Even after 12 successful years in business, Picket Fence Homes owner Robert Kraitzek had never sought out a nomination for a Peak Award – so his team decided to do it for him.
“Robert is very humble, so he had never thought to seek out the recognition before,” says Stephanie Palmer, Sales and Marketing Manager with Picket Fence Homes. “We talked about it in the office, amongst ourselves, and decided to enter a few categories.”
It was a covert mission, but they managed to pull it off. When the team discovered they were finalists in four different categories, they let Kraitzek in on the good news – and he was touched that they had believed so strongly in the business.
“It was nice that they took such pride in what we do,” says Robert Kraitzek, owner of Picket Fence Homes. “We have a great base of employees – including some great new staff on board – and we all just work together well.”
The evening of the Peak Awards started on a high when they nabbed the Marketing Excellence award in the Builder category, and then they went on to win Outstanding Residential Renovation (for a family room design) and Most Outstanding Kitchen Renovation. After that, they won Most Outstanding New Home Under 2,000 Sq. Ft.
By the time the Peter Kohler Peak Award for Builder of the Year category was set to be presented, Palmer said the Picket Fence team was already thrilled with their four wins.
“When our name was announced as ‘Builder of the Year,’ it was such a proud moment – and it was wonderful to be able to share it with the entire staff the following week,” says Palmer. “We had a staff breakfast meeting where Robert presented our awards and thanked them for their hard work and dedication.”
“Winning and getting that recognition within the industry just makes you want to work even harder, and continue to do even better.”
Paul Pettipas, CEO of the Nova Scotia Home Builders’ Association, says Picket Fence Homes set their sights on a Peak Award at the perfect time – as housing starts were down and the size of the average family home had decreased. He believes their “impressive niche” is what made them stand out to the judges.
“Very simply, they’re building houses people can afford,” says Pettipas. “If you look at peninsula Halifax, the average price of a house is $567,000. But they’re managing to sell homes in the low $200,000s.”
Although the novelty of having a huge home was exciting for a while, Pettipas says the larger home sizes of recent years are simply not working anymore. By focusing on subdivisions where the land is more reasonably priced, Picket Fence Homes has been able to offer clients a quality, affordable product.
“They’re giving people starter homes, and they’re giving people the opportunity to downsize – all by building smaller, more affordable homes,” says Pettipas. “If we’re building houses people can’t afford, the
industry is not going to grow, so building affordable homes is how we get more people into homes – and grow the industry.”
Pettipas says it was admirable of Picket Fence to pave the way in building smaller homes – in a time when most builders were continuing to build large homes – because “change is always a risk.”
“Our inclination is not to change, but Picket Fence Homes has done it,” says Pettipas. “They’ve demonstrated the value of affordable homes. By starting with a smaller home, you can say ‘Let’s stay at this size,’ or ‘Great, let’s go even bigger next time.’ But if you start them off at a place with no opportunity, where do they go from there?”
“They’ve proved that they’re not only good builders – they’re good businesspeople.”
Palmer says there are some great builders in HRM, but she agrees that it’s most likely Picket Fence Homes’ versatility that caught the eye of the judges.
“We build energy-efficient products at a variety of price-points, but we’re known for having affordable products – starting at $239,900 – that are appealing to first-time buyers,” says Palmer.
In Governor’s Brook, they have a variety of homes at different sizes – and price-points – including townhouses and detached single-family homes. They’re currently building a multi-unit structure that is expected to fill quickly.
Kraitzek says the project in Governor’s Brook was a “huge financial risk” that no other builder was willing to touch.
“At the time, Spryfield was thought to be a tough neighbourhood to invest in, but I believed in the community and decided it would be a good project – and we signed an exclusive deal,” says Kraitzek. “We took a chance on it, and it’s been very successful. It’s a very desirable place to live.”
Picket Fence Homes also builds in Mount Royale, Royale Hemlocks, and the popular Parks of West Bedford – known for its close proximity to all the amenities in Bedford and Halifax.
Another key area for Picket Fence Homes is St. Margaret’s Village in Upper Tantallon – which they purchased in 2012, and began building in last year.
“It’s a private, country-style community that’s well-treed, and we’re seeing a trend toward smaller homes there, as well,” says Palmer. “Homeowners are looking for a home that’s affordable and easy to maintain, but also one that’s comfortable and suits their family’s needs.”
“Each home is cared for as if it were our own”
Kraitzek believes focusing on building more affordable houses is the key to easing the new construction industry out of its current rough patch.
“Everything’s pointing towards smaller homes. In the early ’90s, we had smaller homes, and then they grew quite big – 3,000 and 4,000 square feet,” explains Kraitzek. “But now, people aren’t willing – or able – to pay those kind of prices for huge homes. They’re not flush with cash right now, and they’re moving back to smaller, more comfortable homes.”
While some builders focus exclusively on large-scale new construction, Kraitzek says size doesn’t matter when it comes to building a quality home: they take the time to understand exactly what their clients want, and that’s what they focus on.
“Homes are homes, and we like building small homes as much as we like building large homes,” says Kraitzek. “Every home is special, and that’s what we care about.”
The industry has gone through many changes since Kraitzek set out in the business more than 30 years ago. He got his start crafting log homes with his father at the age of 19 in Cape Breton, and worked as a carpenter and modern home builder before starting Picket Fence Homes in 2003. His love of homebuilding began as a seven-year-old – helping construct his family home with his father, grandfather and uncles.
“In the beginning, I was basically alone in an office – and working on-site managing by myself,” recalls Kraitzek. “But today, I have more than 20 employees, and I feel like we’ve grown into a professional business with all the right people involved.”
Today, Picket Fence Homes is working with the R-2000, EnergyStar and EnerGuide programs to get homeowners into a snug home with low heating costs.
With the downturn of the economy, Kraitzek says it’s been a bit harder for some homeowners to invest in energy-efficient upgrades, but says “an energy-efficient house is an affordable house.”
“Starting with our energy-efficient construction methods, we show how incorporating additional features will help them save over time – and why the investment in energy-efficient features is worthwhile.”
Kraitzek says the industry is also pointing towards flexible housing – allowing older adults to remain in their homes longer, by building in a way that accommodates different levels of mobility.
“We’re building more bungalows, and we’re building with the mindset of providing accessible features such as wider doorways and hallways – and allowing for turning radiuses,” says Kraitzek. “We don’t have many people asking for those features yet, but we see it increasing – and we’re preparing for and promoting the importance of it.”
As they move forward, armed with five Peak Awards and celebrating their success, Kraitzek says they’ll continue to focus on growing the company – hopefully to become one of the largest builders in the province – and getting better at everything they do.
“We’re always working at improving – our customer service, our service after sales, getting there on time,” says Kraitzek. “We’re always striving to do better, and adapt to the current marketplace.”
The plan is to continue to expand their product mix, and find new ways to provide top-quality homes while maintaining an affordable price-point. They also plan to expand the renovation side of the business, and take on additional projects.
Picket Fence Home clients have shared glowing reviews, like ‘Picket Fence treated us like family, and our new home is everything we ever wanted,’ and ‘We’re very glad we picked Picket Fence, and we’ll definitely spread the word about their excellent work.”
Palmer says the Picket Fence Homes team understands that building a new home is exciting, and they encourage their homeowners to be involved in the process.
“They’re able to see their home taking shape, on site and online where they can see real-time updates and photographs of exactly what’s happening on their home,” says Palmer. “They know they can contact us here in the office, or contact their Site Manager whenever they need an update, and they appreciate that.”
Kraitzek always explains to homeowners that in order to create a space they’ll love for years, it’s important to do your homework, find the right property, and think carefully about the kind of home that will work for your lifestyle.
“You can have five or six bathrooms, but if that’s not the way you live, you shouldn’t,” says Kraitzek. “Not everyone likes open concept homes, so if it doesn’t work for you, you don’t have to have it just because everyone else has it.”
“Focus on making a workable space where you can live, and where you feel comfortable. That’s a home.”