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.