Cover Story: Editor’s Choice: Pratt Homes
The story behind the builder of Bear Creek Ridge in Barrie
Don Pratt is a Barrie boy, born and raised. Barrie is a thriving real estate market located 45 minutes north of Toronto. Much like the previous generations of his family, Don spent the majority of his life in construction in the Barrie area then passed the family building legacy on to his daughter Karen Pratt-Hansen and son-in-law Heljar Hansen.
Don recounts a grade school memory of being surrounded by peers as his teacher asked questions about career dreams. As the teacher went through the questions, Don didn’t raise his hand. The teacher asked him directly, “What do you want to do Don?” He simply responded “I want to build homes.”
The Pratt family has been building homes in Barrie since 1890 but Pratt Homes was founded by Don in the early 1970s. At the heart of the company is building attractive and affordable homes to help people achieve homeownership.
The Pratt family legacy began when Stephen Pratt emigrated from England in 1890 and constructed two houses in the Cundles Heights area of Barrie. Don was inspired by his family history and when he took over the family business in the mid 1970s, he evolved from building houses to creating communities.
Don and his wife Chris started Pratt Homes in their basement. They created a logo and began a new legacy and now Pratt Homes is the largest homebuilder in Barrie. To this day, Pratt Homes continues to be a family business that creates meaningful communities while supporting industries, families, charities and organizations.
Karen and Heljar sit in the boardroom at Pratt Homes’ Head Office. The entire office is meticulously designed including photography from Peter Lik in every room. There is a gorgeous reclaimed barn wood table; wood acquired from the Pratt family farm. As you enter the boardroom you’re greeted by a picture called “Sacred Sunrise” taken of Cayonlands National Park in Utah. The photograph commands your attention.
The pair are positioned beside each other prepared to recollect memories of the pinnacle moments that built the foundation for The Pratt Hansen Group.
THE EARLY YEARS
Karen Pratt-Hansen has a proud demeanor when discussing her childhood in construction. “The family has always been in construction. It’s been my life. It’s what I know,” she says.
Karen remembers her mom as the chief cook and bottle washer who kept things on track.
“My mom was an integral part of Pratt Homes as well as teaching me about business,” says Karen. “She showed me how to dress professionally because a Pratt Homes representative must care about their presentation.”
When Karen and her brother were younger, they asked for a withdrawal from the bank of dad. The result was different than anticipated. “Mom and dad gathered up cleaning materials, put us in the car, stopped at one of our model homes and said they’d be back once it was clean.”
The Pratts had a family tradition: they children were first to view new model homes. They proudly they walked through the home their dad built, praised the gorgeous decorating their mom did and then played in the kids room.
Karen remembers her parents steering her towards the family business. “Even when I was thinking about practicing law, my parents encouraged me to be a real estate lawyer.”
HOW IT STARTED
Karen embarked upon a journey most students can only dream of and attended university in Australia, majoring in law. During her schooling Karen met her future husband, Heljar Hansen, a Norwegian descendant who obtained his Australian residency to get his MBA and minor in computer sciences.
Unfortunately, in early 2002 Heljar lost his mother and Heljar and Karen went to Norway for the funeral. “It was a very sad time for my family. We honoured and celebrated my mother’s life.” says Heljar.
While in Norway, Karen received a call from her parents sending their condolences and asking if they could stop in Barrie on their way back to Australia; Karen and Heljar agreed. It was during the stopover that Don and Chris Pratt announced that retirement was on the horizon and Karen, Heljar and Karen’s brother should be their successors.
“We were both thinking about living in Australia. Karen had applied for her residency and I already had mine. We weren’t considering moving to Barrie and running the business.” says Hansen.
“I loved living overseas but I missed my family,” Karen says. “I missed Barrie. It was my home.”
Karen wanted to put down roots where her family created a legacy. Karen and Heljar made the decision together; they would take the risk and return to Canada.
A NEW ERA
Heljar and Karen moved to Barrie in November, 2002. Heljar remembers it well — it snowed for five straight months. They returned home on Friday and Monday started at Pratt Homes. Don drove Heljar to the construction site and introduced him to the site superintendent. “Meet my son-in-law, teach him about building,” Don said. Judging by the look on the super’s face, Heljar was positive Don hadn’t informed him until that moment.
“When we came back from Australia, we were learning the business. Dad was still running things. The goal was to take over but we didn’t want the learning curve to be too much,” recalls Pratt- Hansen. Karen and Heljar wanted to ensure the ownership transition didn’t have a negative impact on the business.
“We jumped into the deep end of the pool,” Heljar continues. “We knew we could handle the challenge, we’re not afraid of hard work but to be honest, we felt overwhelmed.” The family worked together to make the transition as seamless as possible.”
Karen learned to manage the business while Heljar was learning construction. They then worked with the sales manager, learning the system that drives the entire machine.
“In the early years we did everything,” notes Karen. “During the week we were at head office, on the weekend at the sales office handing out brochures.”
“We even cleaned houses before predelivery inspections,” Heljar adds.
It took under two years for the Pratt-Hansens to transition ownership of the family business to the Pratt Hansen Group.
A LOOK TO THE FUTURE
Karen and Heljar are leading Pratt Homes during exciting times. The company is designing a new product line, preparing to launch new communities and just released their new brand.
“The fact that the brand has evolved says something about the business because we’ve changed,” Heljar says.
Karen had a great attachment to the previous logo because her dad created it, but she has confidence. “The way the community has embraced our new direction has given me great comfort.”
Karen and Heljar are doing things the Pratt-Hansen way. “We love change. We love doing things new, different and better,” Karen says. “That has been a philosophy of ours but it was different when we evolved the brand. The logo was a foundation of what previous generations built before us.”
“But just because the logo changes doesn’t mean the foundation changes. We’re an innovative company that makes fresh new changes but we also believe in tradition,” Heljar adds.
The Pratt family legacy has become the Pratt-Hansen family legacy. Karen and Heljar hope their kids will continue the family business. Both kids attend community opening and closing events as well as clean homes before predelivery inspections. When it comes to the next generation of Pratt Homes, the preparation work is happening with mom and dad’s help.
“We can only hope. We’re not going to force them, but hopefully they’ve seen what we do and what we’ve done,” says Heljar. “We’ll support them in whatever they want to do but hopefully they want to build.”
Karen feels similarly. “I think, like us, they may go off in their own directions and pursue their own paths, but if, one day, they get a feeling in their gut and remember what it was like to be a part of what we’ve done, we hope they come home to the family business.”
WHAT’S CURRENT AT PRATT HOMES
Pratt Homes has just released for sale Bear Creek Ridge, a family neighbourhood in southwest Barrie. This release of freehold towns, freehold detached and condominiums — priced from the mid $200,000s — is the first look at Pratt Homes’ newly designed floorplans and exteriors. In Bear Creek Ridge, Pratt Homes has blended together traditional, modern and hybrid exterior designs creating Barrie’s most visually stunning community. So far, purchasers are thrilled to see the fresh new look and are quickly buying up the new homes.
Visit BearCreekRidge.ca for floor plans and prices.
Coming in 2018, Pratt Homes will be releasing an incredibly innovative community called Bistro 6, Culinary Inspired Condo Living. Bistro 6 will be located inside Pratt Homes’ newest neighbourhood, Hewitt’s Gate.
Go online to register and to find out more about all of Pratt Homes’ communities.