Brian Hopwood has been building homes throughout the Coffs Coast for the past 30 years. Brian’s experience and skill has created a home building company with an enviable reputation for quality and excellence.
Now, Brian’s son David has joined the team. He’s bringing all the latest in building design and technology to Hopwood Homes, together with a truck load of energy and enthusiasm. FOCUS caught up with David and Brian to find out how the young gun’s influence is improving the Hopwood Homes experience, and to get all the latest and greatest from the boys themselves.
David, can you tell us a bit about Hopwood Homes?
Wow, where to start? Hopwood Homes was originally started in Orange, where Dad built about 125 homes before seeking out the warmer coastal climate of Coffs Harbour. It was 1988 when Mum and Dad moved my older brother Peter, older sister Renee and me to Coffs to escape the cold winters of Orange. I never knew much of the business growing up; I just have memories of Dad and his old yellow ute filled with mysterious tools and things that both scared and intrigued me. Mum and Dad both worked very hard; the business grew, and it ultimately became a cornerstone within the Coffs Harbour business community.
Fast forward 30 years and the business is still going strong, and even though I’ve always been happy to do my own thing, here I am! Dad has built over 1,000 homes for Coffs Coast residents, and I’m always in awe of the incredible reputation he has built.
Ok Brian; what’s the Brian Hopwood story?
I come from a pretty ordinary Aussie family of five kids. Dad was in the banking sector, so we were constantly moving from place to place. My best friend during my childhood was probably my younger brother, Stephen. I also have three wonderful sisters. They’re the smart ones who’ve all done well in life, and I love them dearly.
Ok, zip forward to 1975, when I stated my carpentry apprenticeship in Albury. Just two years later, Dad was transferred to Orange, so I went along as well. It was here that I continued my apprenticeship with a man called Alan Kitt. What an experience that was! He was a hard worker and expected nothing less from those who worked alongside him. He drove me hard, and I learnt so much from this man. Basically, he taught me how to work, and he also instilled in me a great work ethic. He was tough but fair; well, actually a lot tougher than fair, but to this day we remain great friends.
Orange can be a harsh environment and in fact, my very first day on the job was spent building a frame in the snow at the base of Mount Canobolas. It was freezing!
Years later, he told me he went home and sat in front of his fireplace; he said, “Mate, if you survived that day, I knew you were either good or crazy”. I don’t think he ever said which one!
When did you start Hopwood Homes?
We started Brian Hopwood Homes in 1978 and built 125 homes in and around Orange. We had a thriving business, but really wanted to live in a warmer climate. Finally, in 1988 we moved to the warmth of Coffs Harbour with our three children.
From the moment we arrived, we knew we had found somewhere special – a great place to raise the kids, warm climate, wonderful beaches, sunny days, rainforests to explore, a friendly community … and did I mention warm, and yes, there was no snow. Yippee!
I even came out of Rugby League retirement at 32 and played for the Coffs Harbour Comets. Through the sport I made a lot of friends and had a great time whilst keeping fit. I was a pretty ordinary player, but it was a great way to meet people … Usually when they were running over the top of me!
Brian Hopwood Homes continued to grow, and so did our love of Coffs Harbour.
Of course, life has a way of throwing curve balls too. Tell us about 2004.
2004 was a shocker – “Brian, you have cancer,” said the doc. I had stomach cancer. I was 47; my mum died of stomach cancer at the age of 47! “Wow, so this is a challenge,” I thought. In the end, they had to remove my entire stomach to get all the cancer out. If I didn’t have the operation, I would have probably been dead within nine months. I certainly feel incredibly grateful and also sorry for those less fortunate than me.
Ok, so how has this changed your outlook on life?
I now do everything, and I do it fast! What’s the greatest gift in life? Time; I have been given the precious gift of time.
In my life I was lucky enough to play touch footy (NTRA) and Oztag for Aussie teams.
OK, no big deal, but I now set goals and believe that we have “blocks of time” that you must use to their fullest extent.
You had a hip replacement 2015; is it time to slow down?
Are you kidding? I’m just getting going! Skiing, water skiing, Oztag, gym, bike riding and running the City to Surf are some of my favourite pastimes – and all usually with my wife, Kim, close by my side. Well, she is a bit slower on the run legs – so not that close (I’m in trouble now!) Kim and I love to keep active. Kim is very passionate about things, and her newest endeavour has her building her first Tiny House.
She has a passion for women’s rights and equal pay, affordability for women in retirement, and of course, the despicable domestic violence against women – all of which I support wholeheartedly.
The Tiny House movement is growing, and Kim believes a Tiny House in the backyard or even in a village can benefit women who feel the difficulties of retirement on a very low superannuation, or perhaps none at all. She is doing this without my help, because she’s a smart, independent woman. In fact, she speaks three languages, is a health coach and a teacher (resting). I’ve always said, “surround yourself with people smarter than you”. Which in my case is easy!
We have five fantastic children. Peter, Renee, David, Neeson and Brodie. They have wonderful partners, Polly, Trent, Nathan, Lori and Jordy. Then, of course, there’s our amazing grandchildren, all 11 of them. They are Sophie, Miah, Jake, Khael, Micah, Charlie, Scarlett, Ace, Arlo, Nash and Remi.
It sounds like you’re pretty busy with life; are you thinking of retiring soon?
People say, “Hey Hoppy; when are you going to retire, you silly old goat?” Well, that’s a bit rude, but I have considered it and it’s clear that the benefits of working far outweigh the temptation of retirement. And here’s why:
1. I work with great staff in Angie, Boz, Rosie, Helen and Chris and now have my son David with me.
2. Most of my contractors and sub-contractors have been with me for many years, some since moving to Coffs 30 years ago.
(Yes, Gidge, you are getting old too!)
3. I get to meet so many wonderful people who start as clients but end up friends. Usually we’re designing their home, but some have their own plans, which is no hassle. Then I get to meet them every week on site while we build their home.
Why would I deprive myself of this? Really, it’s great!
I have a sign in my office which reads, “Success is not the key to happiness; happiness is the key to success”. In other words, if you love what you’re doing, you will be successful. I respect honesty, and I give it. That’s why I’m so disappointed when I see some builders advertising homes that start with a ridiculously low price. In reality, all this means is they’ll stick it to the client later during the build. How could you trust these people with such a big investment?
In any business, trust is important; actually, it’s paramount. Our clients trust my team, and we do anything we have to in order to maintain that. I have been doing this a long time, and I still have a great passion for my business and people. That’s why I like to say, “Experience is not expensive; it’s priceless”.
I must just say sorry to Dave though, because I’m sticking around here for a long time before he gets to push me out of the door!
What’s your favourite thing about work?
It has to be meeting clients on site each week and experiencing the building journey together. How good is that? It’s exciting, and it’s such a wonderful treat to be involved.
David, tell us more about you and your path to Hopwood Homes?
Career wise my background is in banking – mainly sales and mortgages. I did this for a few of the big organisations for nearly 10 years. I grew to love the time I got to spend with clients, the continual learning that was required to be successful and the leadership role I developed. The changing environment of finance made me yearn for something different – something that would help me grow and develop a new set of skills. That’s when I started my education degree in 2014 through Southern Cross University here in Coffs Harbour. I learnt a lot about myself, met some incredible educators, and people whom I now call friends.
I gained a huge admiration and respect for teachers and what they do, but after my final prac there was still something missing. That’s when I came in initially to Hopwood Homes just to help out with the marketing and general sales. I came to the business with very little knowledge of building, so that worried me, but I used that as a way to drive me to learn and find where my skills best benefitted the business.
How did you go about learning the building business?
Dad is highly respected in the industry and has built an incredible reputation based on a knowledge and skill set he has developed over a very long period. So here I was, entering the business feeling a little overwhelmed. I wanted to know people respected me and my input, so Dad constantly reminded me that the business didn’t need another “Brian”, so to not let that intimidate me. I used this to remind myself of my own skill set and how this could help grow the business. Dad and I have a great relationship, both in and out of work. We’re fortunate enough to be able to keep the boundaries clear and be able to act professionally within the business.
I believe what has really helped me better understand Hopwood Homes and what building a home means is my own current building experience with my partner Nathan. This has given me a huge insight into the experience of building a home as a business and as a client. It helped remind me of the emotional journey that building a home brings. It isn’t just selections, schedules and purchase orders; it is people’s hopes and dreams entrusted to someone else!
Nathan and I have two gorgeous kids; our son Micah is 10 and our daughter Scarlett is eight. They are both truly amazing little individuals of whom I am very proud. I, like Dad, think myself a very lucky man.
Who are the team at Brian Hopwood Homes?
Brian – I can’t say it enough, but I truly have an amazing team.
Mark Bohringer (Boz) – Boz is a qualified builder and has been with us now for 11 years! He started off as one of our subbies before taking on the role as our site supervisor. After a few years he put up the tools and moved in to the office to be our estimator, quantifier and all-round gentleman. Boz can still be seen out visiting the job sites, which I love and am grateful for. He has a great eye, and this is just another level of involvement that only benefits the business, team and the client.
Mark Rose (Rosie) – Rosie is our site
supervisor, and this man is incredible! Rosie is responsible for managing all our jobs, their schedules,the trades, deliveries and their overall quality. He is nothing short of incredible! Nothing is ever too much of an issue for Rosie; he even talks directly with the clients. I can’t say many site supervisors do this.
Angela Smart (Angie) – Angie has been with Hopwood’s for just over five years. The super woman of the office, she manages our accounts and selections. This is by no means a small feat. Angie guides clients through their whole selections process, liaises with subbies and trade partners, collaborates with Boz and Rosie and makes sure subbies and tradies are paid and clients kept up to date with their project cost.
Helen Kellam – Helen has recently joined the team as our administration assistant. Helen brings a passion of building and design to the team and fits in perfectly! Her passion for design is seeing her undertake her own interior design course, which is exciting. We can’t wait to see what else she brings to the business in the future.
Chris Burne – Chris is our labourer and is a bloody hard worker! He zips around job to job ensuring sites are clean, materials are where they need to be, fencing is secure, and silt screen is up. His job is a busy one, and he and Rosie are a dynamic duo!
David – I love the team, and I’m constantly impressed by their dedication and passion! Each and every week we hold a team meeting and discuss every job in detail. This really shows how much effort and attention is paid to every job, and I’m proud to be part of it. The office is a hive of activity most of the time, whilst we sort the tiny details and crunch the numbers to ensure every project is running on time and to budget; it really is incredible.
So, what changes have you helped implement in the business?
David – At the core of the business is the client. Without the clients we don’t exist, so gaining and retaining clients is obviously paramount. Also, with Dad managing so many projects at once whilst maintaining personal contact and availability with clients and subbies is something he’s proud of and very good at … But as we become busier, his time will sometimes be spread a little too thinly. I guess what I am getting at is I could see where this communication could be enhanced amongst our clients, trade partners and subbies, whilst still focusing on “getting the job done”. I spent many hours searching for software that would suit the industry and our business. Eventually, I discovered an ideal cloud-based program that manages our projects, clients and communication with those involved, throughout the construction of a home. Each client is granted unique access to their project, its timeline, documents, photos and videos! For instance, we had a client in Sweden whom we were able to keep updated and communicate with via one portal. It was pretty incredible.
This then cascaded down and helped me further tweak our marketing to get a better understanding of what potential clients were wanting. It was evident that in this virtual era where social media such as Pinterest and Instagram are so prominent, and TV shows like The Block exist, it is important to be able to meet people’s expectations of design and materials. Importantly, one thing we always keep at the centre of these design discussions is knowledge and quality! After all, sometimes what you want and what can be achieved don’t always align, but that’s where Dad and the team educate the clients on “the why” and generally find a good compromise.
Tell us about your community involvement.
Brian – I’ve played a lot of sport locally since we moved to Coffs, so I love to support our local sporting clubs. This year we have been major sponsors for both junior and senior Oztag, Sawtell Football Club, the under 10s National Girls Oztag team and the Sawtell District BMX Club. We have also sponsored a local dance and performing arts event held earlier in the year called “Chill”, organised by local dancer Sammy Ross.
David – We also made a generous donation to the Bear Cottage, who provide hospice care for terminally ill children and their families. Moving forward, we hope to provide more support to the local community through further fundraisers and initiatives.
Tell us about your custom build homes?
Brian – Custom builds are a lot of fun! Initially we will sit with clients to get an understanding of what is it they are after, eliminating the things they don’t like and expanding on the features they do. The land has a lot of influence on the design as well, such as aspect of the block and where the home is best situated, any design covenants that may need to be adhered too, access to the site, restrictions or easements and fire ratings etc. Once we have answered all of this, I can start on the design. Drawing can take time, but this is what I love doing. Once I have something I believe fits the brief, we will meet with clients again and go over the plan. At this stage I also present them with an accurate price. There’s no good in drafting a plan and not accompanying with a price; you must make sure you are all on the same page and clients understand what they are spending. It may take a few more tweaks, but we don’t limit this. It is their home and has to be right. If we get it wrong here, the whole project could be a disaster. It’s always interesting to see how the design changes throughout the process, but we try to have fun with it! You have to have fun.
David – Within the drafting space at the moment there are a lot of exciting things happening! Technology allows so much, and we are certainly working hard to bring that to our clients very soon. In fact, I’m currently completing a drafting course to enhance my understanding of the design process. Design drawing is a collaboration between the person drawing the plan, the client, their budget and the other factors mentioned by Dad. I’m a lover of the 3D capabilities offered these days, so that’s what I’m excited to bring to the business in the near future.
Do you have ready made plans on offer for clients?
Brian – We do. I encourage input from clients though, and very rarely have I ever built a “standard plan”. There should be changes made to accommodate the lifestyle and needs of the owner. The plans we offer have been developed over a period of time from listening to hundreds of clients and what the common wants and needs are. Our range is extensive, covering sloping blocks, split levels, double storeys, acreage homes or big family homes. At the moment, we are working on releasing more. These are fairly priced with true costs for clients to be able to consider. None of these misleading “starting from” prices; personally, that isn’t how I like to do it.
Your signs are popping up all over the Coffs Coast! Tell us a little more about your House and Land Packages.
Brian – Feedback was that people were finding it hard to get a hold of land, as stock was selling, on many occasions, before even hitting the market. I had a few discussions with some developers I know personally about this, and we were able to get something off the ground. We wanted to promote quality estates and fill them with a variety of homes and homeowners; so far I think we have achieved that.
David – The packages also give people a true and affordable indication of what a home of that size will cost. Ultimately we encourage change in design to suit each family or individual; that is when the “house” becomes their home and not just a “package”. Also, our packages are turn-key. What does this mean to a potential homeowner? It means we have a comprehensive list of inclusions covering everything and ready to move in; from Council and engineering fees through to floor coverings, ceiling fans and turf it is all there!
Brian – We are working on more packages now but being mindful of registration timeframes, we can’t give too much away. David and I have spent a lot of time looking into some new products, and we’re excited to push the facades of our designs! Until then we are busy working with our existing clients and their dream homes; we’re so lucky to have such fun and happy clients.
How important is the relationship with your suppliers and trades?
Brian – Hugely important! The work that goes in behind the scenes to manage the schedule of building a home is, quite frankly, massive! Alongside having incredible staff at Hopwood Homes, who as individuals and as a team work hard to get things done, our tradies and suppliers work equally as hard. A lot of trust is put into these teams and individuals by both us and clients. It’s quite common for our clients to speak with our trades on site or to visit our suppliers to discuss certain items. In fact, we encourage it!
David – I love how closely we work together with our trades and suppliers. For me they have been a real source of knowledge and education whilst I am learning. What I also love is the communication our clients get to have at various times with both. Whether it’s to view some samples or to discuss their electrical layout, it’s great to see clients involved, and it’s clear how much our clients appreciate this contact.
Trekking down the homeowner path should be exciting and rewarding. Here are a few tips from Brian and David to get you in to a house you are happy to call home:
Be informed – always speak with professionals who have been in the industry for longer than Kim Kardashian’s marriage to Kris Humphries! Do some research, read some reviews or if possible speak with past clients of your potential builder. How long has your builder been around for? This person is responsible for one of the biggest investments of your life. It is your right to know their credentials – don’t accept just speaking with a sales person; you should be able to speak with both the builder and site supervisor.
Is your quote easy to understand – our quotes are clearly laid out and comprehensive. We do not want to leave anything open for interpretation. A fair amount of time is spent with our clients walking through the quote and its inclusions, to ensure they are fully aware of everything that is in, or isn’t in, their Brian Hopwood Home.
Understand your contract – different builders will use different contracts, so it is important to understand the contract your potential builder will be using. The four main types are Fixed Price, Standard Contract, Cost Plus or a Custom Contract; all should set out timeframe expectations, the cost of works, payment schedules, how variations are handled and the dispute process. Regardless of the contract used, it is always important to seek independent legal advice.
Understand your site – before you sign a contract, make sure your builder has undertaken a site survey through a reputable surveyor. The survey will determine not only size and dimensions of your site, but also the slope of your land, any restrictions on the site, locate services, identify any easements or covenants and help in planning the design and building envelope for your home. Always ensure your builder has completed the survey; not having this could cost you tens of thousands of dollars in “unexpected” site works, retaining walls, re-design or additional requirements required for your home to comply to building standards.
Design to your budget – not all floor plans are going to work on your site, nor are you going to be able to afford them all. Understand exactly what it is you do and don’t like about particular designs; it’s always good to have a starting point for your design. Some builders won’t allow changes in the floor plan design, whilst others are flexible, so be mindful of this when considering who to build your home. Features like raked ceilings, raised ceiling heights, full height tiles in wet areas are beautiful, but can be very costly; so keep track of the extras you have agreed to, so you don’t go overbudget.
Is this your forever home – how is this home going to benefit you in the future, will it become a future investment, do you plan on selling in a few years’ time and building again, or will this be a home you plan to settle in for some time? Asking these questions will be beneficial to your design, your budget but mainly your economic welfare! In other words, do you really need the added extras; is “keeping up with the Joneses” really an affordable option right now, on this home?
Communication is vital – you might be saying tomato and they might be hearing tomato! We meet with clients each week on site throughout their build! This is crucial; not only is it exciting for them, but it also allows us to educate clients on their home and what we at Hopwood Homes do, we believe, better! Mistakes can happen from time to time, but if you get to it early enough you can change it.
Your new display home is open! What can people expect to see?
Brian – I have had lots of display homes in the past, so doing another one wasn’t exactly an idea I jumped at. It took some time and convincing, mainly from David, that we needed another. A lot of thought and collaboration went in to the layout and design of this one. I met with Marcus Phillips from Designer Living Kitchens, who does a lot of our kitchen work and is a close friend of mine. He quickly tore my plan apart and made me re-think it; as hard as it was, I’m grateful for that. He and David challenged me to do something different, and I think the result is exactly that – different, but still celebrating our quality and comprehensive inclusions!
David – this was certainly my baby! I could understand why Dad wasn’t so keen to build another display home, but I could also see why we needed one. Hopwood Homes has built an incredible reputation, and this display home was a way to renew that and also show our new direction. The feedback we have had from existing clients, suppliers, trades and the general public has been very encouraging. The home has a lot of texture and design features that are achievable without blowing the budget. As you walk the home, you are educated on our inclusions via signs and stickers that highlight them. I love this little extra, as I think educating people about what we do is important. We really do have a higher standard than most, not only on the surface, but internally in the home. This is something I have become very proud of.
We’ve also set up a showroom in the display home, so you can get a real sense of our full range. We have free refreshments on offer, so come and check it out for yourself and get a feel for the exciting future of Hopwood Homes.
Display Home Opening Hours:
Wednesday 2pm – 4pm, Thursday 3pm – 6pm, Friday 2pm – 4pm, Saturday 11am – 2pm, Sunday 11am – 2pm.
Ph: 6650 0200 or Brian 0438 665 401