By Natasha Rombough, Director of Marketing and Communications, CHBA
Sue Wastell is the new president of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association. Based in London, Ont., she is co-president of Wastell Homes. After serving for years on the board of the London Home Builders’ Association, on the board of the Ontario Home Builders’ Association, and on the national board, Wastell and her fellow executive committee members were sworn into office during CHBA’s Home Building Week in Canada in Banff last month.
Company Name: Wastell Homes
Head Office: London, Ont.
Number of Full-Time Employees: 16
Approx. Gross Revenue: $40 M
Projects per year: 100 units
Growing a company
Wastell Homes is an award-winning, family-run company that mainly builds townhomes, as well as four- and six-storey multi-family homes in and around London. As co-president, Sue is responsible for overseeing every facet of the home building process, from sales and design to advertising and land acquisition.
Like many in the industry, though, Sue started learning the ropes while sweeping floors and washing windows in new construction homes when she was a teenager. When she was 14, her family’s house was built by Wastell Homes. The company was started by Garry and Elaine Wastell in 1979, and at the time they only built a few single-family homes a year – Sue’s family home being one of them. Garry and Elaine’s son Doug, who was the same age as Sue, helped out in the family business and was working on a job site that summer when he and Sue met. They’ve been together ever since, growing up and growing a company together.
Over the years, the Wastells expanded their business into small land development projects. Sue and Doug continued working for Doug’s family in their teenage years, and after high school Sue attended the University of Toronto. She already had her sights on a future with the company and the direction it might take. “I took a degree in urban and economic development, knowing that we’d probably be getting even more involved in the business after university,” she recalls.
And they did. After graduating from university, Sue started working full time at Wastell Homes, doing their in-house sales in model homes. Shortly thereafter, she got her real estate license. As Doug’s parents began transitioning into retirement, Sue spent more time at the company’s head office, shifting out of sales and into the land acquisition and development side of the business.
Seven years ago, Sue and Doug purchased the company from the senior Wastells. They now run it together, a feat that Sue says some people find fascinating. “People question how we can work together, live together and be together all day and still make everything work. The truth is, we have a great relationship working together. We don’t always agree, but we do always manage to come to an agreement and move on.”
Together, she and Doug have raised three children and have taken Wastell Homes from specializing in custom single-family homes to midrise multi-family developments. The company’s business is now 75-per-cent residential development and new home construction, and 25-per-cent commercial. Sue describes the evolution as one of Wastell Homes’ strengths: “Our company is able to adjust and shift our business for what the market is calling for. When we develop our own lands, we’re thinking ahead to what people will want and will be able to afford three years from now.”
That forward thinking is why Sue and her husband have made the change from building custom homes on 60-ft. lots to multi-family homes. It’s not that people don’t want the space, it’s that due to the cost of land, those types of homes are no longer affordable to the masses. And while being prepared for the future is required, Sue credits the ability to take risk as one of the biggest influences on success. “It’s a big risk making changes to how your business is run, rather than continuing to do the same thing you’ve always done,” she says. “Taking that leap where you’re literally putting everything you own on the line financially to make the changes you think will help make your business grow.”
Sue’s passion for the industry follows her everywhere she goes. Even when she travels with her family, she’s always paying attention to local architecture and community design, whether it’s in Thailand or Tuscany. Her enthusiasm for the industry goes beyond construction – it makes giving back to her community and association integral to her life’s work.
Wastell Homes finds time to contribute to its community in a big way, and Sue takes a leading role in many of those initiatives. The company is very involved in the London Health Sciences Foundation, and has been building their local hospital’s dream lottery homes for the last 15 years in addition to providing a monetary donation.
It’s a big effort, but one that Sue says they’re very happy to make.
More recently, the company has begun working with local homeless groups to provide homes for those in core housing need. “Working with these different organizations has really opened our eyes to the needs of our community, and also to how these organizations run and what they require to run.”
Sue recognizes the importance of raising the next generation to have an appreciation for the skilled trades, and she has long been a champion of encouraging more women to find a career in residential construction. She joined the Careers in Construction committee at the London Home Builders’ Association (LHBA), and went into high schools to give presentations for careers in construction to youth. Wastell Homes provides a scholarship through Fanshawe College in London that goes to a second-year female student. The dropout rate after the first year is disproportionately high among women, and the scholarship is meant to encourage continuation within the program. She regularly speaks to students at the college, and is also a director on an initiative to build a skilled trades centre in London. The initiative, which is led by the London District Construction Authority, working with Fanshawe College, is still in the development phase.
The senior Wastells were very involved in the LHBA, and passed down that love to Sue and Doug. “As teenagers, Doug and I would work at all the local home builders’ events,” Sue remembers. “His parents were very involved in the social events of the HBA, and so we’d volunteer with them in various capacities. For example, I worked the coat-check at the Christmas party every year while Doug bartended.”
Their commitment to the HBA became even stronger as they took over Wastell Homes. Doug became president of LHBA first, and then Sue got increasingly involved in the association. She says one of her career highlights was being presented with the President’s Award at LHBA, which is given to a volunteer member for going above and beyond. Eventually, she herself served as her local president, first in 2018-19, and then again last year. She served on the board of directors of the Ontario Home Builders’ Association for a number of years, and has been the chair of the Urban Council at the national level, as well as serving on the CHBA executive committee to the board since 2019.
It’s the relationships – both personal and professional – that keep her actively involved in the association. “Being members has allowed us to grow a great group of friends and colleagues that we can have real conversations with. When issues or questions come up, I don’t hesitate to call other members – I know they’ll give me an honest answer because we’re all trying to help each other grow.”
Volunteering with the association has also benefitted her company. “Getting involved with the city of London’s issues has been informative. Not only have I been able to help the association and other members, but that knowledge carries through to my company, and the relationships you develop when you volunteer your time also extend to your own business,” Sue says.
Being involved provincially and locally with the association provides a new perspective. “Seeing builder groups and members from across Canada has allowed for growth within our own business – we learn from others how to work through problems, and are introduced to new concepts and ways of doing things. I always question how builders who don’t participate, whether it’s attending learning sessions or participating in events, I question how they even get by in their businesses. And honestly, I think a lot of them don’t. The people who are active, you see them all the time; their business has longevity. But whoever’s not around that table, they tend to come and go in the industry.”
Sue credits her parents and Doug’s parents with instilling an strong work ethic in her. It’s a trait that’s necessary for anyone volunteering their time as CHBA national president, since the role involves a fair amount of travel, in addition to regular meetings. Her three children, husband and mother and sister all attended the National Conference in Banff to support her in her new role and encourage her in the year to come.
Sue has already visited some Alberta HBAs while she was in the province last month, and she’s got more ahead of her. As president, she’ll share with members what’s happening at the national level of the association. She’ll also hear from members about their challenges and bring that back to the table. But it’s not all work, and Sue’s passion for housing has her excited for the next year. “I’m looking forward to learning from other people, seeing other communities and what they’re building and how they’re building it.”
Coming CHBA Events
April 16-19, 2023
Spring Training/Net Zero
May 8-10, 2023
Day on the Hill
June 5-7, 2023
October 23-27, 2023