10 Things To Note When Rebuilding In Fort Mcmurray

Peace to our Fort McMurray and Northern Alberta brothers and sisters, our hearts and prayers go out to you allWhile this is a difficult time for us all, we are being contacted by friends and family regarding rebuilding. Please take the following words of advice and caution around rebuilding and pass them on to family and friends:*Beware of scams!  Sadly, there will always be those who take advantage of those in need, this CBC article mentions some examples: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/scams-fort-mcmurray-wildfire-1.3590705. I know first-hand of a friend who was approached by a “contractor” a few years ago and gave a deposit of $20K+ and never saw it again.  Be careful.

  1. Do not rush: pressure to get going can make for poor decisions; the rebuild will take time, take due time and consideration to research and make the right decisions.

    2. Hire an experienced designer:
    an experienced designer will help guide the design process and make sure the design is well thought out and thorough taking into account efficient use of space, all disciplines, safety, environment, economics, quality, and much more – shop around, ask around, get references, and do research here.  Time spent finding the right designer and producing the right design will come back many times over in money saved and money well spent.

    3. Obtain multiple quotes from contractors:
    using a strong set of construction blueprints, seek out quotes from as many contractors as you wish.

    4. Compare bids:
    try your best to evaluate the contractors on many levels including:
    a) competence: experience in the field, both years of experience and type of experience (e.g. commercial vs. residential vs. industrial, as well as the different trades), attention to detail, commitment to mastery and excellence, safety, scheduling and planning, reporting and communication skills, cleanliness and organization, roles and responsibilities etc.
    b) character: honesty, reliability, integrity, attitude, demeanor, manners etc.

    5. Check for references:
    ask for at least 3 references, their names, numbers, and the projects, call the references and ask for details about the contractor’s character and competence (the points above).

    6. Conduct an interview:
    get a good feel for the contractor and their character and competence, you are about to enter into an high-stakes high-value relationship, so make sure you are really comfortable with who you are doing business with.  The interview can be through phone or in person – and there is no obligation to commit.

    7. Consult others:
    check the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), ask friends and family for advice or suggestions, pray for guidance.
  2. Make a contract: standard construction contracts can be found via the Fort McMurray Construction Association (www.fmca.net) or Canadian Construction Documents Committee (www.ccdc.org).  Review the terms carefully, make sure to clearly and thoroughly discuss and outline roles and responsibilities and expectations – spending more time here upfront will help avoid many problems (and potentially lawsuits) down the line.  If there is anything you want or don’t want, make sure it is in the contract – once it is signed, it is the binding document that both parties must fall back on in the case of disagreements, which are common in complex fields such as construction.
  3. Uphold the contract: keep up your end of the contract, make sure your payments are on time, and make sure they are upholding their end of the contract.  If there is an issue, bring it up immediately and do not wait as this may sour relations and exacerbate conflicts.  If there are any changes to the contract, capture them via change orders, with cost and schedule implications.  This will help avoid tremendous trouble at the back-end.
  4. Stand up for what’s right, and be flexible and forgiving: people are not perfect; mistakes and deficiencies are inevitable – it’s how they are handled that is important. We all know that what goes around comes around, so let’s keep that in mind in our business dealings.  A famous and good negotiation book based on trust, good will, and an objective “what’s fair?” approach is: www.goodreads.com/book/show/313605.Getting_to_Yes In this book they have a maxim that has merit: be tough on the problem, soft on the people.  Of course you can always get a second and third opinions on a matter, and there is also mediation and litigation as other tools to help get by road-blocks.

Finally, leave on a clean slate – tidy up loose ends and have a close-out meeting or discussion to make sure all obligations have been honored, lessons have been captured, and the relationship is in good shape.***We hope to return to town in early June and work with friends and family on the long journey of rebuilding.  And while buildings were certainly destroyed, our community was definitely not – the heroic acts in the face of the fire, and the selfless acts in the course of the relief efforts are innumerable and immeasurable.  In fact, not only is the Fort McMurray community clearly stronger, so is the Alberta-community, and even the broader Canadian community.  I’ve traveled to a few cities across Canada in the past month, and along with the stories highlighted in the media – like the Syrian refugees who mobilized to help Fort McMurray refugees – the outpouring of generosity, kind words, and gracious prayers by Albertans, Canadians, and internationally is truly humbling.  Ironically, though the fire ravaged our homes, it warmed our hearts – it reminded us of our interdependence, and that we are really one large family, and that when one family member is having tough times, the others all instinctively do whatever they can to help.  I look forward to continuing the spirit of honesty and good will and camaraderie during the rebuilding of our city.

May the Wood Buffalo community flourish more beautifully than what it was before.


All the best.


Kind Regards,Sharafe and the Keen Builders Team



Should you build?

Before deciding to build, be sure to examine your intentions and honestly ask yourself, “Why do I want to build a new home?” – actions are only by intentions, so the more beautiful and sincere the intentions, the more blessed and fruitful the actions. Thoroughly explore all options available (e.g. renting, buying something smaller, other investment options etc.), consult wise and experienced people, and seek guidance.  It is best not to rush this crucial first step.  Based on our experience, taking time here to make the right decision will pay off many many times over in the future. Things to consider here include: staying debt-free or becoming debt-free as soon as possible, and avoiding taking on more debt. The economy is too complex to predict as evidenced by the many disastrous busts since the great depression – all catching the vast majority of people off-guard. To get a glimpse into the structure of modern finance and economics see:

Ideally, work and save to purchase or build a house in cash, obtain interest-free loans to purchase the home, or there are other risk-sharing models that are safer than exploitative conventional mortgages.

IF certain about building a home, select the right piece of land

Some considerations to purchasing a lot: family, relatives, friends, community, places of worship, walk-ability to grocery stores and other commercial needs, water, sunlight, gardening & community gardens, accessibility of nature, traffic and noise, industries, in-fill vs. new development, the area of the city, etc. For an idea of what makes some neighbourhoods better than others see the landmark book by Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Detailed drawings and specifications

The intention is to clearly outline exactly what you want and how you want it.  To do that you need to be informed; this means research. See the section below for important environmental and health considerations to incorporate in the construction plans. Then, details, details, details.  Many of the problems experienced during construction are due to lack of sufficient forethought and detailed planning. It is important to be as detailed and thorough and thoughtful as possible in this phase. Visualize the space, visit and tour other homes, research, make hand-sketches, make mock-ups.

Approach multiple builders to provide proposals for constructing your home

Be sure to ask for proposals and not simply ‘pricing’: beware of making a decision solely based on price.  There are many factors to consider including: competence, honesty, reputation and track-record, quality and attention to detail, contracts & change management, safety, conduct & demeanour, communication, customer service, and of course price. Of course it will be difficult to ascertain all of these, but some indicators include: authenticity of the people – interview and listen and observe carefully, quality and thoroughness of proposal, reference checks and consulting others, check what associations they are part of, prayer, and finally, follow your instincts. Oversee Construction After you select your builder, sign a good contract that clearly and thoroughly outlines obligations and responsibilities including a clear and fair payment schedule, review this with your lawyer, and you’re on your way!  Set regular meetings or updates with your contractor, and hold them accountable to their commitments.  Make sure there are no hidden fees, and a clear change-management process to document and approve changes – all these should be in the contract.


Towards the end of the project conduct final walk-throughs, identify deficiencies and once all is done the keys are handed over and you move in!  Of course issues may arise, and your builder should have their company warranty on top of the Alberta Government Home Warranty.  Hopefully by the end of this, you’ll have made a new friend.