Villa Field Notes

A new home takes flight via crane to its final foundation in a Santa Cruz neighborhood

Heather Miksch, VP Operations of Villa
February 15th 2024

It’s not yet 8 am when I arrive at the job site in the sleepy Pleasure Point neighborhood of Santa Cruz, California. Most of the residents out and about in this beach town are walking their dog or surfers heading out for a quick wave before work. By contrast, the Villa team and our vendors are in full activity. We have a double-delivery today– two ~500 sq foot homes going in behind a small apartment building. We are anticipating a tight fit– the owner maximized the biggest unit he could to fit in the backyard while respecting easements.

Having joined Villa less than a month before, this is my first Delivery Day. I’m excited, but not sure what to expect. The first thing that strikes me is how many people are there from the different crews. Traffic control is in place– over a hundred residents were notified of our presence today– we have our C47 (the contractor license specific to installation of manufactured homes in California) and their crew, the team running the crane and the support vehicles, and our transportation team– the trucking company that brought the homes down from our storage lot up north. As the most direct route– mountainous, windy highway 17– is considered a “red route” and not open to this type of transportation, our trucker had to come down through Watsonville and back up on highway 1. This type of careful route planning is an important consideration when transporting prefab homes to the project site, something Villa has very dialed in.

It’s quickly apparent that the crane is the center attraction of this show. For me, the thought of a crane lifting a 35,000 pound home into the air and over a two-story building stops my heart. For the crane operators, who regularly work on large construction projects and industrial sites, this is child’s play. They take the job seriously, though, and it takes over an hour to set up the crane. Counter weights are brought to the job site on support trucks, which the crane places on its base to ensure the heavy house won’t unstabilize the vehicle. By now, the neighbors are coming out with their coffee to see the action. Some are none too happy– can you blame them? While we have the required encroachment permit, and spent the previous days knocking on doors informing them of the delivery, we are still blocking their neighborhood. The Villa team thanks them for their patience and offers them donuts. Some neighbors bring out folding chairs and watch in their bathrobes and flip flops. It is Santa Cruz, after all.

Once the crane is set, the truck pulling the home drives into place. A woman jumps out of the first truck, her long hair neatly tucked under a baseball cap. This woman runs our trucking company and is known in the industry for her efficient and no-nonsense approach to home deliveries. It’s clear the rest of the crews are a little bit afraid of her. Very quickly, the home is placed on belly straps and lifted about five feet off the ground. The installation crew then rushes underneath the home. Working at a rapid pace, they remove the axles and wheels from the homes. Most of Villa’s prefab home products are built to federal HUD code standards – this means each home is built on a steel chassis that acts both as a transportation system, but also the structure of the home when it’s in place. The wheels and axles need to be removed before the home is placed on its permanent foundation. If my heart didn’t really stop before, it does now. I didn’t expect to see eight men underneath a home being held in place by a crane. But Kyle, Villa’s construction manager overseeing this delivery, tells me to relax. “These guys are professionals. They do this all the time.”  And so they are. The workers quickly finish their job and call to the crane operator. Now it’s truly showtime. The neighbors all have their phones out– in video mode, I’m sure. 

The crane lifts the home high into the air. Santa Cruz’s marine layer hasn’t quite burned off, and the cream colored home is outlined against white clouds. The crane lifts the home over the apartment building (whose residents were required to vacate at this time) and onto the waiting permanent foundation behind the home. The installation crew is already back behind the apartment building ready to receive the home. As the crane slowly lowers the home, the workers use long poles to nudge the home into place on the permanent foundation. The crane operator cannot see behind the apartment building and is carefully moving the crane based on directions he receives via a speaker. It’s incredible to see the precision– recall this is a tight fit– and how quickly the home is set on the permanent foundation. The belly straps are removed, and the process is repeated for the second home. 

Once the homes are set on the permanent foundation, the tear down begins for the delivery crews. The trucking company has already left– onto the next job. The crane now needs to go through its shut down process– removing the counter weights and clearing the road. We will soon be able to remove the “no parking signs” and traffic control can go home. Not a bad way to end a Friday.

Of course, Delivery Day is only the start of the last process to turn a house into a home. We still need to properly secure the home to the permanent foundation, ensure exterior and interior finishing is complete, hook up plumbing and electricity to the primary building’s utilities, and build out steps and landings. City of Santa Cruz will have several visits to sign off inspections and ultimately provide the Certificate of Occupancy. The final step will be the processing of the 433A– the formal document which turns a manufactured home from personal property into real estate in California– and the keys turned over to the new resident. At that point, Villa’s work (outside of our warranty obligations) is complete. A family has a new home, within walking distance of the beach. Surf’s up! 

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