The Rise of Fall Homes

Why starting your new home or renovation project in the Fall is a good idea.

Many home builders and buyers take advantage of the ideal fall weather to start construction projects, like this new bungalow being built in Fall River by Gerald Mitchell Contracting.

The days are getting shorter and the air is getting crisper, but that doesn’t mean home construction packs up until spring. Many builders feel that fall is actually the nicest times to be working – and homeowners can experience benefits of their own.

Rooftight Construction owner Scott Smith says fall is often the best time of year to get a busy builder’s attention.

“We’re winding down summer projects, which means we often don’t have as much on the go,” says Smith. “It’s a nice time of year to work outside, because you’re not out in the rampant heat.”

He says those first frosts in late October are also good during construction, because they help to keep the ground stable.

Gerald Mitchell, owner of Gerald Mitchell Contracting, agrees that builders often have more time for their clients during October and November – and more personal attention can result in a better experience.

“In the summer, the trades are very busy, but now the work has slowed down most crews are under much less duress,” says Mitchell.

And if you’re willing to walk around in the chilly autumn air, Mitchell says home-owners can still check out their job site in person – and talk individually with the people working on your home. He introduces his homeowners to the project manager assigned to each job, so they can keep close tabs on the progress.

“If they have specific questions, it’s that project manager’s job to get back to them with the exact answers,” says Mitchell.

Paul Pettipas, CEO of the Nova Scotia Home Builders’ Association, says many people are surprised to learn they can break ground on a new home in the fall. As long as the house is rooftight before the really bad weather hits in January and February, there shouldn’t be a problem – and then they can turn their attention to the interior.

“You might lose a few days if it carries into January and February, but our winters are not what they used to be, so the weather shouldn’t affect it too much,” says Pettipas.

Over at Atlantic Home Warranty, ceo Pat Mulcahy says winter construction takes an extra bit of skill, because there are more risks and complications associated with each task – particular with pouring a foundation. But in general, he says building a new home in the fall is “every bit as good” as building during the spring or summer.

The major component of new construction that’s really affected by the cold air is the concrete. Smith says the cost of concrete goes up at the beginning of November because of the freezing temperatures.

“They have to start using heated water, and it can drive the costs up by a few thousand dollars,” says Smith. “Always try to get your concrete work done before then.”

A new bungalow by Rooftight Construction in St. Andrew’s West, Fall River, wrapped and ready to be introduced to its exterior cladding.

You may pay more for concrete in November, but you could make up the savings in other ways. Smith explains that many suppliers increase their prices during the spring building boom, and prices tend to come down – and stabilize – in the fall.

“You’re not going to get any surprises in the fall. You’re going to know what you’re looking at,” says Smith.

If you’re planning to put your home under renovation this season, Tamara Barker-Watson, owner of Whitestone Developments, says it’s important to remember that your house isn’t going to feel exactly the same during a renovation. Some homeowners are bothered by the dust and the noise, but it’s just part of the process.

“You’re under renovation, so you have to be realistic,” says Barker-Watson.

In order for the renovation to be completed as quickly as possible, Barker-Watson says it’s best if the homeowners vacate the premises – something that might be easier to do in the fall while the weather is still suitable.

“Moving out of the house completely is the easiest, because the renovators don’t have to spend time cleaning up fully at the end of each day,” says Barker-Watson. “They can leave a job halfway through, and then pick up at the same spot tomorrow.”

It may sound inconvenient to pack up and leave while they work’s underway, but time is money – so Barker-Watson says staying out of the house could mean your renovation actually costs less.

“The quicker they can get the job done, the more cost-effective it is for the home-owner.”

Barker-Watson says a lot of people prefer to begin renovations at this time of year.

“In the fall, everyone’s back in their routine – whereas in the summer, you have vacations to deal with, so a renovation can be less convenient – and take longer.”

During the fall months, a builder or renovator typically doesn’t have to account for employee vacations – and the vacation time of electricians and other tradespeople who are needed for different parts of the job.

When the construction of a new home is taking place during the fall, Smith says there’s an important holiday on the horizon – one that most homeowners hope to enjoy comfortably from within their new digs.

“The houses we’re working on now, we’re working hard to get them in for Christmas,” says Smith. “It’s always fun to get them in the week before Christmas. Everyone’s really excited.”

The fall season has proved to be a great time to build or renovate, but for many homeowners, it’s time to get down to business and solidify their future home building plans.

“Decisions you might make in the fall will result in a spring start, so if you want to start construction in the spring, now is the time to be doing your due diligence – everything from securing a lot, to the design of the house you want,” says Mulcahy. “That way, when spring comes, you’re ready to go.”

With the ideal local weather, most projects that get underway in the fall – like these Whitestone homes at the final stages of construction – will have their owners moved in before the winter holidays.

Mulcahy says builders are often extremely busy during the spring when the industry – and temperature – heats up, so it’s a good idea to secure them in the fall.

“You may find someone you want to build your house, but they’re already booked. It’s never too early to start this process,” says Mulcahy.

The amount of time it takes to move from finalized plans to pouring a foundation varies from builder to builder – and depends on the complexity of the home’s design.

Pettipas says if you already have a full set of plans and are ready to go, you can probably break ground within the month. But if you’re still in the process of looking over plans and putting together ideas, you’ll need a few extra months.

If you’re counting on a spring groundbreaking, Pettipas says you should make contact with builders or renovators now – while you still have time on your side.

“It’s much easier to do things in a relaxed setting, when you can check out products that are out there, and visit open houses to get ideas,” says Pettipas. “In the spring, things tend to get a little hectic, so it’s nice to do it on your own timeline, rather than pushing it.”

“Unless you really have to, you shouldn’t make it so you’re rushed off your feet. When people hurry too much, that’s when mistakes are made.”

So sit back, grab a stack of design magazines – or log into Pinterest – and take your time deciding what you’d like to see in your new space.

Pettipas says compiling a scrapbook – or putting together a virtual one – is the key to getting your builder to see your vision.

“As you go along and find products, get a sample and write down the SKU number. Get as many details as you can,” suggestes Pettipas. “It’s very frustrating for a home-owner when they love a product and they can’t remember where they saw it.”

If you want speciality products used in your build or renovation, Pettipas says it’s critical to get that noted in your specifications sheet.

“If you want a specific paint colour, go to a paint dealer to get a paint chip, and put that in your specification sheet – along with how you want it formulated,” says Pettipas. “The more you state facts, the better. Saying ‘Oh, they’ll just know what I mean’ is the worst thing you can do.”

Pettipas says it’s also important to have regular meetings with your builder to find out if there are any problems, delays, or difficulties in getting the products you requested.

Barker-Watson agrees that scrapbooks are invaluable during a build or a renovation, because it gets everyone on the same page – literally.

“Pictures, pictures, pictures. Get a lot of pictures of what you like, because it’s harder than you think to describe what you want sometimes,” says Barker-Watson. “Clients come to us with a long list of ideas, but when we see the pictures, we understand exactly what they want.”

And while choosing tile and paint colours is fun, Mitchell says it’s important to look into options for critical components of your new home.

“I think people should do a little research on heating systems and other aspects of their home, and decide what they want to spend their dollars on,” says Mitchell.

He suggests also checking their prospective contractor or builder out with the Better Business Bureau, as well as local building inspectors and home warranty associations.

Mulcahy agrees that consumers should be looking for a builder who is a member of a new home warranty program.

“Having that will provide them with some protection for the home they’re about to have built,” says Mulcahy “They should also choose a builder who is showing a professional interest in the industry.”

Stone Mason Cyril Thomas cuts and applies stone veneer to the facade of this two-storey home by Whitestone Developments in Thistle Grove, Bedford.

“Consumers should be very leery of anyone who’s not willing to provide a written contract or references, or evidence that they have liability insurance or Workers’ Compensation.”

Pettipas also notes that just because a builder or renovator is professional, certified, insured, and has great references doesn’t mean they’re the right person for you. It’s important to hire someone who has completed similar projects before, so you can be sure they’re up for tackling yours properly.

“If you want a major renovation, but they’ve only done smaller projects, maybe they’re not the best choice for you,” says Pettipas. “And if you want to build an expensive custom home, you’ll have to hunt down a builder who can provide that.”

“Look for a builder who has built homes of the same size – and price range – you’re looking at. Then you’ll find a good fit.”

Heather Laura Clarke

Heather Laura Clarke

Heather Laura Clarke is a freelance journalist whose work regularly appears in many Atlantic Canadian newspapers and magazines, including The Chronicle Herald, Metro, Hub Now, Business Voice, Dugger's, Progress, East Coast Living, Bedford Magazine, and Southender Magazine. She also has several corporate clients.