Learn a little about us...

What is a “Design + Build” firm..?

Design+Build is a common yet overlooked practice in which a single firm is responsible for the entirety of your project, from the conceptual design through completion of construction.

Russ Barstow - Custom home builder

My background in construction started in junior high school, where woodworking was one of my strongest subjects. I learned how to use all of the tools in a commercial shop, and went on to build a Grandfather clock, turned claw foot table, and numerous furniture projects. This is a passion I keep up today – I have even been commissioned to build pieces by several stores throughout the lower mainland.

I started in construction at the age of 18. I worked for Trevor Jones (T. Jones Construction) a builder of high end homes on Vancouver’s West Side. I did everything everyone else didn’t want to do… Cleaning the site, de-nailing lumber, stripping forms, stacking plywood, digging out basements… even the odd bit of tree pruning. I finally graduated to the tools, where I did some back framing, form building, and even the odd bit of finishing.

Eventually, I moved into the office with Trevor – which was the real reason I took the job. I wanted to learn how he ran his business, and watched like a hawk. I learned how a busy builder acquires land, subdivides, and ultimately builds a salable product. I also learned how to manage trades, and how to efficiently run a worksite.

How this helps me as a builder: The ability to manage, and run a site efficiently and quickly keeps my construction budgets in check and my schedules in line. Our projects move efficiently, and stay on budget. 

Real estate acquisition, development + subdividing property.

Real estate acquisition, development + subdividing property. By the time I was 22, I had a working knowledge of urban land development. I had worked on several subdivisions, and had taken several courses on the subject. The next natural step was to take my Real Estate License. I spent the next 15 years of my life working as a realtor, specializing in new construction, and urban land development, being involved in dozens of new projects – starting from land acquisition, through community planning and public hearings, re-zoning meetings at City Hall, project design, build and ultimately marketing and after sale service. I also worked with many single family home builders to acquire lots, design and market custom homes. I watched several builders start their first project, and with my advice, move on to successfully sell and build dozens of homes in the Steveston and West Richmond area. As a result of my construction background, I was asked by several banks and lenders to teach courses for first time buyers and potential investors. My “How to avoid buying a leaky condo” course was by far the most popular of these courses. When Rain screen technology was introduced, I taught buyers what to look for – especially in the “partially rain screened” building retrofits that we see a lot of in Vancouver.  How this helps me as a builder: I feel the biggest advantage I have as a result of my career in Real Estate is the ability to evaluate a project – from initial purchase to marketing and sale. I know what sells, and for how much. I also have an extremely thorough knowledge of contract law. Design is also a critical element in construction. I know how to design a marketable home from a blank page – specific to the purchaser demographics for a specific area. I know how to research sales data to determine how many bedrooms, bathrooms and what style of home to design. I also see where plans have gone wrong for builders. It’s a risky business, but 18 years in real estate has taught me to do my homework well.

Construction knowledge, building code, and establishing my list of trades...

As I worked in Real estate, I bought, renovated and sold my first home. I handled ALL of the work, from installing flooring, gutting and remodelling. After 15 years of work, I took a leave from Real Estate, and returned to construction, after an invitation from a good friend owned a construction company, and was overrun with business. For a year and a half, I wore a belt, and framed custom houses, spec houses and townhomes. I took the job specifically to increase my knowledge of the construction process. I had plans to build a home, and it was an area I felt I might excel. But I needed a more formal “training” before I just bought a lot and built. I learned a LOT during this stretch, especially the ins and outs of the building code, working with inspectors, and dealing with trades as I worked. I saw what all of the trades were responsible for, where each trade fit into the timeline of construction – plus the nuances of each trades job. I saw how long a job should take, how different builders treated their trades (good and bad!!) and heard the trades talk about the builders that they disliked - or liked to work for. Ultimately, I met -- and still employ -- a lot of the friends I work with now. How this helps me as a builder: Working as a framer was the best thing I did in regards to becoming a builder. I learned that keeping a clean site is key – the trades respect this, just as I did. Our crew always to extra effort to clean up on these sites, and we worked more efficiently as a result. I also learned the fine points of the BC Building code, and met many of the inspectors I see today when I build. I learned how I wanted to be treated as a trade, and ultimately it’s how I treat the trades that work for me.

Designing and building, from small renovations to new homes...

After my first major renovation, and during my time as a framer, my wife and I bought a small bungalow. I renovated this home, adding a fourth bedroom and laundry room and detached garage – plus giving the entire home a major face lift. We saw a great return on this home, and it allowed us to start our building career. My first “new construction” project was in Burkeville. The plan was to strip a wartime 700 sq. ft. bungalow down to the lumber, lift it, and effectively turn it into a “new” 2500 sq. ft. home. We would treat this as new construction, and end up with what for all intensive purposes was a “new” home. The project went well, and was completed in less than 4 months. The end result was a fantastic colonial “salt box” home with a formal entry. Our family lived in the home for 2 years – until we sold in 2009. Thanks to my research, we found that the neighbourhood we chose (Richmond’s Burkeville) was ripe for this type of project, and when we did sell, it took us only a week. The excellent return on this home spring boarded us into building again – and another lot in our neighbourhood became available.

This time, we built a Cape Cod inspired shingle side home. I built a third floor loft that was a “flex space” for older teens, a student, or a nanny. At 3000 sq. ft., it was a large house. However, we built this one incredibly efficiently. We started the project in mid March 2010, and were moved in by July 1, 2010. As I built, I kept a video blog – and many of the neighbours followed our progress. The appraisal on this property came back even higher than we initially projected, and we have already had several offers to purchase the home – although were not actively selling it. As a result of our work in Burkeville, we have had some amazing support in the community.

While I built, I was approached by several home owners about large scale renovations and new construction on their existing lots. The most common comment was “how do you build such a nice home so quickly?” In the end, I have several large renovations in the proposal stage, and two custom homes under contract that I will start in March 2011. I am also working with my lender on a spec home project for late 2011 as well.

How this helps me as a builder: We have learned that building in the community that you choose to live in can be risky – unless you do it right. We custom design our homes based on the community’s needs. Our homes help to increase the value of the community – as opposed to being big boxes that don’t add any value at all. We work with our neighbours when we build, consulting on colour, layout and plans (to some extent). Our video blog has been HUGE. It shows what kind of care we put in to each step of the process – which is helpful to anyone interested in either hiring us – or just wanting to see what we do every day. We have even had a client approach us to build while he is overseas… just because he knows he will be able to watch his home’s progress every day. We have also made an effort to build GREEN. We recycle EVERYTHING we can get our hands on – and use recycled materials as we build – from re-purposed sand and gravel through to recycling every cardboard box that our trades produce – and there are LOTS of them.

Real estate acquisition, development + subdividing property.

By the time I was 22, I had a working knowledge of urban land development. I had worked on several subdivisions, and had taken several courses on the subject. The next natural step was to take my Real Estate License. I spent the next 15 years of my life working as a realtor, specializing in new construction, and urban land development, being involved in dozens of new projects – starting from land acquisition, through community planning and public hearings, re-zoning meetings at City Hall, project design, build and ultimately marketing and after sale service. I also worked with many single family home builders to acquire lots, design and market custom homes. I watched several builders start their first project, and with my advice, move on to successfully sell and build dozens of homes in the Steveston and West Richmond area. As a result of my construction background, I was asked by several banks and lenders to teach courses for first time buyers and potential investors. My “How to avoid buying a leaky condo” course was by far the most popular of these courses. When Rain screen technology was introduced, I taught buyers what to look for – especially in the “partially rain screened” building retrofits that we see a lot of in Vancouver.  How this helps me as a builder: I feel the biggest advantage I have as a result of my career in Real Estate is the ability to evaluate a project – from initial purchase to marketing and sale. I know what sells, and for how much. I also have an extremely thorough knowledge of contract law. Design is also a critical element in construction. I know how to design a marketable home from a blank page – specific to the purchaser demographics for a specific area. I know how to research sales data to determine how many bedrooms, bathrooms and what style of home to design. I also see where plans have gone wrong for builders. It’s a risky business, but 18 years in real estate has taught me to do my homework well.

After Build Service

Perhaps the one item that I have a little more insight into because of my past career in Real Estate is after sale service.For years, one of my jobs was to design and handle the after sale follow up for the many new home projects we worked on. I saw the right way – and the wrong way – to do it. I handled dozens of “new home warranty” walk throughs for my builders, and designed the builders “new home service” manuals and warranty documentation. I told the clients what was covered and what wasn’t. Many times clients would call me instead of the builder when they had issues. In the end, our post construction service is simple. We want our owners to feel they have the best product available. If there are questions, we are there to help. Our past clients satisfaction and word of mouth will be key to building more homes in the future. Our VIDEO Blog: http://www.youtube.com/user/BarstowConstructionOur PHOTO GALLERY: http://www.flickr.com/photos/18575910@N08/sets/72157624862101609/