "We had a cottage for over 25 years. We thought we'd like to move to Muskoka for a quiet, private life." Sounds simple enough, but finding their dream home proved more difficult than the couple had anticipated: "We must have looked at 25 homes, but we just couldn't find anything," he continues, "They all needed too much work." Deciding to build their own dream retirement home, the couple, both avid golfers, were thrilled to find the perfect location: a large private lot in a small subdivision just outside of Gravenhurst, backing onto the Muskoka Sands golf course.

The spot was ideal - now all the Smiths needed to do was find a home to build on it. Enter David Langtree, a Home Design Consultant at the Gravenhurst Home Building Centre. "They came in the store and talked to me," he recalls. When people who are thinking of building visit for the first time, "We usually try to find out where and why and how soon are they building, and talk about their budget. I usually have them look at the book, and then just let them go think about it after I tell them a bit about the product." Langtree also conveys another very important piece of information to his customers: "This is not just like buying a house at some lumber store, I am attached to the deal and will be part of the whole process."

After the Smiths visited David Langtree, wanting to make sure they explored all of their options, they did some additional research; "We looked at other home designs and home design catalogues, and we found that the best catalogue was Home Building Centre's," says Mike. "We spent hours going through it, looking for the ideal house."
After deciding that a bungalow would best suit their lifestyle, the Smiths found a plan that had everything they were looking for. "It was just a nice layout, we wanted a view for starters, and there are just tons of large windows, even the basement windows are large," enthuses Mike. "We liked the looks and the design of the house, and we just love the master bedroom."

Once the Smiths had chosen a design they liked, they returned to the Home Building Centre for another meeting with David Langtree in order to get a ballpark price, start finalizing the home plan and sign the necessary paperwork. "At this point we sign the contract, ask for a small deposit and postdated cheques for the balance in three equal payments spread over 90 days," explains Langtree, something that Mike Smith really appreciated, "I liked that a lot. We needed the money from our unsold home in Toronto to pay the balance," the Smiths intended to sell their old house, but needed to live in the home while construction was completed. "That was a real bonus for us, that things were flexible."

Their new home's layout and design were flexible as well, "In between getting the deposit and the first payment, we go through the house piece by piece, room by room, making sure they like everything and that everything's acceptable," says Langtree. "If we need to adjust a window size, this is when we do it. At this time we may also add other product to the house beyond the base package; different flooring, upgraded windows, upgraded siding," he continues, adding, "Almost every time a kitchen is also sold with the house. We work with that design, what they would like for style or finish, and get that done as well." The Smiths were no exception in that department, "David helped us design the kitchen and had some very helpful hints on that, and Home Building Centre ended up installing it," Mike says. Determining all the finishing touches requires a lot of decision-making and time, so Langtree is careful not to overwhelm his clients with too much information, "It might take two or three meetings to get this all done, you can't do it all in one sitting," he explains.

With the process truly underway, the Smiths found themselves busy hiring a general contractor (Langtree provides clients with three or more names to choose from), getting the necessary permits, having the lot dug out and basement put in. Langtree recommends that clients go with the contractor they hit it off with, offers the best price, is available - or, preferably - a combination of the three. In the meantime, David Langtree was ordering all the required materials so that when the prep work was done, the Smiths and their contractor had everything they needed to start building their dream home.

Langtree finds that clients also really appreciate the conveniently scheduled nature of building with Home Building Centre, "A lot of our competitors deliver [all the building materials] in one lot, and the customer has to pay for the whole thing at once." Given the epidemic proportions of jobsite theft in Canada - it's estimated that over $1 billion worth of materials "vanish" annually - the Home Building Centre system protects the customer, "We don't want them to have an insurance claim right away with their new house and mess up their rates," Langtree says. And, as Mike Smith points out, it also ensures that the materials are in good condition when they're required, "We built a cottage years ago. When you buy through a prefab place, they just drop the whole package on your lot. If the weather is not good, the lumber starts to warp and you have to use it right away or worry about covering it."

Six months later, in time for Christmas, the couple moved in. "We've had all sorts of compliments on the house, from neighbours, from people just stopping by," says a thrilled Mike Smith. "We've even had a few real estate agents saying that if we ever wanted to sell, to call them [laughs]!"

Towards the end of construction, David Langtree stopped by on one of his many scheduled and unscheduled visits to the construction site, and reminded the Smiths of something he'd said to them at the very beginning, "I told them, like I tell all my customers, 'the sale is never completed... if there are any issues down the road, I'm here for you. The sale never ends.' I like to leave all my customers with that thought."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Change of Plans

Linda and Gary Shaw had a plan: Retire in five years and then buy some land to build their retirement dream home. They just didn't anticipate that part of their plan would happen sooner rather than later.

Sitting in their spacious living room in Beaverbank, Nova Scotia, Linda and Gary laugh when asked what expedited their plans to build before actually retiring. "We weren't even looking for land," recalls Linda. "I was looking at the Sunday ads in the paper when I saw some land for sale in Beaverbank. I said to Gary, 'It says ocean front.'"

"I said to Linda, 'There's no ocean in Beaverbank,'" Gary recalls his response with amusement.

That did not deter the Shaws from taking a drive from their home in Lower Sackville to nearby Beaverbank, a community about 30 kilometres outside Halifax, to take a look at the lot. They fell in love with the acre of towering pines nestled along a ravine leading to an adjacent stream.

Gary called the real estate agent that afternoon and made an offer. "Our offer was accepted that night!" Gary exclaims their disbelief.

Now the proud owners of their dream lot, Gary and Linda still had different timelines on when to build. "My plan was not to build until we retired. But Gary had other plans," jokes Linda.

"Instead of letting it [the land] sit there, I thought we should build," explains Gary. Linda soon agreed and the search was on for their perfect home.

"I wanted something unique. In subdivisions, it's the same house but in different colours," recounts Linda referring to her desire to have a home unlike their previous split level home.

In January 2003, the Shaws came across a Homes and Cottages flyer in their local paper advertising the material package, the Caldwell Cove. "The moment I saw it, I knew that was it," Linda says.

"I always wanted a sunroom and I love windows," says Linda. The vast windows capture the beauty of the forest surrounding the Shaw's home. The home's two porches and two large decks make entertaining a delight. The open concept kitchen and living/dining area is wonderful for family gatherings or relaxing by the cozy fireplace after a meal. The exterior boasts a cottage-feel with its stone facing, abundant windows, and rounded turret.

Making a Plan of Their Own

Gary and Linda soon took the flyer featuring the Caldwell Cove to Debra Perry, Package Home Specialist and Contractor Salesperson at Payzant Home Hardware Building Centre in Lower Sackville, to discuss building their newly found home. Although they loved the design of the plan, Gary and Linda wanted to make some changes to fully make it their own.

From the initial contact with a customer, Debra likes to stress that modifications can be easily made. "It is very easy. If you like the outside but don't like the inside, it can be changed," Debra points out. "If there is a plan someone wants smaller, that can be done." After a plan is chosen, Debra sits down with a customer to listen to what the customer wants and also make suggestions.

With Debra's assistance, Gary and Linda quickly began reworking the plan to make it their dream home. "There were no problems with the changes," says Linda. "She listened to what we wanted."

The modified plans were sent off to the Architectural Solutions Department at Home Hardware's head office in St. Jacobs, Ontario and final drawings were soon completed. An additional three feet was added to the master suite to make room for a Jacuzzi tub and a separate shower. The plan was "flipped" to a mirror image so that the sunroom faces south and the front entrance faces west giving ample sunlight on both sides of the home. The chimney was removed and a propane fireplace added in the living room. The crawl space became a full basement and an exterior basement entrance was added. A skylight enhanced the upstairs bathroom allowing more natural light. The windows were upgraded for heat efficiency.

With final drawings in hand, the Shaws hired local contractor Austin Macrae, owner of J.A. Macrae Construction to begin building their home.

A Plan is Complete

Being in the business for over twenty years, Debra Perry knows first-hand the many benefits that home and cottage packages offer to customers. Cost is usually the number one thing on consumers' minds when looking to purchase a home. Debra points out that the main cost advantage to a home or cottage package is the guaranteed price: "There are no hidden fees. The price isn't going to change."

This advantage far differs from conventional construction jobs (also called stick-build homes) where the price often ends up being far more than the customer anticipated. "With a stick-build home it is only an estimate," Debra explains. "If you run out of something you pay the difference."

Having someone that you trust to guide you throughout the building process can alleviate a lot of unneeded stress. As first-time homebuilders, Gary and Linda were very appreciative of the consistent contact they had with Debra. "We really relied on her," comments Linda.

"I like to work with the customer from beginning to end," Debra adds. "When you work that closely with someone, you know every step of the way what is going on. You build trust. That is what I am here for."

Another benefit with material packages is that the ordering and scheduling of materials is done ahead of time allowing the project to proceed on time. Ordering and scheduling materials can often be headaches for customers building non-package homes. Often production is slowed because material has not shown up to the site on time.

Both Linda and Gary agree that building their home was stress-free and recommend material packages, especially for the first-time builder. "It eliminates all of the headaches," comments Linda.

The Shaws now have the house of their dreams. Sometimes plans are meant to change.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Doing Justice to a New Home

"Everybody thought we were mad when we told them we were going to build a new house." Nan Justice's eyes sparkle with delight as she says this. "Oh they thought we were very brave and so on, but we were eighty-five years old. Who builds a house at that age?"

There aren't many octogenarians who commit to such an undertaking but Nan and Jim Justice did. And, as they found out, when it's done right, it can be wonderful, rewarding and headache-free.

When Nan and Jim decided to move to the Kingston area from Nova Scotia in May 2002, building a new home was the furthest thing from their minds. However, their old house sold in a remarkable forty-eight hours and a thorough search around Frontenac County didn't turn up many acceptable options.

"Everything we saw was either sitting in the middle of a field or alongside a main highway," Jim says with a laugh. Within ten days, they had decided that building was the only way they would get something that suited their needs. After buying a piece of land in the town of Verona, about 30 kilometres northwest of Kingston, they had to have a house designed. Or so they thought.

Then Nan and Jim saw a copy of the Home Building Centre Home and Cottage Design Book. Together with Brian Greenslade, owner of BMP Home Building Centre in nearby Hartington, the Justices picked out a bright, spacious design called the Hawthorne.

"Initially, we wanted a bungalow but the land was too low and too wet for that," Nan says. "So Brian suggested this house, which we love."

The complete package

Today, Brian Greenslade is deeply committed to the idea of home and cottage packages. When the Justices chose their new home design, however, it was to be Brian's first package project. "We'd built homes for years on a less structured basis - including one for the Justices' daughter and son-in-law," Brian says. "But packages allow us to be more involved with the building process, and to work more closely with the contractor. But the biggest reason we do it is because we like to see happy customers."

When you approach the Justices home, it doesn't look like the kind of home you might expect from a couple in their eighties. The siding is stained a bold, friendly green that makes it stand out from the white, beige and cream houses in the area. Inside, it's spacious, airy and warm.

"Because everything is still on one level, it feels like a bungalow," Nan points out. But the view from the elevated living area, which sits atop a full basement with nine-foot ceilings, is most unbunaglow-like. A vista overlooks sloping fields and a few other, widely spaced neighbours. Behind the house a wooded hill rises gently, creating a calm and private back yard.

Nan and Jim took full advantage of one of the benefits of choosing from the Home and Cottage Design Book: the ability to modify the original Hawthorne design.

They made several adjustments through Home's preliminary drawing process to help make the home exactly what they wanted. The sunken living room was raised so that it, the dining area and the kitchen are all on one level. The result is a large and open space that is ideal for entertaining. An extra window was added to the TV room, and the second bedroom was enlarged. Up the stairs from the front foyer the railing and spindles were replaced with a low wall.

Since the Justices were purchasing their material package through Home Building Centre making these changes involved no additional cost for modifying the plans. As contractor Bruce Fitzgerald points out, "Home Hardware has their architectural people do the drawings for any revisions. The drawings are changed and they're returned to me. It's less for me to worry about, and it's less for the customer to worry about."

Does this architectural service make a difference to customers when it comes to choosing to build? "As soon as I tell my customers that, with these packages, they don't have to find an architect to revise or customize their plans, they're interested," Bruce Fitzgerald says. "Right off the bat, that saves them money and time."

Right on schedule

Scheduling, and the ability of the contractor and the dealer to work together closely, also make home and cottage packages work. "As soon as a customer picks out a package, Brian makes up a schedule," Bruce Fitzgerald explains. "Everything is selected and planned right up front. You don't have to hold up the job to wait for material. It makes it easier to schedule the sub-trades, and it also gives us the flexibility to adjust for weather."

Another advantage to the practise of setting a schedule and then sticking to it is that something's always happening on the job. "There's nothing more annoying for customers than to go to the job site and find that there's nobody working," Brian says. "A lot of builders won't even let customers on the job site at all."

Jim Justice, for one, was a daily visitor who always felt welcome and was never disappointed by an inactive site. "Everything went very smoothly," he says. "You'd come in the morning to see what was happening and, by that night, there'd be terrific change."

Brian smiles as he gives an example of how efficient the package process can be. "On this job we're doing now, the customer said to me, 'I think Bruce will be pouring the foundations on Friday.' I told him, 'No, the foundations were poured two days ago.' He was amazed. At a time when most projects take too long, it can be hard to explain to a customer that their project is a week ahead of schedule."

Paying for the project was made easy too. "They gave us a package price broken down into three monthly payments so you always knew where you stood," Jim explains. And did they stick to the budget? "There were no surprises," Jim adds with a smile.

Perhaps Brian Greenslade sums it up best. "A lot of people say, 'I built my house and I'm never going to do that again.' But it doesn't have to be that way. It can be a good experience. We want to help make sure of that." Jim and Nan Justice are contented proof that such happiness is possible.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Pros Know - Packages are the Way to Go!

An experienced builder of very large projects, Clare Boudreau has been in the construction business all his life - he knows the ropes, and he's been very successful. A few years ago, he took over a housing development that had gone terribly wrong in northern Ontario - cost overruns into the millions, with fewer than half the homes completed. Clare needed to fix the mess, and shopped around at various local lumberyards and building supply places for quotes to complete the project.

A friend suggested he try the local Home Hardware Building Centre, so Clare did. There he met with Dave Traviss, then working in package sales at Midland Home Building Centre. "He mentioned the packages. I had already done my own [cost and materials estimates]," recalls Clare. "I compared mine and his and an estimate from another lumberyard, and I liked what I saw, so I said, 'Okay, let's try this!" Clare went ahead and purchased several materials packages from Dave, and hasn't looked back since. After building three package homes in 2004, Clare expects to complete 20 this year.

"Once he realized what we did and what came with our packages and how they worked, Clare said 'this is for me!'" explains Dave Traviss, now the Home and Cottage Building Consultant for Orillia Home Building Centre. "He said, 'this is unbelievable! More people should do this! If more people knew about this, they couldn't help but be successful!'"

When it came time for Clare to build his own dream house, he not surprisingly returned to Home, "Clare [and wife Evelyn] made modifications to a standard model and came up with a design that worked for them," says Traviss. The Boudreaus had decided on the Foxstone. "For example, we put a little loft library in, with a spiral staircase, and we did some nice work with lights and crown mouldings to really dress the home up," Dave continues. "It was everything they wanted and expected, and of course that's what we strive for - to make our customers really happy."

Dave Traviss says the Boudreaus were typical of the type of customers he's starting to see more and more of, "They were downsizing from much larger home to a mid-sized home," he explains, "But really finishing it. They're not worried about the nickels and dimes - they've got all the bells and whistles." And most of those bells and whistles were purchased directly from Home Hardware Building Centre, "We like to buy everything through Home," says Clare Boudreau, "The paint, the cupboards, everything - even the furniture!"

It's not hard to see why Clare is such a fan - he's now running his business based on Home Hardware Building Centre materials packages because he's seen the value that they offer consumers. "It's peace of mind in knowing that you have everything in there," he explains. "Especially for the first-time builder."

"People have less and less time," adds Dave Traviss. "This program takes a lot of heat off people, it allows them to do the things they still need to do while they're building their house. I'm a huge believer in guaranteed packages. It just brings so much value to the customer. And so many of them who've been shopping around come in to see me and say, 'Wow! Why didn't I come here first?!'" he says, laughing. "And I think they say that because we have such a complete program. That's the key, we include so much - we do so much more for you than anyone else in the business."

Making Your House a Home

The ability to customize is one of the advantages of a Beaver Home or Cottage package. The Beaver Home and Cottage Design Book is just the beginning - you will have the opportunity to tweak your home plan to suit your needs exactly. "This is a starting point," concurs Dave Traviss, "We've got to give you something to start the juices flowing, to get you thinking about what you want. Any plan can be completely customized."

Home Hardware Building Centre also offers a great resource for anyone just beginning to think about building - The Complete Guide to Planning and Contracting. Clare Boudreau, pro that he is, also uses it to help his clients decide what they want in a house. This book will walk you through many of the major decisions that you will need to make in the course of imagining your dream home, and will help prepare you for the process of actual construction.

Once you've decided on your package and made the changes you want, you'll have the added comfort of knowing that the construction drawings - the plans from which your house will be built - will be executed by Home's design team. These highly trained professionals are licensed experts in both national and provincial building codes, ensuring that you won't face any surprises down the road.

Of course, when you do purchase a Beaver Home or Cottage package from Home Hardware Building Centre, your Building and Design Consultant will be with you every step of the way - as one Consultant put it, "I tell all my customers, 'the sale is never completed - if there are any issues, I'm here for you. The sale never ends.'"