Villa Field Notes

Ride along on a feasibility site visit

Heather Miksch, VP Operations of Villa
May 29th 2024

The rain that has fallen all morning is just clearing as I reach the top of the summit in Los Gatos. The clouds are parting and a beautiful vista to downtown San Jose and over the Diablo Range opens up. Breathtaking! I’m meeting my Villa colleagues in this lovely neighborhood to do a feasibility study for a prospective client. 


I spot two white Ford F150s with Villa logos on the side and pull off to the road near the trucks. Kevin, the local construction manager for this area would generally do a visit like this alone. However today, we’ve also asked Jaime, our Director of Site Operations to come by. Jaime has decades of experience with manufactured housing and construction. He is so knowledgeable that I’ve heard him referred to as “the Professor.” That’s good because there are certain complexities in this property that warrant his careful review.


As I pull on my work boots and head to the property, I’m struck by how large the lot is. The lot slopes down the hill, with the main house at the top. Space for this ADU is not the issue here– there’s plenty of space–but the hill has quite a slope to it and the distance to utilities is far. 


In general, Villa projects do not require an on-site assessment prior to the signing of the Project Services Agreement. The estimators who support our sales team have access to sophisticated satellite and topographical reports that enable them to put a pricing range on each project. It’s only when the estimators have specific questions or concerns based on the online data that we schedule in-person visits. That’s where we come in, and why I get to play hooky from my desk on this Wednesday morning. 

Ryan, the Home Consultant for this client, arranged this visit and armed us with the tentative site plan and a list of questions to confirm. First order of business is measuring out the approximate corners of the ADU and placing flags in the ground for reference. This client is looking at our H1200, a beautiful 3 bedroom, 2 bath home. Once the flags are in place, Jaime and Kevin set up the Moasure. 


The Moasure is a pocket-sized tool that can measure elevation. Jaime measures the elevation change from the two furthest corners (136 inches). We all think quickly to convert the inches to feet. (Tell me again why we haven’t gone metric?). Over 11 feet. A considerable slope. Obviously we will need a retaining wall. However, we will also need an engineered permanent foundation. Jaime explains that we can have a terraced retaining wall along with a graduated foundation. The deepest part of the foundation will be about four feet. That way, you don’t have a giant wall next to the ADU because we are splitting the slope difference with a deeper foundation. 


The other immediate consideration is proximity to a small redwood stand. By then, the client has joined us, interested in hearing our assessment. We tell him that at least two of the redwoods will have to go. Construction of the retaining wall will damage the redwoods’ roots, and they should be removed. The client doesn’t seem too concerned. One tree fell last year and caused some damage (almost landed on his nearby chickens) and he plans to petition the city to allow him to take them down for safety reasons. We measure the diameter of each tree and take a photo for our estimates. 


A nearby heritage oak is another matter. Heritage oaks in California are ancient trees, critical to our ecosystem and fiercely protected. We will be able to trim some of it to make space for the ADU, but removing it is a non-starter. That’s fine—it’s a lovely tree, and we are happy it will remain. 

Next comes the utilities investigation: electrical, water and sewer. ADUs by definition use the utilities of the main home. The challenge comes in determining how to hook up the utilities and if the current infrastructure will be able to support an ADU. After discussing the electrical load (a new conduit will be needed), the sewage (we’ll connect directly to the city instead of the septic system that the main home uses), and the nearby water in a pump house, we have most of the information. There’s an additional fire hydrant located in front of the house that the estimators didn’t pick up in the satellite images. That’s good news. 


While Jaime and Kevin are busy photographing everything for our records, I talk to the client about the unique situations on his property. He purchased this home only a few years ago to discover all sorts of easements. He has several sewer clean outs in his driveway– one is for a neighbor two houses down. His property line includes a paved road that runs along the side of his home. Apparently a neighbor down the road has an easement from him to use the property. The water is similarly interesting; a pump house at the bottom of the property pumps water uphill to the main house and at least three of the neighbors. It’s a reminder that forty years ago bustling Silicon Valley was still orchards and these homes were basically in the hinterland.


The only thing left to discuss is the delivery. The main difference between bringing a manufactured home or a stick built home on the property is ensuring a delivery route for the home. When the three of us drove in, we each paid attention to the route. Were the roads too narrow? Any hairpin turns? What about low-hanging trees? It seemed like a decent route, but as part of our formal feasibility study, we will most likely ask our transportation provider to review this route herself. We’ll depend on her giving us the thumbs up. 

We also spent a bit of time talking about delivery day. Due to the planned graduated permanent foundation, the home will have to be delivered via crane. But we can’t have the crane on the street. The street is too narrow, and we would be blocking a private drive all day that serves a dozen homes. We could use part of the property to host the crane– that’s a good idea–but then thought of the deep clover and mud our boots were sinking in. The ground now would be too soft to support the crane.  “This will have to be a summer delivery.” Jaime says. The client agrees– apparently this land is dry as a bone from May to November.

We share our summary with the client. He is appreciative of our time and interested in hearing the final price—a process that generally takes only a few business days. He is planning the ADU for his aging father. However, he also wants the flexibility to rent it, most likely to a family with kids who could take advantage of the local school district. As we part, we promise to send our information over to the estimating team. We thank the client for his time and the opportunity to see this beautiful piece of land and his vision for its future.

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