Sometimes it’s hard to start over with a completely clean slate. But, with housing, that’s the opportunity and that’s what Veev’s CEO and co-founder Amit Haller did when he launched the company in 2008 and what he has continued to do every day since.
Reimagining housing without the normal dictates of stakeholder operations has allowed Veev to create a new breed of housing with an efficient design and construction process, that is sustainable, that uses minimal labor, and that is high quality at a lower price point.
Some of the country’s largest housing organizations are stuck in decades or centuries old paradigms and cannot move past the relationships with operational processes that include multiple stakeholders and that also fix them to a point in time – basically the early 1800s.
Haller saw that this was handicapping the industry, so he tore it all down to start over. And, with his recent success, attracting funding partners such as BOND, LenX, Zeev Ventures, Fifth Wall, Brookfield Growth and JLL Spark, the company announced the launch of a single family home product.
“The most important asset for a family is the home,” said Noah Knauf, who is a general partner at BOND, an investment group keyed in on generational technology companies. “We looked at every company in the space over the years. Veev was the first time that we felt like the consumer wouldn’t have to make a quality or aesthetic compromise.”
I wrote this story about Veev in 2020, and now catching up with the company again three years later, it has 30 patents pending. Its advancements are more representative of a technology company and not at all like housing companies that have been using the same processes for decades with no change.
Veev headquarters are located in Hayward, CA, with a complementary location in Tel Aviv, putting the R&D team in the position to leverage international ideas and expertise. The name Veev also has global inspiration. It comes from a combination of the Latin, Spanish and French words for “to live.”
Seem like a unicorn? Probably because it is. Veev’s solution is completely unique, as I saw touring the facility.
Breaking Cost Barriers
The new headquarters will serve as its “Digital Fab,” or engineering center and production facility, aiming to deliver 500 homes per year. Through the innovative process of the new facility, a home can be constructed in just 30 days, including on site installation, and with an integrated smart home digital backbone.
One of the most amazing parts of Veev’s approach is its ability to lower cost. All its advanced features are included without a premium in cost, as the homes are priced at parity with the market and the company’s objective is to get below market average.
One way the company is able to manage the final costs of a home is by minimizing labor. With the digital processes in place, Veev is able to rely on skilled workers and doesn’t rely on traditional trades. Then, the onsite installation takes five people and a crane and can be done in four weeks. Currently, homes are shipped within a 150-mile radius to minimize transportation costs.
Jon Jaffe, co-president and co-CEO at one of the country’s largest builders, Lennar, and also an investor in Veev, predicted that it’s possible between 30 and 50% of homes will be built offsite in 5 years. Veev’s new facility is 250,000 square feet, yet it only needs 100,000 square feet to reach its goal of 500 homes per year operating on one shift with 45 people.
“In every other aspect of consumer goods, everything is made in factories,” Knauf said. “Once you figure out how to make it you keep making it the same every time. Homes are crazy to be built on site with a dozen different trades involved intersecting with all the challenges of regulations, inspections and lots of moving parts. It’s crazy to make one home at a time, making mistakes each time and not applying that learning to the next one. Then all the defects and problems are repeated in every single house.”
While Veev can accommodate any type of home design or aesthetic, the design is set in stone up front, so there are no change orders that would add time or cost to the project.
Veev also selected materials that can be used for multiple functions, it reduces options for the buyer, and saves operational expense since there isn’t the need to manage thousands of SKUs, also limiting the supply chain risks.
Going Beyond Innovation Wth Materials
Walking around the demo house feels pretty typical. It’s nice, modern, clean, thoughtful, functional, and soundproof, but that’s just the surface. Going below the surface uncovers its uniqueness.
To simplify and to achieve a higher quality, Veev manufactures glass windows and doors right in the facility, opting to follow the formula of an aluminum framed brand from Greece that uses heavier glass to improve sound and energy insulation. The company’s Laurel Street townhomes are just two blocks from a train station and residents don’t even hear the passing trains.
“There are always tradeoffs on material choices,” Haller said. “The glass we use is thicker, but the acoustic and thermal performance is better, the aluminum casing on the windows has a thermal breaker.”
While I was in the demo home, I pulled the generous sliding glass door shut and its solid feel did not disappoint. Even though it sits on the manufacturing floor, I couldn’t hear anything happening outside the house.
The inside and outside walls, doors, cabinets, countertops, trim and millwork are all high performance substrate. The move away from drywall delivers more environmentally-friendly, longer lasting product. The high performance substrate is the material used for introducing new capabilities, such as 3D printing for cladding that can replicate any texture or design.
For years, drywall has been used because onsite construction demands it as an easy way to correct for lumber frame on site with mudding and taping to smooth out imperfections. It still gets nicked, it gets wet and creates mold, and it’s a porous material that absorbs gases to pathogens.
The most common defects in homes are in drywall and paint, and those don’t exist in this home, Jaffe said, which also results in a lower warranty and a better experience for the buyer.
In the factory we walked past the rolls of light gauge steel used to build the wall panels. If you were using lumber you would need about 40 times more space, Haller said, which is not inconsequential to the manufacturing facility, the handling, and the transportation of the materials. So, the material reduces labor, space and environmental impact.
All of the steel is required by code to have numbers that are translated to the walls. So, if there is ever an issue, and Haller assured me that there is not a high likelihood, anyone can find the coil with the associated number and track it back to its origin. There is no similar code with lumber.
With a home purchase, the homebuyer gets access to an interactive user manual along with a Veev app that gives them the ability to control the home from one central location. And, if you are thinking, “that’s great, there are tons of apps that do that,” then think again. Veev went well beyond the basics.
Co-founder and chief product officer Ami Avrahami demonstrated how a homeowner can use the app to see inside the walls, including where the steel studs are, where the plumbing is, where electric runs – which is a dream for any maintenance work or when trying to find the best place to hang a picture.
This along with the home’s membrane ceiling makes it as close as possible to future proof. The ceilings that look like flat white ceilings, are actually polymer membranes stretched to any shape or size that can be easily pulled back to access the brains of the home, making it a plug and play, and just like a smart device, updates are sent out routinely to enhance what is in place.
Among the other app controls are full access to the LED lighting, including a circadian setting and custom moods unique to different members of the household with scheduled timing.
Veev homes have in-wall HVAC units that allow for a highly customized experience, even zones for every room that homeowners can set to their preferences using the app. Plus, the systems eliminate air ducts and refrigerant lines that might impact the design of the home, and it reduces operating costs.
Cutting Carbon and Waste
“When it comes to housing, people cannot afford to do good by the environment,” Jaffe said. “The homerun here is that it is all built in, you don’t need extras to do good by the environment.”
Veev’s process is able to reduce embodied carbon by 50%, and cut waste by 89% compared to traditional homes that have an average of 9,000 pounds of waste, so that means Veev is reducing it to less than 1,000 pounds. Completely believable as you walk through the manufacturing facility and see just a tiny handful of scraps from a complete panel assembly.
Another way Veev arrives at these sustainability goals is by a new foundation process that doesn’t use concrete, which is increasingly important as the state of California gets closer to banning the use of cement. As that ban takes place and builders are not flexible enough or fast enough to adopt new processes, another supply issue will be created that Veev will be able to fill.
Veev foundations are done with a helical pile that is a giant screw that goes into bedrock and there is a steel substructure, seismic, wind load bearing and simplifies and expedites the process. The system outperforms conventional foundations with flooding and earth movements, and it eliminates the concerns around cracking and curing.
Veev’s intelligent design also maximizes the use of every material. For instance, as mentioned, most of the interior is made with high performance substrate with steel studs all adding up to an R-20 value. So, when a door opening is cut out of a wall, that material is used for the door. If there are other cuts that are made, material from the cuts is used for the door trim, the millwork, or somehow assigned another function.
Digital fabrication starts with simple materials to get to precision, lower labor and higher quality and different technique. Everything is designed in BIM to give the machines a digital, precise instruction on where to make cuts, delivering accuracy to 1/16” with the flexibility to do any type of design.
Looking To The Future
“We have a housing market that desperately needs incremental production capacity,” Knauf said. “Given Veev’s ability to deliver both a high quality home and an affordable price point, the challenge will not be demand, but it will be ramping manufacturing capacity fast enough to make a dent in the housing deficit.”
In the future, the company plans to build a new facility in Texas to serve markets within its shipping radius.
“As much as we are proud of what we have managed to do, this is not a one company play, it’s not even a 100 company play, it is an industry play,” Haller said. “It really needs to be a collaborative effort by everyone in the industry. First and foremost, by the technology players and investors, those who can really press the right levers.”
Knauf believes that the U.S. is at a “Henry Ford” moment—where a huge portion of housing will transition to being built in a factory, and be produced at a higher quality and at a lower cost.
While Jaffe said that the only major advancement in housing over the decades has been indoor plumbing, he believes there is a big opportunity for innovation in the space of sewer and water recycling.
“You cannot be in this business if you don’t have a passion for building homes, the place that people live their lives,” Jaffe said. “This industry has a bigger impact than any other business, because everything happens around the home—it’s where you raise your family, celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, it’s where you nurse someone back to health, it’s where you mourn a loss, go home for holiday dinners.”
He’s driving LenX’s investment in Veev to deliver a better quality home, and at the same time to drive down the price curve to provide homeownership to more and more of the population.