What if you could buy a new home built to your specifications, ready to live within a quarter of the time it would normally take to build a new one, while leaving half the carbon footprint of other builders?
As Americans strain under the weight of housing shortages, an Israeli company founded and led in San Mateo, California, Lviv, promises to do just that, reshaping prefab construction by inventing new ways to assemble homes faster, greener, and more efficiently than many types of building methods. other.
One of the very few unicorns in the building technology space, Veev started in 2008 as just another real estate asset manager. Switched about five years ago, changing its name from Dragonfly Group along the way. Today, it is building a number of high-end projects in Northern California, and is looking to begin scaling larger projects in the southern part of the Golden State as well as Texas. The company pulled a $400 million investment in March to expand its U.S. operations and boost its 100-person research and development team in Tel Aviv.
While the materials used to build homes have changed over time, many other aspects of the building process have remained the same for hundreds of years. The heavily fragmented process involves bringing in at least a dozen subcontractors and about 200 workers on a typical job, each dealing with a different aspect of the home, from excavation to carpentry, and from lighting to landscaping. Each trade has its own building materials and schedules. In the best case scenario, they are each interested in providing top-notch work for their jigsaw piece but not looking at the project as a whole.
The founders of Veev spent years researching innovations in the market and rethinking the process of building a home.
Prefab homes have been a part of the American landscape for nearly a century and throughout the world. The ready-made housing market is currently valued at $153.7 billion by 2026, with the highest demand in the United States and China, followed by Japan, Canada and Germany. The North American market is growing at 2% annually, and is currently estimated at $10 billion annually, with 934 companies operating in the industry.
But prefab homes also suffer from the stigma of being cheap, affordable and inferior to on-site homes. Veev has turned that idea on its head: The company claims that by vertically integrating the homebuilding process and building much of it in-plant, it can deliver a high-quality, cost-effective and sustainable home faster than the competition.
Veev does this by pre-constructing the walls of the homes in their factory, including plumbing and wiring, and installing wall finishes. The panels, which can be easily customized, are then transported to the construction site, where they are assembled together like Lego blocks.
Veev forms its walls from a steel aluminum frame with a high-performance deck commonly used to build hospital surgical suites.
The company says the resulting panels are stronger than traditional walls, and can be woven and printed to finish, allowing them to replace granite, wood cladding, terracotta or bathroom tile. It is described as maintenance free, completely mold and odor resistant, requires no painting, and has built-in soundproofing.
Veev says her method reduces construction costs, waste, and risks associated with projects that take a long time to complete (which also increases costs). With architectural plans in mind, the company builds a digital twin, shaping homes down to every square centimeter before moving a single piece of land.
Site inspection is reduced to a minimum as building blocks are checked and signed prior to assembly. Veev’s chief revenue officer and co-founder Davna Akiva told The Times of Israel that these changes allowed them to reduce their carbon emissions by 47% compared to conventional construction and create homes that can be lived more sustainably using lower voltage circuits and smarter air conditioning.
Veev takes her strides at a time when the United States has been troubled by a shortage of housing stock, as builders struggle to keep up with a labor shortage. The company’s projects, which would have to be near a wall factory to be cost-effective, were located in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the projects hardest hit by the shortage.
With rapid construction, Veev and other companies doing prefabrication have positioned themselves as a potential solution to the crisis.
In 2020, Veev was awarded a contract to build 78 emergency housing units—each with one bedroom and access to a common area—in San Jose, California, for people in the city experiencing homelessness. Proponents of the project, including Governor Gavin Newsom, have touted the project’s speed and low cost for the units: The city said they cost $85,000 each, down from $700,000 for an apartment that takes years to build with normal costs.
“San Jose is showing how we can build housing in four months – where it previously took four years – at record cost to develop. This will become a national model for saving lives and rebuilding communities,” Mayor Sam Licardo said in October 2020.
But in the rush to finish homes and avoid cost overruns, Viv has been accused of cutting corners regarding safety, inspections and labor practices. Among other things, the city claims that Veev still owes workers hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages.
However, most of Veev’s projects are not in public housing, but rather luxury multi-million dollar homes, built in partnership with private developers.
In mid-April, the seven-bathroom, five-bedroom, 5,400-square-foot (500 square meter) Veev home in Palo Alto was back on the market for $8.5 million (down from the $9.2 million it had listed for several months last year). In neighboring San Carlos, a one-bedroom apartment in a building being built by Veev is listed for more than $1 million.
In an interview with Haaretz in late 2020, the founders of Veev acknowledged that their approach costs to build were roughly 20% higher than luxury buildings in Israel, while their retail price could be nearly double that.
Those prices may drop as Veev looks to expand into larger projects with thousands of units in lower-cost markets, particularly Southern California and Texas. Entering these markets will first mean building a production plant nearby, which will increase efficiency and can lower costs.
According to Veev co-founder Ami Avrahami, when asked about the direction of the company before the latest funding round, the company has so far moved away from both commercial real estate and high-rise construction, feeling that the greatest market growth potential for its ability to combine computerized product lines with customization lies in the residential space.
It also has no plans to enter the Israeli market, where housing prices continue to rise and construction costs are also rising.
Veev isn’t the only company innovating home building methods. California-based Factory_OS uses some similar technologies, albeit with an emphasis on cost savings. An Australian company allows home buyers to design and order a prefab home online, which is then shipped to them. At least two US companies are promoting 3D-printed homes. Others are coming up with new technologies that are transforming other aspects of housing construction.
And of course there is the traditional home building industry.
According to Akiva, competition comes from both traditional builders and other innovators, along the development and construction chain. “But we are the ones who reduce the unpredictable and build homes that don’t age,” she said. “Veev has reimagined the way homes are built, and made them a better place for the people who live in them.”