Step aside gentlemen. Mira Filipovic’s Impression Homes are built with a woman in mind.

Step aside gentlemen. Mira Filipovic’s Impression Homes are built with a woman in mind. – By Jeffrey Reed

She’s young and she’s beautiful. But spend some time with 30- year old luxury homebuilder Mira Filipovic and you’ll quickly realize she can also be unrelenting, unforgiving and as tough as nails. These are, of course, traits that come with the territory.

Yet, as the president and owner, of Impression Homes, the London, ontario company aspiring to turn the local homebuilding industry on its ear, Filipovic also has the brawn and brains to let her softer side bubble through. After all, spending almost a decade competing in the male-dominated residential construction industry, she’s absorbed more than her fair share of bruises. There isn’t much she hasn’t seen or heard, and she knows there isn’t a hoop she hasn’t been forced to jump through…twice. So, every so often, when the whole process seems a little emotionally overwhelming, she’ll shed a tear. And then get back to work.

But there’s irony at work here, too, because it’s that softer feminine side that is leading Filipovic and her company down a new path- a trailblazing of sorts that will most certainly be watched closely by the local homebuilding industry at large.

Simply put, Impression Homes is about to unveil a package of home properties designed, built and marketed exclusively with the female purchaser in mind. Appearing on lots within RiverBend Golf Community in northwest London, the detached homes-scheduled for a January 2007 grand opening-boast unique designs for women, by a woman, starting at $350,000.
It’s a massive step for a company that has built just a few homes since its incorporation in 1998. Then again, there just aren’t a lot of 19-year-old females who launch homebuilding companies. And there are even fewer developers willing to hand over lots to inexperienced young builders-male, female or Martian.

“I would get the lot that nobody else wanted – a lot on the corner that backs onto a major street,” explains Filipovic. “I don’t want to speculate or speak for anyone else, I just know it was very, very difficult for me to get lots. And let’s be honest. At 19, who is willing to give you a mortgage? I would go to the bank and they would look at me like, ‘You’re a cute little girl, but….’ So my mother helped me get started.”

In many ways, the family aid was just another brick in a career foundation that Filipovic says is “truly in her blood.” Raised in St. Thomas and Tillsonburg by hard-working Croatian immigrant parents Marko and Kata Filipovic, Mira grew up on the job site. Marko painted homes for more than 50 years, while Kata cleaned new homes in preparation of move-in dates.
“My mom would bring me in a bassinet to the job site,” says Filipovic. “And without money for daycare my mom would bring me along on the days my dad needed extra help.”

When she was old enough, Filipovic joined in the work, cleaning, sanding, staining and painting newly-constructed homes. And though she went on to study for sociology degree at UWO, she moonlighted by reading the Ontario Building Code, cover to cover. “It’s not typical reading material,” laughs Filipovic, “but this building passion was always in the back of my mind.”
And with the company’s success, Filipovic wants to put the rumors to rest and assure people that the cost of living in an Impression Home doesn’t always entail a huge price tag. “They’re personalized, not custom. People hear custom and they right away think $500,000 plus. That’s not the case,” she said. “I believe everyone deserves a home that is personalized to their needs. This is the biggest investment of their life. They deserve personalization and more time during the design phase.”

In the design of her homes, Filipovic says she focuses on the fact women are embracing their roles as household decision makers who want builders to connect with their lifestyles. Models will feature space options for regrouping and distressing, a big emphasis on storage, rooms for multiple uses and even larger garages to accommodate the suburban mom’s vehicle of choice- the minivan.

Of course, personalizing homes is not a new concept, but Filipovic says Impression Homes will leave no stone unturned when catering to the female buyer. A typical model will feature an open concept design, with a living room/ great room open to a functional kitchen area. “A place where moms preparing meals can still watch over the kids, interact with them while they are doing their homework or just be able to chat and bond with her family,” she explains. “It’s also fabulous for entertaining since everyone congregates around the kitchen. The hostess can still interact with her guests.”
Impression Homes will also look to maximize space usage. “There is never enough storage in a home, period,” states Filipovic, noting that walk-in closets will provide a tidier, more functional home, and dead space like room corners will feature bookshelves or storage cabinets. In addition, the en suite adjacent to the master bedroom will be larger-a spa within a home- and living rooms and family rooms will be expanded to accommodate families who today spend more time at home than ever before. Special attention will also be paid to wiring, enabling the home to be outfitted with the latest in security, entertainment, appliance and home office technologies.
Female-centric design, however, is just part of the Impression Homes business model. Filipovic has also enlisted a marketing team to brand the product in a distinct fashion. Advertising will target female buyers and promote the fact Impression Homes is owned and operated by a female builder. Marketing images will boast women as the family decision makers, and artwork will target women through use of liberal, coordinated colours.

Filipovic already has a big fan in Joannne Thomas Yaccato, author of The 80% Minority: Reaching the Real World of Women Consumers. As president of a Toronto-based consulting firm specializing in helping companies apply gender intelligence to better their business, she says Filipovic is on the right track.
“Homes are primarily a woman’s domain,” explains Thomas Yaccato. “It’s jaw dropping to me that (building homes for women and marketing to women) is just now catching on.” She adds that she is not surprised Filipovic has faced roadblocks along the way. “Women not being taken seriously is a major compliant.”

Interestingly, Thomas Yaccato inspired Calgary homebuilder Shane Wenzel of Shane Homes to develop two model homes incorporating gender design strategies. Using many of the same designs Impression Homes does embody, his models include gourmet kitchens, an abundance of counter and cupboard space, a walk-in pantry with motion-triggered lighting and even equal-sized children’s bedrooms so kids won’t argue with mom over who has the largest room.

“Almost all of the decisions about whether to purchase a home are made by women,” Thomas Yaccato states, whose research also shows that women do most of the house-hunting and that single women buy more homes than single men.

Locally, seeing a woman in charge of a homebuilding company is rare, but not entirely new. For example, Lina Pittao is president of Pittao Homes, and Nancy Strik is president of Double N Homes. There has also been one female president of the London Home Builders’ Association-Rennie Pieterman of Practical Plumbing in 2003.

In Mira’s vision for Impression Homes, she believes a quality home catering to needs of women will be a marketing hit at RiverBend- a niche that will lead to expansion of the business and its concept to other communities across southwestern Ontario. “This has been my dream. It’s been in progress for 30 years now,” she simply puts it.” I know what women want in a home.”