SiliconSage Builders LLC

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SiliconSage Builders identifies markets before they get hot and utilizes an extensive in-house team to discover efficiencies.

By Tim O’Connor

The 1960s were an era of suburban growth. The promise of new economic centers led Santa Clara, Calif., to bulldoze its historic downtown – which had buildings dating back to the 1800s. But the urban renewal that leaders promised never materialized. The city has been without a true downtown for 50 years as developers have tried and failed to gain widespread support for their projects – until now.

SiliconSage Builders is underway with a 44-unit mixed-use condominium building that it says marks the first major project in downtown Santa Clara in 20 years. Sanjeev Acharya, owner and president of SiliconSage, says his company overcame local resistance because it took the time to speak with residents and incorporate their feedback into the final design. The project is now on pace to open in 2018.

“It took a lot of dealing with neighbors where you can win their heart and show them you are doing something that will benefit their community,” Acharya says. “We broke that barrier of mistrust.”

Entering Market

Before entering the real estate business, Acharya spent 20 years developing autopilot software for agricultural combines and harvesters. In 2007, he purchased a property in Sunnyvale, Calif., but soon became concerned it would decline in value as the mortgage crisis gained steam. To offset the impact, Acharya decided to subdivide the property into two homes.

The real estate market crashed before he could build. Banks lending dried up and Acharya couldn’t secure financing to go through with the project. He decided to sit on the property in the hopes that the recession would be short lived. SiliconSage box

But lending was still tight a year-and-a-half later and Acharya decided he could wait no longer. He called friends and asked them to invest in the project, thinking it would take a year to raise the $400,000 to $500,000 he needed. “I never raised money in my life; I was a software engineer,” he says. He got the funding within two weeks.

Acharya had the financial backing but lacked any prior experience with construction, so he instituted checks and balances to ensure the project progressed smoothly – such as having one of his investors, a builder by trade, act as a consultant on the two homes.

His software background gave Acharya a different perspective on the building process. Where others were set in their ways, he saw areas where he could create efficiencies. Experts told him it would take a year to build the two homes on the subdivided property, but he completed the project in six months.

Afterward, Acharya couldn’t wait to start on his next project. “I was completely excited about it,” he says. “I was not stressed out. In fact, I thought I could do better than this.”

By then it was 2011 and Acharya was still working in the software industry. He realized he was doing better than many builders even though it was a side business. Acharya was confident he could make a go at being a full-time builder so he left his job and founded SiliconSage Builders.

Creating an Advantage

The company has since completed eight single- and multi-family home projects and has six more under construction or in the early stages of design. The core team consists of about 60 people, but more than 200 employees work at SiliconSage – most of whom are construction workers. SiliconSage builds about 70 percent of its projects using its own staff, which includes framers, electricians, plumbers and painters.

His large in-house team helps Acharya bring efficiency to the building process, he says. SiliconSage has its own design, construction and sales teams, giving it an edge for highly specialized projects. “We love the integration side of it because we believe we can learn more from our projects and improve efficiency,” he says.

SiliconSage is the largest condominium builder in Silicon Valley. Its visibility in the area will only grow as it expects to add as many as 1,000 units in the next year. That level of aggressive growth becomes even more impressive when considering the high cost of land and housing in Silicon Valley. “One of the reasons we were able to build up quickly is because of our focus on acquiring property and timing,” Acharya explains.

Acharya credits the company’s success in finding sites to its ability to identify markets before they get hot. For example, SiliconSage began buying sites in Santa Clara a year before the San Francisco 49ers began work on Levi’s Stadium. Now it seems every company is building in the San Jose suburb. “By the time we finish our development [other builders] are already under construction or have plans on the drawing board,” he adds.

SiliconSage has also had success pursuing projects that other builders often shy away from. Traditional builders prefer larger lots where they can erect 500 units or more, but SiliconSage goes after 1- to 3-acre properties and compensates for that small space with dense buildings of 50 to 60 units.

Most customers are first-time homebuyers looking for a blend of upscale amenities and affordable pricing. Condominiums typically sell in the $500,000s to $1 million-plus range while townhomes begin in the $800,000s.

“It’s not easy to build high-density projects in the modern era; it gets highly specialized,” Acharya admits. Over the past six years, SiliconSage has proven it is one of the few developers in its market that can see those projects through with consistent success. “Our goal is to eventually become the most efficient builder in this space,” he says.

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