Luxurious prefab homes could help solve Bay Area contractor shortage

VALLEJO, Calif. (KGO) -- ABC7 News is committed to Building a Better Bay Area. All this week we are looking at the Bay Area's housing crisis.

A study by the Silicon Valley Leadership group says the Bay Area created six times more jobs than homes from 2010 to 2015, and the problem has only got worse after the North Bay fires. Now there is a contractor shortage too. One Bay Area company is hoping to literally build a better Bay Area with prefabricated homes.

When fires raged across the North Bay in 2017, thousands of people were forced to flee. Nearly 9-thousand structures were destroyed, including thousands of homes.

That included Lauri and Tim Dorman's home in Glen Ellen.

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"A neighbor across the street woke us up pounding on the door," said Lauri Dorman.

"There was a roar, and I don't know if it was the fire or the wind, but there was just a roar, you could hardly hear anything," said Tim.

Lori said shakenly, "And then about an hour later, the neighbors from across the street called to say, you've lost your house. We've all lost our houses."

Twenty-one months later they are just about to move into their new home.

"We made a commitment quite early on that if we could afford to, we wanted to rebuild here, said Tim."

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But the cost of building a traditional home was too much. Because so many homes had been destroyed, the cost of materials went up. Add to that a demand for contractors, it meant rebuilding was going to be out of the Dorman's budget. According to a recent study by Buildzoom, a web site that connects property owners and contractors, the Dormans are not alone.

Jiyan Wei is co-founder of BuildZoom. He said, "There has been sort of an uptick in both residential and commercial construction particularly in the Bay Area."

BuildZoom says California lost nearly 20 percent of its construction work-force between 2005 and 2016 and more than 40 percent of construction job postings in the state remained unfilled for at least six weeks.

The couple turned to Vallejo-based Blu Homes for help. The maker of high-end prefabricated modular homes says it can fill part of the gap created by the contractor shortage.

"Blu fills a gap. We've never had this kind of demand for labor, so really the need for prefab homes is, really a need for homes," said Zephan McMinn, CEO of Blu Homes in Vallejo.

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McMinn says you can spend a year designing a home before a contractor even gets hired.

The average time to build a house in the state of California is 10 to 13 months from the moment you get your building permit, said McMinn.

He says that its homes can be built in a more controlled environment and more efficiently.

"Our average schedule is usually 12 months or less," said McMinn.

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That's because Blu Homes are manufactured indoors in Southern California and then trucked to the Bay Area for assembly.

"When you are building prefabricated homes, you are building in a facility that's building 400 homes to 500 homes a year", said McMinn.

In as little as day a home can set up, ready for finishing touches. When complete, Blu Homes says they are more energy-efficient and more fire-resistant than a standard "stick" built home.

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"We saved 60 percent, even more, versus the stick-built, where we had started, said Lori Dorman."

The couple is just about to move into their new Blu Home. There are still some things that need to be finished, but they are just about ready to get settled. Do they think prefabricated modular homes are for everyone? They're sold.

"I think modular building makes sense," Lauri said. "I think yes, I think everybody should be looking at it."

Take a look at ABC7's latest stories and videos about efforts to Build a Better Bay Area.

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