How the Canadian Home Builders’ Association helps contractors and custom homebuilders across the country – By Stefanie Coleman-Dias

During the gala dinner at our Renovators’ Roundtable, Stefanie Coleman-Dias of Coleman-Dias³ Construction Inc., spoke about the importance and benefits of being part of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association (CHBA). As a long-time member myself, I agree. I asked Stefanie if we could share her talk with the rest of our audience. Here’s an edited version of her speech.


Jim Caruk

The business we’re all part of is very unique, and only those who of us who “live it” can really understand what it takes to make everything work.

John and I operate a family-owned renovation business serving the London and St. Thomas areas, and celebrated our 11th anniversary in business this past May.
It has been an incredible 11 years and we are very fortunate to be surrounded by wonderful clients, trade partners, and like-minded colleagues who make coming to work a joy….most of the time.
In our first year of business we joined our local Home Builders’ Association in St. Thomas. This led to my involvement at both the provincial and now at the national levels of our Association.
The way it works is when you join your local home builders association, you automatically join the provincial and national association as well.
Being a part of the Association has provided me with a much broader view of the renovation business, and the incredible opportunities that exist for us. And my volunteer work at CHBA has become a very important part of my development as a renovator and as a business-owner.
I’d like to share:
  • What our industry really looks like
  • Why is it important that we work together, and
  • How we can work together

Let’s begin with the “big picture” on the renovation market. Most of us are owners of small businesses. We are not the Fords or G.M.s of the renovation industry.

We’re often family-owned operations working day-to-day keeping “all the wheels on the ground,” focusing on keeping our projects on-track, keeping our clients happy, and getting the bills paid.

So, here’s the big picture: We are a massive industry.

Home renovations and repairs support 595,000 jobs across Canada. In 2015, we paid-out more than $34 billion in wages, and generated $70 billion in economic activity.

And my favorite statistic is this: the renovation industry was 20% larger than all new home construction in Canada last year.

Together, our “small” businesses are bigger than entire industry sectors, such as forestry or mining. If you combine renovation and new homes together, the home construction industry is the largest employer in all of Canada, larger than oil and automotive!

We generate jobs, buy products, and pay wages in every single community across the country.

There are 14-million homes in Canada with a market value of more than $4-trillion dollars. Who is renovating these homes? We are! It’s renovators who maintain and improve all these homes.

So our industry is important to Canada’s economy and to the 70% of Canadian families who are homeowners. To put it simply, as an industry, we matter a lot. We may be small businesses individually but, collectively, we are really a huge part of Canada’s economy.

We should feel proud of working in an industry that is so meaningful to so many.

So, why is it important that we work together? At CHBA we are renovators that see each other as colleagues and we work together to raise the professionalism of our industry, solve problems, and to learn from each other.

If we want to be heard by governments, or if we want to influence how consumers see our industry, we need to work together, so our voice is strong.

In our busy lives we don’t often think about the impact government regulation has on our businesses.

At a local level, municipalities issue building permits and regulate zoning and bylaws that govern what we can do for our clients.

Provincially, we have the Ministry of Labour, the building code, Workers’ Comp, and numerous taxes and fees.

Federally, tax policies and EI premiums hit our bottom lines. Interest rates and mortgage rules affect our clients’ ability to get financing. Tax rule enforcement effects whether we lose jobs to “cash” operators that seem to get a free ride.

I am not sure if the drywall tariff has affected any of you yet, but our members out in the west are being hammered by a federal tariff applied to drywall the government has deemed to have been dumped in Canada. Some companies are seeing duties of more than 275%. That means $8 drywall if imported from these companies would now be more than $30 a sheet.

If we want to have an impact on what government does, we need to work together so our voices can be heard. So how do we work together?

As a member of CHBA, not only do we differentiate ourselves from run-of-the-mill renovators by being a member of a professional association, but our voices are heard by government through our advocacy work at all three levels of the association.

CHBA’s advocacy on the drywall issue in Western Canada has resulted in what trade experts have called unprecedented acceleration in a review of the situation to get change for the better for our industry.

CHBA engages with the government all year round, but the highlight every year in March is that a large group of CHBA’s leadership members from across Canada meet in Ottawa to spend a day on Parliament Hill meeting with politicians advocating for our renovator and builder members. It is an incredible experience.

Last March, CHBA teams met with more than 100 government officials on that one day. My team met with a number of politicians including MP Peter Fonseca from Mississauga and Hazel McCallion (former mayor of Mississauga). We had their attention and were able to share the impact of government decisions to our industry and thus the Canadian economy.

The year prior, my team met with a number of MPs including Justin Trudeau, just prior to the federal election. We were able to share our concerns and issues that impact the economy and homeowners. In the budgets that were released after our advocacy, we saw a number of CHBA talking points represented, so we know we were heard.

Even at a local level you never know when your MP or MPP will move into a higher level of leadership. These meetings and relationships we build make a difference.

If we all meet with our MPs or MPPs as individual business owners, our voice is not as strong as when we speak collectively together – through our Association.

A couple of CHBA advocacy points we are currently working on is the federal government’s national climate change plan and the Get it in Writing! campaign.

The National Climate Change Plan will impact housing – both new construction and renovation. CHBA, with input from its renovator members, is pushing hard for a return of federal incentives to encourage homeowners to think about energy efficiency when they renovate.

We’ve had such programs in the past, and they worked for professional renovators by helping motivate homeowners to move forward with a renovation in order to get the financial incentive.

But perhaps more importantly, homeowners demanded receipts because they were required to qualify for the grant money or the tax credit. These receipts cut down on the illegal cash transactions that ruin our industry’s reputation.

CHBA is advocating to the federal government on behalf of our renovator members to see similar incentives again which will benefit our industry and consumers. Incentives make a lot of sense for government, because it’s the only way to actually reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from homes.

The Get it in Writing! Campaign was developed by CHBA. It is supported financially by the federal government and is supported by an increasing number of provincial governments. And CHBA staff meet regularly with the leadership of Canada Revenue Agency as a member of the Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Underground Economy.

This direct channel is great for our renovator members. CHBA renovator-members are in the driver’s seat on how the campaign works, because through the Association, we own it.

Over the coming year, CHBA will be ramping up a Get it in Writing! campaign directed at consumers in order to educate them to make smart decisions on their renovations, which includes choosing a CHBA member and always having a proper contract.

To reinforce the message that CHBA is the home of Canada’s Renovation Professionals, and to help homeowners find our members, we are in the final steps of partnering with BILD on the RenoMark brand for renovators to take it to the next level.

In partnering with BILD our CHBA Renovator Council will continue to grow Renomark as a program with added features and benefits and will be a program for professional renovators by professional renovators.

As Jim Caruk often says, we are colleagues, the competition stays outside of the room. As a CHBA member we have the opportunity to learn from each other by comparing notes, continuing to improve our business practices, find marketing solutions, technical solutions, and stay on top of the latest trends. What better way than through collaboration with other renovators? And along the way we also have a lot of fun.

I will give you a personal example of the value of CHBA membership and collaboration has had for me. For the past number of years I had been increasingly frustrated wasting my time estimating jobs that went nowhere.

Through my colleagues at our local association, as well as some I met at the provincial and national level, they shared what they were doing. I tailored the info for our own business and this year have implemented charging for estimates for all new clients. I call it a Design Plan and sell a design that is the basis for our estimate.

We had a record year, which could be coincidence. But what isn’t coincidence is I was able to focus my time on paying clients, had more free time to work on our business, my closing ratio on jobs has improved dramatically, and people are now saying they want my professional opinion and advice.

It was a terrifying decision to do this. I did not have immediate success and questioned if I was doing the right thing. With encouragement from my colleagues I pushed through. In retrospect, I am so happy we moved in this direction and have no plans to go back.

The relationship I built with fellow members provided the feedback and wisdom I would not have had on my own and helped me make my business and my quality of life better.

In conclusion: Membership in CHBA gives your small business a loud voice in a very noisy world. When we join together and speak collectively about the impact government regulation has on our industry, the largest in Canada, the government hears us.

Membership in CHBA gives us the recognition we deserve, as professional renovation contractors, to consumers through programs like Get it in Writing! and Renomark.

Membership in CHBA lets you connect with other renovators in your community, in your province and from across the country, so that we can learn from each other and grow.

CHBA is the “home” for Canada’s professional renovators. If you are a professional renovation contractor you need to be part of it, and we will gladly welcome you.