Building the Perfect Mountain Getaway in Canada’s Pacific Province
Never mind the growth of Canada’s big cities – smaller communities are showing similar growth as more homeowners seek alternative lifestyles – and the custom homes to match.
In the small but vibrant mountain town of Revelstoke, British Columbia, Absolute Contracting exemplifies this highly specialized homebuilding market, able to provide attainable custom solutions on sustainable budgets. A member of the Canadian Home Builder’s Association (CHBA), Absolute has nearly two decades of building custom homes in Canada’s wildest terrain.
Absolute has enjoyed its position as Revelstoke’s largest home builder since beginning operations in town in 2007. This former industry town has had a new lease on life through its spectacular mountain scenery, which naturally lends itself to equally spectacular skiing and snow sports. A regular population of approximately 8,000 is reported to double during the winter months, evidence of the town’s status amongst lovers of snow sports.
But Revelstoke’s attractions go beyond its natural beauty. One of Canada’s first smaller communities to acquire fibre internet, growth swelled as professionals and entrepreneurs could now both experience Revelstoke’s quality of life and also perform their jobs.
As a result, the town is host to high-tech firms such as Sniper Action Photo and Cronometer, enabling residents to have it all, enjoying hectic downhill speeds in their adrenaline-fuelled private activities and still playing their part in a fast-paced modern economy.
Today, the husband-and-wife team of Sally & Scott Robertson lead Absolute as it, in turn, helps lead Revelstoke into a bold new future.
Coming from a background of building in the family, Scott recounts how he started his small company in 2002, relocating to Revelstoke five years later. As word got around of the company’s mountainside building expertise, business itself began to build. “One small job leads to a larger job,” he says. With new residents taking stock of their options in Revelstoke, Absolute was the natural choice to build their mountain dream homes.
The company’s success has enjoyed an even brighter spotlight in recent months: an Absolute home was a finalist in the Canadian Home Builder’s Association of British Columbia’s Georgie Awards in 2021. Absolute’s submission, a 3,200 square-foot two-storey custom home with 20-foot vaulted ceilings and custom designed Spanish archways, made the top five.
While it enjoys its position as Revelstoke’s largest home builder, Absolute is still subject to the constraints of a smaller resource pool, for both labour force and building materials, than even in nearby Kamloops or Kelowna.
Nevertheless, Sally says, Absolute manages as much demand as a larger company, but gets results with a smaller team and fewer available resources. “We have to be more strategic with our planning, and our hiring and execution, because we are in a smaller marketplace when it comes to hiring and sourcing.”
With Absolute’s smaller but very versatile team, the company has learned to adapt. “Over the years, we’ve developed a skill set of being self-sufficient,” Scott says. “You end up being qualified in a lot of categories.”
He and Sally both acknowledge how Absolute’s staff enables this small firm to punch way above its weight. “I really have to pinch myself, the staff that we have are exceptional. Both our field and office staff are top-notch,” Scott says. “The heart and soul of Absolute is our team members. They’re our family, our friends, and we wouldn’t be surviving as a company and organization without them.”
The result is a firm embrace of the ‘jack of all trades’ trope, ensuring the team retains its edge through meticulous internal training. “We’ve invested heavily in the development of systems and protocols to guide us through each phase of construction, from client engagement to completion,” Scott says. “Our stages are comprehensive and our team is engaged in the development and management of these stages.”
It is this small team which provides Absolute’s proven model of custom home building. While some custom homes begin with a vague plan, this can lead to potentially massive overruns in time, money, and building materials. But thanks to its experience in custom home building, Absolute is able to provide clear, defined results, on time and under budget.
These results embrace all aspects of home and building construction, including design services, land preparation, concrete, septic design and installation, and equipment rental for more specific projects.
A system of six intricate stage-gates helps develop each project over the stages of project inception, design, estimating, planning and procurement, construction execution, and commissioning and warranty.
From a project’s outset and throughout all steps in the process, Absolute’s team meets with clients to discuss every aspect of their new home. Within the construction phase alone, ten distinct milestone events provide rigorous and precise tracking of all processes. With this solid plan in place, Absolute’s process-driven method ensures all projects will remain on time and within budgetary constraints before construction begins.
In addition to this strategy of precise staging, Absolute manages a ‘low-anxiety’ environment in the naturally stressful process of homebuilding. The client meetings outline all project aspects, plus estimates, with what Scott terms “forensic” levels of diligence. Clients are put at ease before ground is even broken.
Constant communication provides regular client updates, and internal communication – from morning ‘tool-box’ meetings to weekly companywide project-manager and site-supervisor meetings – help Absolute’s team share and collaborate on project progress, systems, and shared resources.
Despite the strains on global supply chains and the resulting scarcity in building supplies, Absolute is again able to leverage its versatility to do more with what it has. In addition, being a part of the engine in the progress of Revelstoke, the company is fortunate to work closely with the town’s Chamber of Commerce.
But, once again, Scott returns to Absolute’s versatile team, crediting it with surmounting the challenges of modern homebuilding. “Having the broad skill set amongst our staff has been helpful, and has helped us weather those challenges,” he says.
In addition to its considerable portfolio in custom homes, Absolute is branching out into multifamily homes. In the fall of 2019, BC Housing named the company official contractor on two new affordable housing developments in Nakusp, approximately 100 kilometres south of Revelstoke.
19 units across 20,000 square feet provide homes for low-income seniors and community members, promising independent living on modest budgets. The projects complement existing developments in the area built in 1971 and 1981, and opened to residents in early 2021.
Although the project might have been given to a larger builder from a similar but larger community like Kelowna or Kamloops, Scott says Absolute was selected for its experience in more remote areas. With its knowledge of not only the terrain but of the logistics of managing teams and projects over a long distance, Absolute was the natural choice.
A previous project at the nearby Halcyon Hot Springs resort, just 35 kilometres from Nakusp, gave the company the specific area and logistical expertise it needed to land the contract.
Both Scott and Sally believe the Nakusp project will open new doors. With Absolute handling all aspects of contracting, from site preparations and civil work to completion, this project will showcase the company’s skills to a much larger audience and gain Absolute valuable experience in multifamily homes.
With most of Absolute’s record having been in custom homes, Scott remarks that a little formula and repetition is a welcome change of pace. “It’s nice to be able to repeat the process,” he says, and notes that this project will generate a new and consistent market for Absolute.
Sally anticipates that the Nakusp projects will provide the company a new avenue for fighting a continental crisis. “For us it’s exciting, because we’re able to participate on a level where we’re contributing to affordable housing,” she remarks, “and whatever our small contribution may be, we’re at least making an impact on the housing crisis in our area.”
Finally, Scott relates how Absolute hopes that by doing more affordable-housing construction, it will help stabilize a wildly fluctuating local market. “A lot of the motivation for us to get into multifamily work is to get the price point down to where an average person can afford to buy their own home,” he says.
In addition to affordability, Absolute is also working to ensure its buildings are more energy-efficient. As part of the company’s focus-driven philosophy, Scott explains how a home’s energy usage is part of the discussion from a project’s outset.
“In our builds, the energy performance of the building is a conversation with every client,” he says. “It’s definitely a large part of our strategy when we go into discussions with new clients.”
All new buildings are at least a Level 3 or 4 on BC’s Energy Step Curve, indicating that they use a minimum of 20 percent less energy than previous models, according to BC Housing’s own materials. New materials such as Insulated Concrete Forms, or ICF, further help Absolute save energy and materials during the construction process itself, helping reduce the company’s carbon footprint.
As an integral part of Revelstoke’s continuing community development and transition, Absolute sees itself as helping new residents realize their dream homes. “A lot of people come to Revelstoke for the lifestyle, or they come for the job because of the lifestyle,” Sally remarks. “It’s all connected to lifestyle in Revelstoke.”
Thanks to its wealth of experience in custom homes, now leveraged into providing affordable housing for many more, Absolute intends to improve the lifestyle of its clients for years to come.