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© Copyright 2007 Work-4 Projects Ltd.

The Brothers Grimm: “It Takes Passion”2006 profile houseAward-winning B.C. builder thrives on prompt service and doing things right the first time.

By Ann-Margret Hovsepian

“But this is industry standard” is not good enough for Robert Grimm, co-principal of Portrait Homes in Richmond, British Columbia. “If it doesn’t meet our standard, I don’t care that it meets industry standard. We’ve got to do it right!”
This passion for quality and service has paid off for Grimm, his brother Harry, and project manager Jeff Verhiel, who run the multiple-award-winning residential home builder that has grown from developing an 18-unit town home as its first project in 1989 to its current 400-home project. They build 50 to 60 homes a year, more than double their pace of five years ago, and they are working on increasing that level. The Portrait Homes Web site explains: “It takes passion… to deliver value and quality… to refuse to accept any defect… to prevent errors in the first place… to demand continual improvement in everything… to ensure that the customer’s needs are always met.”
The brothers used to be involved in manufacturing but dabbled in real estate and construction on the side. “When we sold out of that business, we put all our energy into this,” says Grimm. “We started with small projects and honed our skills.” He points out that he and his brother are not carpenters or framers by trade, but rather business people. “Our products have changed but the business philosophies are still the same: quality product, excellent customer service, and competitive pricing,” he explains.
Portrait Homes develops land and then builds homes, going from raw landscape right through the design process to development, building and then selling the homes. The company’s projects vary widely, depending on need and demand. Currently the home builder is using “a west coast alpine kind of theme. That’s the setting we’re in,” says Grimm of Silver Ridge, the latest community being developed by Portrait Homes in Maple Ridge.

2006 profile
Left to right: Harry Grimm, Jeff Verhiel, Robert Grimm

Silver Ridge, an 105-acre parcel of land of which over 40 per cent is protected green space, has already won the company 15 major industry awards. Portrait Homes has built a dozen other communities, mostly in Surrey, but also in Coquitlam and Cloverdale.
In the past decade, the Grimms have accepted more than 70 Silver or Gold Georgies (awards presented by the Canadian Home Builders’ Association of British Columbia), as well as other awards. “We don’t want to be the biggest home builder in B.C. but we do pride ourselves in the quality of our projects and the way we look after our customers,” Grimm says. “We stand behind our product and have a great team.” Five consecutive Silver Georgie Awards for Customer Service suggest the builder is certainly doing something right.
Grimm refers to the famous leaky condo crisis in British Columbia several years ago. “We had built some condos that had minor water problems, and even though it was seven years after our builders were finished, we went back and dealt with it. Even today, if something isn’t right, it doesn’t matter—it has to get dealt with.” He gives another example of a two-year-old house where the driveway concrete was chipping away. “Was it a bad batch of concrete? It doesn’t matter to the homeowner,” says Grimm. “To us, that’s not acceptable performance. No questions asked, we have to go and fix it.”
The Grimms encourage their staff to always take the customer’s viewpoint. “We do that all the time ourselves. Purchasers put their faith in our products so it’s got to be done right. We’re prompt and responsive but that goes with the caring.”
Portrait Homes also takes environmental issues seriously. Their current project has two creeks and three tributaries so the builder designed and integrated a storm water management plan, the first of its kind in western Canada. With this system, storm water flows into the creeks and post-production flows mimic pre-production flows almost exactly, according to Grimm. “It’s been performing incredibly well.”
The builder is also in the process of switching over to the Built Green program “even though we’ve always done a lot of energy efficiency things in homes,” says Grimm, pointing out that Portrait Homes implemented a recycling program long before such programs existed. “We’re going after certification now. Don’t get me wrong: We’re not tree huggers, but we feel socially responsible.”
Despite the company’s continued success, the challenges faced by other builders in the province—and even across the country—come up for Portrait Homes, too. “Rising costs continue to be a problem,” says Grimm, who also serves as vice-president of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders’ Association. “I can’t speak for all across Canada but out here the costs are still going up… not as fast as before but about 1 per cent a month.”
Then there’s the nation-wide labour shortage. “Trades are maxed out right now,” Grimm says. “Some of the more senior trades are retiring which exasperates things.”
Land availability is another challenge. “Governments always talk about affordable housing but they’re definitely not helping to make it available, what with increased fees, and a desire to have more control and regulate. They don’t understand that’s an input cost to the builder, so consumer is paying for that,” Grimm explains.
He adds that Portrait Homes has a “fairly good group of sub-trades right now” but, when it comes to increasing costs, those have to be passed on. “So then you have to take a look at affordability and ask, ‘Do I have to make the lot smaller? The house smaller?’ You have to be cautious. It would be very easy to over-spec a home.”
Grimm wants to see Portrait Homes ramp up its current construction levels and have multiple sites going at one time. “We want to keep building the best homes that we can.”

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