Building a new house in Palo Alto

Building a new house in Palo Alto

Friday, June 7, 2019

La Donna...almost done (for real this time!)

After one of the weirdest, wettest, most never-ending rainy seasons we've ever had, we are finally getting close to finishing La Donna. Yay for summer! Landscaping is going in this week and we're getting ready to put it on the market. More photos coming soon but here's a sneak peak. We will be holding open houses in a few weeks or so, if you're interested before then, please email us.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

La Donna...almost ready to sell!

The La Donna house has gone up fast. So fast that every time I sit down to write a post, the project has moved to the next stage. If I wait any longer the house is going to be sold so here are some fresh photos and the floor plan. Buyers are circling so if you are potentially interested in the house, please come check it out soon! You're welcome to drive by anytime or email us to schedule a time to go inside.

James' homes always get snatched up before they're done, so don't wait. IMHO, James homes are the closest you can get to a custom home without having to put in years worth of work designing your own. Here's the most recent home that James built at La Para if you want to see a finished home. It sold off market earlier this year.

La Donna Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94306 (to be completed in early 2019)

  • 2848 sq ft living space
  • 431 sq ft garage 
  • 5 bedrooms, 4 1/2 bathrooms
  • 8430 sq ft lot

Wrapped and ready for stucco once the weather permits.

All the bedrooms have vaulted ceilings and modern windows that wrap around the corner.

My favorite design feature are all the wrap around door/windows that bring in light and give a custom look to the home.

Here's what it should look like in another month or so!

Rear view. Interested parties can email us here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Stego Wrap Vapor Barrier instead of a Rat Slab

It's basically a playground, yes?
In lieu of preschool this Fall, our not-yet-2-year old gets to hang out at the construction site with us instead. So far he's mastered six very important words...dig, dig, dig, dump, dump, dump! Not bad, but in the last few weeks we've tried to introduce a few more foundational vocabulary words. The first is Stego Wrap.

Stego Wrap! Anything at the site with a dinosaur on it is worthy of investigation.


James started using Stego Wrap a couple years ago when a house in College Terrace, (a Palo Alto neighborhood with a lot of subterranean water) was having problems with moisture in the crawl space. The water was going around the seams where the rat slab connected to the foundation's stem wall.

Click on these links for more details on How to Build a Foundation and Building a Rat Slab.

Now, instead of a rat slab he covers the area with yellow vinyl 15-Mil Stego Wrap. This treatment is more waterproof since the rat slab's concrete shrinks and pulls away from the edges and occasionally cracks too. In water heavy areas it may make sense to do both Stego Wrap plus a rat slab but for neighborhoods without water issues like Barron Park, the Stego Wrap is sufficient. In addition to preventing moisture problems, the vapor barrier is also better for controlling humidity and indoor air quality. More on that here: 10 Critical Reasons Why You Need a Below-Slab Vapor Barrier.

Stego Wrap seals better at the edges of the foundation making the house more waterproof.

Palo Alto city code only requires a 6-mil polyethylene vapor retarder but James upgrades to the 15 Mil Stego Wrap. La Donna has about 1488 square feet of living space on the first floor and we used about two 14'x140' rolls. At $460/roll that's not bad except we got killed on the tape. We spent about $1500 for Stego Tape which is essential in sealing edges and any openings like the piers. This is still less expensive than a rat slab so definitely worth the upgrade if you're building a new house.

By the way, Stego Wrap can also be added after the fact, so check it out if you have moisture problems under your home. They have a product specifically designed for crawlspaces called StegoCrawl Wrap. It comes in smaller roll sizes (14'x100' and '5x200') and provides the same level of moisture protection but it's white with white tape which brightens up the space (though I still like the rubber ducky yellow look!)

Stego Tape to seal any openings is the real cash dino. We spent more on the tape than the Stego Wrap.

Might need to send him back to school to learn how to not waste tape.
Note: This home, 3727 La Donna will be available for sale* in early 2019. Email us to get on the insider's list.

*Kids not included.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Next project! La Donna in Barron Park, Palo Alto

After a 4 year hiatus chasing rug rats around Palo Alto it's time to start building and blogging again!
This next project is another collaboration with builder James Witt and architect Steve Simpson. We would've started sooner but it took us over a year and thousands of dollars in legal fees to convince the city to let us buy and build on the empty lot. Long story! We'll save the details for a future post entitled, Subdividing property in Palo Alto...NOT for the faint of heart.

Now that we have the go ahead, the construction is moving along at a fast pace. We expect the house will be completed and available for purchase in early 2019. Here are the details:

La Donna Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94306
Home: 3278 sq ft with attached garage
5 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms
Lot: 8430 sq ft

It's a Steve Simpson design, so of course it'll be gorgeous.
I'll be documenting the build here on HomeCrunch. Send an email to us if you're interested in being notified when it's ready for purchase...the last house sold before we were able to list it on the market so this time we're creating an insider's list to give our followers an early heads up. By the way, while I've been on a break, James has not. Check out a couple of the most recent homes he's built, they're amazing! This one sold off-market and this one was a custom design.

Laying the foundation.

Available in early 2019! Email us to get on the insider's list.

Friday, August 29, 2014

172 Park Completed and Sold! Days on Market: 0

Well that was fast. The day after we finished hanging the light fixtures we had an offer on the Park Ave house. I was hoping to use my marketing skillz to sell the house but our buyers showed up before we even passed the final inspection. The deal closed yesterday, here were the terms:

House: 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms.
Living space 2722 sq ft + garage & basement
Lot: 7500 sq ft

Price: 3.8M
Close: 21 days after passing the final inspection, contingent upon a home inspection

The nice thing about selling a house off-market is that you don't have the ticking "days on market" time bomb where your property gets stale if it hasn't sold in a week. This is nice because it takes away the pressure to only accept an all-cash, no contingency offer and allows you to be more flexible with potential buyers. In this case, we gave them time to secure a mortgage and hire a home inspector to check out the house.

We were okay being flexible because it was very important to us to find the right buyers. As my builder partner, James Witt likes to say, "I'm not interested in selling to a suitcase of money." We were lucky enough to acquire the property at a below-market price and we were karmically committed to passing it along to a nice family who would enjoy living in the house and neighborhood for years to come. In this crazy climate we may have been able to get a higher offer by listing it on the open market and stirring up a bidding war, but the deal felt right so we accepted it on the spot.

Here's James signing the contract...

...ha, not really. Neither of us had a pen, so the buyer's agent had to run to his car to fetch one while we staged this photo opp. If you look closely, you'll see James "signing" the offer with a drawer handle. You'll also see a photo of the nice family who bought the house. We're super psyched because we know the neighbors are going to love them.

My apologies to everyone I promised to invite to the open house. We've been scrambling to finish up the final details so we could get the buyers into their new home before Labor Day.  In lieu of an open house, here are some photos of the finished product:

Front of house

Back view
Outdoor dining area. As a bonus, our expert landscaper planted an edible garden.
Bonus sitting area in the front of the house under a grand old oak tree.
James thought it'd be festive to string up some party lights for evening entertainment. can't see it but the island is a lovely honed Calcutta marble. 
The dining section of the great room
The great room is really great.
The homework nook at the top of the stairs with built in desks, storage shelves,
skylights and Nelson pendant lights is visually my favorite space.
Master bedroom with vaulted ceilings and a simple propeller ceiling fan.
One of the two upstairs bedrooms. Some lucky kid is going to love this room.
My final inspector giving his stamp of approval.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Drone footage of 172 Park Ave

The always amusing Atherton police blotter #firstworldproblems. Thanks to Ellen Levy for the photo!

Droning. Apparently everyone's doing it right now. George from Techcam came by our job site yesterday to test out his some of his new services.

Here's a video taken from his drone of our job site. We are about a month away from completion so if you know anyone who's in the market for a new home in Palo Alto, please send them my way. You can see the floor plan and more details hereJames Witt's last three homes all sold before they were finished. So far we've been holding off on showing this house, but once the floors are in later this week, we'll allow interested parties to take a look.

2014-07-08 Techcam Helicopter Park Finishing from Techcam on Vimeo.

In case you're interested, here's a list of TechCam's new services below.  As a side note, one of James' construction sites (that wasn't being monitored with cameras) was recently burglarized. He lost several thousands of dollars worth of tools and equipment, so it's well worth investing in some security measures! TechCam has branched out to cover more techie home construction areas, so if you're in need of some expert guidance, I highly recommend consulting George. You can reach him at

TechCam Consulting Services:
1. Permanent Camera / Security Systems
2. Aerial Drone Photograph / Video
3. Solar PV Systems Design
4. Electric Vehicle Charging Stations
5. Home Energy Monitoring Systems
6. Home Wired / Wireless Computer Networks
7. Smart Home Automation - Lights, HVAC, TV, etc.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Park Avenue House Update: Latest Building Photos & Floor Plan

Construction of 172 Park Avenue has been flying along. Here's a quick look at the last two months...

We spent a fair amount of time building this handy dandy basement.

It's somewhat tricky getting the city to approve a basement but it's a huge plus in my book because everyone can always use extra storage space. Luckily James Witt is a master at getting basements (which don't count towards your maximum allowable square footage) approved by the city.

Because of the complexity and extra cost, we didn't put a basement in our own house and I'm always kicking myself now that I've learned how much stuff one accumulates when you have a kid. Basements are also perfect for storing wine, (which is also nice to accumulate and guzzle when you have a kid).

Daniel putting the finishing touches on the rat slab.

Like all his homes, James doled out to put in a rat slab. It's one of those nice but invisible upgrades. Check out this post if you don't know what a rat slab is and why it's such a nice feature. Just for kicks, next time you're at an open house, ask them if the house has a rat slab.

We're currently in the framing stage. This is when the house really starts to come to life. James never sells his houses before the framing is finished because you can only tell so much from floor plans. Once the framing is done you can get a feel for the flow of the space, the size of the rooms and the views from the windows. Above is the floor plan for the first floor and below is the framed out family/dining/kitchen aka the great room.

Ah, the great room. This is my favorite room in the house. We spend the majority of our waking hours in ours. For a peaceful environment, it's important to have lots of natural light, big windows/doors and nice greenery to look out on. A backyard with mature trees and privacy is one of the most important attributes I look for when evaluating a property to build on.

Above is the floor plan for the second floor. Until the framing went up, I didn't realize how cool the various vaulted ceilings are going to be. Also, the view of the redwood tree from the master bedroom is sublime.

The street view of the house..

Monday, December 9, 2013

Monitoring our construction site with TechCam Live Video Streaming (+bonus time lapse video!)

I have a confession to make. When we were building our house in Green Acres, we had a sign like this posted at our construction site:

But we didn't actually have any cameras set up, much less 24 hour video surveillance.  I posted the sign hoping to deter any would-be hoodlums and thieves who weren't smart enough to see through my bluff. In reality our only surveillance system was Trudy, our 83 year old neighbor across the street.

This time around HomeCrunch has gone high-tech with We now have the sign *and* the cameras. In addition to protecting our property, I dig the fact that I can work from home and check out the progress from my living room, kitchen or even the nursery during those middle of the night feedings thanks to the night-vision cameras. I can even walk over to Trudy's house and show her the live stream on my mobile phone. I love love love it. Pretty sure I'm the first person to build a house in her PJs.

You may have noticed I've been woefully bad about blogging lately, so if you ever want to see where we are in the construction process, just check out our live stream at:
Woohoo night vision! Perfect for sleep-deprived moms.
If you're tech savvy and have the time, you can set up a live stream yourself but ours was done by an awesome startup called TechCam. We have two cameras at different vantage points, both equipped with infrared night vision. In my opinion this is well worth outsourcing since one of the cameras is dangerously high up in a tree and also because they do all the troubleshooting...from fixing the wires every time the construction crews accidentally cut them (this has happened way too many times), to making sure it works on Android, iPhones, iPads, and all of our computers and gadgets.
Construction site theft is a big hairy problem. (Photo courtesy of James Witt & his epic Thailand vacation).
Construction site theft is a big, expensive problem for contractors and home owners. James Witt and I are happy we have the TechCam crew to help us combat it and keep an eye on the job when we can't be there. In fact, James just took his first vacation in too many years and was able to see what we were up to all the way from Thailand.

One last bonus feature from TechCam is their time lapse video service. They created this extended version of our deconstruction just for kicks. It may seem a little long but believe me, it's pure magic if you need to distract a crying baby. I can't wait for the time lapse of the house being built. Check it out: