It made a great story, three years ago. Monique Lombardelli, the enthusiastic real estate broker who not only sold Eichlers as a major part of her business, but worked to preserve and promote them, and even made a movie about Joe Eichler, was about to go one better.
She would build new Eichlers. “What are you,” a colleague asked her, “a reincarnation of Joseph Eichler?”
It was a compelling story, especially to bloggers and writers for shelter magazines and web publications, who ran with it over and over for months.
But, three years down the road, few of these new 'Eichler' homes have joined the existing 11,000 original Eichler homes that Joe Eichler built from the late 1940s to 1974.
But that could change, as potential developers step forward, Monique says. “There are many new inquiries of people in the last months going through their due diligence to build,” she says, adding, “The plan is to build communities of affordable housing.”
Monique, who heads the Palo Alto firm Modern Homes Realty, obtained “exclusive license to reproduce” plans by original Eichler architects Anshen and Allen and some Claude Oakland models. She has about 60 plans available.
“These Eichler home plans are updated to present-day structural engineering, created by a licensed California structural engineer,” her firm states. “Original home plans are digitally redrawn in Autodesk/AutoCAD .dwg format in order to comply with local building codes.”
She has an architect on staff to help buyers adapt plans to their sites and provide other assistance. She has also worked with a building designer.
Monique’s goal was to sell the plans both to individuals who wanted to build their dream homes, and to developers who wanted to build whole tracts.
As of today, however, she is directing more of her efforts towards the latter because, she says, working with individuals just proved too frustrating.
“I have met with around 20 people from here and abroad who could never line up their finances to build or couldn't find land flat enough for an Eichler,” she says. “It has been a lot of work.”
Also, she says, between 2013 and today, the market for Eichlers changed, making it less attractive for buyers to build new Eichlers rather than buy existing ones – in areas, at least, that have Eichlers.
One of the more remarkable aspects of the Lombardelli New Eichler Tale is that several would-be builders of new 'Eichlers' hail from overseas.
“The market is there,” Monique says. “There’s interest in the U.K., Australia,” and there have been discussions with people in France.
Monique, ever upbeat, believes that new 'Eichlers' will be built in the future using her plans, and believes she has already accomplished something by putting the idea out here.
“My satisfaction is, I think a lot more people are talking about Eichler now,” she says. “A lot of developers are thinking we should build something beautiful and not something boring.”
So far, she says, four people have purchased plans, including a man in Australia. Her best customer is Troy Kudlac, whose firm KUD Properties has built three completed and sold Eichler homes in Palm Springs and has two others under construction.
Monique has gotten calls – a man in Saratoga who lived in an Eichler but wanted to build himself a smaller model; someone who wanted a new Eichler in Walnut Creek. One problem early on was, would-be buyers came in without land. Good, flat lots are hard to find in the Bay Area.
“A year ago a developer was going to build them in Portola Valley, but the lot was sloped. You would have needed to build a basement. That’s not going to work,” Monique says.
One potential buyer, Francesca Kautz, says she and her husband “saw three brand-new beautiful Eichlers [built by Kudlac] in Palm Springs during Modernism Week but none of them will fit on our fifty-by-125-foot lot in Palo Alto.”
Another would-be buyer, Peter Hirschberg in Virginia, was moving ahead, and even blogging about his new 'Eichler,' when circumstances required his family to move into a home quickly – so they bought an existing house instead.
One day, though, he vows he will build an Eichler. “I’m the kind of person who strives for the utmost accuracy. When you’re building an Eichler, it’s about the pedigree of the Eichler. I want it to be as if Joseph Eichler had built one in Virginia,” Hirschberg says.
Another customer whose dream fell through is John Wilmer, who wanted to build an Eichler in the Hollywood Hills and couldn’t find a flat lot. So he hired an architect to design a home for the site.
He makes clear one appeal of working with Monique’s plans: “What Monique has going for her, she sells her plan about $10,000,” Wilmer says. “My architect’s fee is $88,0000, but he’ll be there every step of the way – the permits, construction.”
And he credits Monique for inspiration. “Her whole spirit really got me going. I owe a lot to her. The idea of building a new home and not buying [an existing] one."
Monique is turning her attention to a market she believes will succeed with new 'Eichlers,' people like Troy Kudlac. “The only people who have actually moved forward are developers,” Monique says.
She believes that if a developer can build a tract of new Eichlers, or modern homes inspired by Eichlers, at prices at about $1 million, it would do well in the Bay Area. She says two developers have talked about doing just that – in Redwood City, east Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, places where land is less costly. She envisions smaller Eichlers, two or three bedroom.
“Developers always ask, do people really like these [Eichler homes]? I say, ‘Are you kidding?’ They don’t see the force [of the homes’ appeal]. Do you know mid-century modern architecture was the number one [Google] search last year for home buyers?
“I always tell people, the market is definitely there for somebody to build new Eichlers in the Bay Area. It would be so fantastic.”