The following applies to mortgages called “jumbo” or over the standard Fannie Mae size that you hear adds for such as “rocket mortgages”.

If you are in a position of considering a refinance to help you purchase a home you most likely know someone who has gone through this process already. If you have then you probably know that refinancing (especially with a “jumbo” mortgage’) is going to be painful. In this blog I am going to give you some details that many don’t learn about until they are knee deep in the process.  I am hoping that I can pass on this information to forewarn you of the difficulties you may encounter so that you may be able to prevent them.

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Undeveloped 110-acre Tiburon Ridge property for sale for $110 million- The ARK

The ARK published an update of the controversial Martha Property litigation. Will having a single buyer wanting to build a single home fair better for Tiburon Open Space? Or will it leave the door open for the new owner to sell some of the property to developers? The fight continues as non-profit groups such as TRUST, LCOTNA and TOSC try to find a way to purchase the land, preserving it for good.

Read the full article from The Ark here


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Richard Wodehouse Quoted in the Wall Street Journal

In this article from the Wall Street Journal yesterday, October 24th, Richard is quoted below the second picture as the president of TRUST (Tiburon/Belvedere Residents United to Support the Trails). He is discussing the lawsuit to preserve the trails in Tiburon that are currently at risk of being developed. The proposal is for 43 homes to be built which would not only make the trails unusable to the public, it would destroy the trails and a large portion of the surrounding wildlife.

See the article here

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Over the next few weeks I will be publishing a series of articles on practical applications of what has come to be known as “Building Science”.  Yes, there is such a term.  “They don’t build them like they used to” is quite true, but in a good way, we build much better now.

We have learned so much since the days of the log cabin in the real old days, and Sears kit houses which symbolized the emergence of fast and efficient building techniques after WW2.  Every year there are new products offered by an industry that has a world wide market.

In North America we build primarily with wood because that is a resource we have available.  In more Southern countries cement and masonry are the  dominant building materials.  High-rise buildings are made primarily of steel.

The concepts of preventing moisture infiltration, of creating healthy and comfortable buildings is similar in all.  What is important is a thorough understanding of how to combine materials so as to prevent holes.  Holes that allow water to enter or air to both enter or exit uncontrolled.

In the evolution of building techniques we have both improved our buildings in terms of energy efficiency, and at the same time created some flaws such as trapping moisture.  We have made our buildings more comfortable but at the same time sealed in some very harmful chemicals.

That is where building science comes in, it is the well studied concept of best practices.  It is how to have an energy efficient comfortable and healthy building. Topics this series will cover:

  • We will address what constitutes a high performance building or home.  
  • We will learn how to avoid the pitfalls of moisture build-up and mold creation.
  • We will learn why we now split insulation into both inside and outside the wall to create what is called CI or Continuous Insulation. 
  • We will learn why we want to think of a building enclosure, and not building envelope.

Due to the horrific fires suffered by so many residents of California in the last year, we will also cover ways of lessening vulnerability to fire. For example, we are finding fire often entered attics through vents and started burning the roof structure from the inside.

In the next issues you will find information on:

  • Thermal movement control in homes (heat and cold)
  • Water barriers and rain screens that allow the building’s skin to breathe but repel water
  • Various new products that are worth considering in new construction
  • Fire prevention measures
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I am listing below tasks that I have found are critical for creating a smooth running home construction project.  These are all tasks that an experienced Owner’s Representative, (a.k.a., Project Manager) should either initiate or ensure are accomplished during the design and building process. Ideally the Owner’s Representative/Project manager is to be the person in charge of managing these tasks listed below.

  1. Budgets:  Create budgets that are realistic at various times during the process in order for the owner to be confident that the project is proceeding within the financial comfort zone.  This budget should be comprehensive including all associated costs and wish list.  
  2. Budgets ideally are created:
    1. Early in the conceptual design phase and verifying as the design progresses that the original budget is still realistic.
    2. Prior to the construction drawings being drawn.
    3. Prior to construction starting
    4. Once a month during the construction. Keep owner apprised of Predicted Final Cost.
  3. The design team is the clearing house for all design related communication, unless otherwise requested.  We don’t want random people making design decisions that may not have the overall design direction in mind.
  4. Offer possible solutions to problems prior to announcing the problem.  Always consult with Design team first, then after agreement, notify owner of the problem with options for solution.
  5. Consolidate questions (RFI’s) into a list and then communicate these to the appropriate entities with as much lead time as possible. Avoid panic phone calls. Identify which party is responsible for answering each item: Architect, interior designer, owner, contractor.
  6. Arrange questions to be answered into groups by date needed in order to continue an orderly pricing/ordering/construction process.  
  7. Expect that some answers will come as building takes shape. In a true custom home some selections are best made when the building is taking on character.
  8. Send weekly updates to design team and owner apprising them of tasks being worked on each current week as well as planned for the following week.
  9. Plan ahead on critical times for owner and design team to visit the site; such as electrical wiring time, to avoid future surprises and changes.
  10. Make client feel as much an informed participant in the process as they wish to be.
  11. Schedule site meetings with all key subs, and if needed designers, during various stages of the job to coordinate their needs and timing.
  12. Update budget and schedule on a monthly basis and share with owners, and if desired, the design team.
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The answers are yes, for many situations, prefab or factory built homes offer real advantages. I will list some below, but first let’s mention a short list of situations where prefab is not a good idea.
  • Where tastes and budget demand a truly custom one of a kind design.
  • Where the site topography demands an unusually shaped foundation footprint.
  • Where the shape of the lot and the view orientations demand an unusual shape for the structure.

Now let’s look into a longer list of the potential advantages of a prefab process. But first, let’s start by saying that the nature of what we have known as “prefab” has come a long ways from the image of a double wide mobile home on wheels. There are now companies that are doing excellent quality semi-custom homes with desirable contemporary designs.
Potential advantages of the modern prefab process:

  • Time: There are two main areas where the schedule is abbreviated.
  • Design: Because you would typically start with one of their template models instead of a blank slate, you should arrive at your final design sooner.
  • Site work: While the earthwork, foundations and utilities are being done at the site, the home, including the time consuming components such as kitchens and baths, are being built at the factory.
  • Quality: There are three advantages to this:
    • Details for finish materials have been executed before and therefore will go together seamlessly.
    • Most materials including structural members such as 2×4’s for walls are cut from a computer controlled cutting list, therefore should be to tight tolerances.
    • Areas that are difficult to waterproof should have been tested, refined and proven in previous homes, so leaks, stains, roof drainage problems should not exist.
  • Cost: (The point of main interest for most of us).
    It is my observation that final cost for the completed building including foundation and finishes will be in the vicinity of 25% to 35% less than a one of a kind site-built custom home.
    Additionally and quite reassuring is that early on in the design process you get a reliable estimate of the final cost of the home, what Stillwater Dwellings calls a “confirmed investment”.

As a life-long builder of some 200 unique luxury homes I find myself conflicted in stating this apparent advantage of factory built homes. However, in my current role as an Owner’s Representative and Construction Project Manager, it is my duty to fairly represent the option of quality prefab homes available today.
Building individual high-end homes on site is somewhat like building a one-of-a-kind luxury car in your back yard. Many suppliers and workmen arrive each day carrying their individual materials and tools and figure out the unique configurations to put it all together.

Below are the links to two prefab manufacturers that I am familiar with have impressed me for many years.
Stillwater Dwellings offers more “customizable” design options.
Bluhomes: is more production oriented encouraging staying closer to the models they offer.
A Canadian company now making a big splash in the BAy area is Bonestructures. Their process is an all steel structure with the structural loads being carried out to the exterior walls.

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