Today we’re buzzing with Jonathan Zerkee, president of Sonbuilt Custom Homes and the newly appointed president of the Canadian Home Builders Association – Fraser Valley.
Passionate about building and the Fraser Valley, we talk to Jonathan about taking on apprentices, the challenges the building industry might face this year, and what he’s looking forward to with the CHBA- FV.
BuzzBuzzHome: How did you get into the development industry?
Jonathan Zerkee: I got into the building industry when I was very young. I’ve always done stuff with my hands. If you go to my website, there’s a picture of me working on a structure when I was eight years old. All my life, I’ve worked with wood and built things. I did do a little stint outside of the construction industry for five or six years but really came back to my roots which is building things.
BBH: You’ve chosen to do most of your work in the Fraser Valley. What do you love about the area?
JZ: I have chosen to build my business in the Fraser Valley. A lot of my peers have gone across the river into Vancouver and the North Shore. The lower mainland is some of the nicest area in all the world. I really believe in living and working in a close proximity to where you are. We have done work across the river. It takes a lot of time and a lot of fuel to drive vehicles there – which isn’t great for the environment. We really try to focus on what we call the thirty to forty minute window to where our home base is located.
BBH: What motivated you to prioritize healthy and energy efficient building technologies as part of Sonbuilt Homes?
JZ: It’s a better way of building. I’ve always aspired to doing the very best I can. It’s ingrown. I take in pride in what I do. And, I’m always trying to build a better product. Building energy efficient – using R2000 for example – builds a better product. It’s better for the consumer from an environmental perspective and energy perspective. Even from a health perspective. There’s more details involved with it, but it’s a better way of building which is why I’ve taken that approach on.
BBH: I know your passionate about Net Zero (zero energy buildings) could you talk a little bit more about that?
JZ: One of my personal goals is to really start to bring Net Zero to an affordable level for the average person. Right now it costs between $80,000 to $100,000 more on a $500,000 home which isn’t really affordable for the average person. My goal is to get it down, maybe 5-10 per cent more. That’s where I’d like to see the industry go. That’s where my passions are.
BBH: With Sonbuilt homes, you started a junior apprenticeship program. What motivated you to do so?
JZ: We work with a school program called SSA program – Secondary School Apprenticeship program. I have an apprentice with me right now. He’s finishing his last year of high school, and his second year of the SSA program. When he graduates next year, he’ll already have his first year of Kwantlen under his belt.
I have journeyman now that’s been with me for six years and that’s exactly what he did as well. I hired him directly out of high school. He already had his first year. He finished his next three years apprenticing with me.
BBH: What motivated to take on apprentices and get involved with the SSA program?
JZ: One of the reasons why I started doing that is because, in my opinion, you need to identify young people who are passionate about the industry and then you need to start to train them. Because what we do is pretty unique and there’s a lot of skill involved, I need to identify them when they’re young and then train them properly. Unfortunately, what I’ve found is that when you get someone in the industry five even ten years later, they’re really set in their ways.
We identify guys that want to do more than just one thing. A lot of the people that come through a trades’ program end up going out into the industry and only do one thing. And, I like to train guys to do the whole program. That way, we can control the quality right from start to finish. We don’t have a whole bunch of people on the project. We’ll start a project right from the beginning and carry it through to the end. That’s how we maintain consistent quality.
My goal is to train guys up that are very skilled across the gamut of what’s in their trade.
BBH: Congrats on being named the new President of the CHBA -FV. What challenges do you think the CHBA – FV members will face this year?
JZ: I think one of the big challenges that we’re going to face as an industry is the transition from the HST back to the GST/PST. I don’t want to continue to labour the issue, but it is certainly a challenge that we’re going to face one more time. I think the transition to the HST – which I think was a very good thing for our industry – was a difficult transition that the industry made, but it was a good transition. And, now we’re going back away from that. And, I think there’s going to be some challenges for the industry. Whether it’s the mortgage slowing, or whether it’s builders sorting out with their clients how the transitional rules are going to take place.
So, that’s one of the big areas. Working with our provincial chapter to educate and help builders in that transition area will be a big part of what I do this year.
I think the next one specifically for our local chapter at the Fraser Valley is membership. The last three years have not been the greatest economic times. Our desire is to really build on our membership and strengthen it. And really work to educate our builders and our suppliers. To bring the standard of the industry up. I really believe that we, as an industry, need to self govern and self discipline ourselves.
BBH: What gets you excited about your work with the CHBA-FV for the upcoming year?
JZ: I’m really excited about where the organization is going from an educational perspective. For the last three, years, we’ve put on an educational event that’s a really exciting event. We get anywhere form about 150-175 builders and suppliers out. I really enjoy that and look forward to it every year. The hope is that it will continue to grow and get more people involved.
I’m also really excited about working with our current Executive Officer Jan and really developing job descriptions. We’re hoping to hire on another person to assist with both Jan and Loie. I’m excited about being involved in developing that. It’s one of my passions actually. Developing the back end: job descriptions, employee agreements, that kind of stuff.
BBH: When you’re not working, what do you like to do to relax?
JZ: One of the things I’ve been doing lately is flying. I’ve been taking my pilot’s license. I also enjoy snowmobiling and power boating
BBH: If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?
JZ: Australia or Hawaii.
JZ: Australia is a place I haven’t been. I have friends that live there, and I’ve heard it’s really nice. Hawaii is a place I’d go to relax and get some sun.
BBH: How do you take your coffee?
JZ: I’m going to disappoint you on this one. I actually don’t drink coffee. I’m not a coffee guy. I don’t drink any hot drinks.
Thanks for buzzing with us Jonathan!