When you imagine meeting five-time Peak Award winner, Nova Scotia Home Builders’ Association President for its largest local, Central Nova and philanthropist, you brace yourself for a lengthy speech on accomplishments, qualifications and education.
But owners Keith McMaster and Andy Parsons of Shirebrook Developments told a whole new story. One of modesty, gratitude and of love for the business. They refused to revel in their recent success and fall victim to the ego. Instead, they pondered the challenges they overcame and the lessons learned that got them to where they are today – NSHBA 2011 Renovator of the Year.
After 30 minutes of digging and questioning a reserved McMaster, it became evident that what wasn’t said was what would speak the loudest of Shirebrook. It’s crystal clear that heart and soul are the backbone of the company. Building the most expensive homes, lavish homes or technologically advanced homes is not what guarantees a Peak Award win. It’s the heart behind the hammer that sets a renovator or builder apart from the rest. And that’s how best to describe Shirebrook and the humble brains behind the business.
In 2012, the NSHBA Homebuilders’ Care Program presented Shirebrook with a daunting renovation to be completed in just over three weeks. The Hortons family-of-seven of Carroll’s Corner was living in a 200-year-old farmhouse with an EnerGuide rating of zero, explains Paul Pettipas, CEO of the NSHBA. The sense of urgency in completing the renovation came regrettably from the mother’s losing battle with cancer. Pettipas explained the extent of the renovation project and the unimaginable timeline knowing full well the probability of McMaster turning down the task.
“Can you do it?” asked Pettipas.
“Yes we can,” replied McMaster without flinching.
That unwavering desire to do good is both rare and refreshing. Especially in an industry where time is money and money is time, the sense of volunteerism and community building can easily get lost in the framework.
McMaster acted as a lead builder in the project along with KelGreg Homes Inc. and together, completed the project and gave a deserving family a safe and comfortable place they could now call a real home.
The mother-of-five, and now friend of McMaster and the NSHBA passed away during the renovation. She was unable to witness the unveiling of the renovated farmhouse, but she did have a chance to work closely with McMaster in choosing colours for the home.
“In the end, she knew her family would be taken care of,” says Pettipas. “For that, we at the NSHBA have tremendous respect for the whole Shirebrook team.”
Customer service like no other
Since starting the company in 1993, McMaster and Parsons made the conscious decision to be actively involved in the planning, building and customer service of the company. Today, you can still find McMaster and Parsons on the jobsite carefully observing the quality of work and the building process from conception to completion. Not only do they focus on producing premium products, but they also set in place an extensive customer satisfaction system where they handle callbacks and warranty issues in a timely and personable manner – a very hands-on and proactive approach that earns them the title of Renovator of the Year.
When asked what makes Shirebrook exceptional, McMaster’s modesty left him at a loss for words. But when asked what inspired him to enter the building industry almost 20 years ago, his mind cleared and his passion for building – for the people living in his homes – came through.
“We saw the market needed quality builders. And my background in business gave me a strong understanding of what our brand was going to be and what customers needed,” said McMaster. “To this day, we consider the cost of living, cost of land, the importance of finding the right neighbourhood and the need to be comfortable during the renovation and once living in the finished home. And we have always looked at renovations as new beginnings for the families.”
Such is the case with the Hortons family of Carroll’s Corner. Shirebrook and the NSHBA Homebuilders Care Program were able to give the family a push of encouragement during such a difficult time. That demonstration of kindness, which to McMaster and Parsons seemed so innate, shows that they are not only quality builders, but also all around quality guys.
Even though McMaster won’t come out and simply say he loves building and renovating and these are the reasons why, you can hear the pride in his voice and see the passion for the craft in his finished product. His pauses and bouts of silence are no longer out of nervousness, but out of reflection and contemplation. Asking him to describe a past home renovation is difficult – he must first remember the neighbourhood, the family, the lifestyle, the needs, the dreams and the stories that transformed that framework into a real home.
But getting down to the details, McMaster explains that when families choose to renovate versus build new, there is a human element that goes into the decision as well as a financial component. And Shirebrook, being a company deeply rooted in customer service and satisfaction, understands the emotional side of the building process all too well.
“More and more families are choosing to renovate over build new for two good reasons,” says McMaster. “Cost of land has gone up fourfold since I entered the
industry, and secondly, families grow roots in a community, make friends and build a life. Renovating allows the family to take advantage of the space they already have, customize it, add to it, upgrade it, all without uprooting the family.”
McMaster does stress that a home renovation can sometimes cost upwards of $80,000 depending on the extent of the work. And although building new and purchasing land are often more costly than a renovation, it is important to manage expectations and note that renovations can also be pricey but worth the investment.
What Shirebrook and other premier renovators in HRM are offering is the chance to make the home perfect for now and adaptable for the future. Currently, Shirebrook is in the process of becoming a Certified Aging-In-Place Specialist (CAPS) and will be ready to meet the needs of the increasing number of baby boomers in Eastern Canada.
Aging-in-place is a lifestyle change that transforms the homeowner’s current space into an easy-to-navigate, easy-to-clean home that can accommodate the daily routine of a senior or a person with limited mobility. From widened doorframes, automated monitoring systems, to touch-open cabinets, Shirebrook will soon be granted the license to evaluate and provide certified independent living spaces for the 65 plus age group or for those simply renovating early and planning for the future. Aging-in-place can easily marry modern, traditional or luxurious design with practicality – making the decision an easy one when renovating.
“Shirebrook is a forward thinker,” says Pettipas. “Thinking of the family’s needs now and of the family’s needs in the future is a remarkable thing and will keep customers happy for a very long time.”
Building more than just framework
The first home McMaster and Parsons collaborated on was actually McMaster’s first family home when he moved to Halifax. From that experience, the soon-to-be partners began building more than just a business. They began building a friendship that they now extend openly to each and every customer who chooses to build or renovate with Shirebrook.
Ask a past Shirebrook customer or anyone in the HRM building industry – does Shirebrook install beautiful custom showers, gut and makeover complete kitchens and build extensions to existing homes amongst other projects?
The answer is seldom a yes. In fact, the answer is usually more drawn-out, more calculated and more comprehensive. It often includes a description of the level of care and consideration that accompanied the renovation, an account of the hours spent perfecting the work and it ends in a smile.
That is what Shirebrook is and does. They make families happy.
All photos courtesy of Shirebrook Developments