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A Cup of Coffee with… Otis Orsburn, Hybrid Prefab Homes

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Cup1) Who, What and Where: (Your name and your formal title at Hybrid Prefab Homes and where your organization is based).

My name is Otis Orsburn, President of Hybrid Prefab Homes based in Santa Rosa, California.

2) Background: (Your Educational/Professional snapshot before entering the manufactured/modular/prefab housing arena).

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Otisorsburnhybridprefabhomes dailybusinessnewsprefabricatedmodularhomeindustry mhpronewsOther than being in personnel management while in the Army, my entire career has included the factory-built housing arena. My professional background includes manufactured housing set-ups, service, sales and marketing, management and small business ownership.

I also did a 6-year stint with Silvercrest Homes as General Sales Manager, built subdivisions with manufactured homes and consulted for cities and non-profits that provide affordable housing.

3) When and How: (When and how you began in factory-built housing).

My first adventure was washing the road dirt and removing the running lights from mobile homes as a lot boy in San Jose, California in 1968. Quickly graduated to set ups and service, then obtained my contractors license, performed mobile home structural inspections, obtained VA appraiser certification for manufactured homes, became a MH sales person, sales manager, and then general manager for various dealerships.

I was also President of a very progressive manufactured home dealership that sold over 100 homes per year.

My partners were very open to participating in our industry evolution as well as educating others on the attributes of factory home construction.

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4) What are your personal interests or hobbies? How do you like to spend non-work time?

My wife and I love road trips and dates. We live smack dab in the middle of wine country in the Sonoma Valley of California, a locale that boasts over 400 wineries!

Just over the hill is Napa, so the chances of us discovering every one is miniscule, but we are trying. Our road trips are centered around relaxation and wine tasting. We live in a community with 3 clubhouses, 2 golf courses, a polo field and a fishing pond. Our golf cart gets a lot of use as there are a plethora of activities in our development of 3,500 homes, a close-knit development.

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I enjoy playing my guitar and finding I didn’t lose as many golf balls as my last game.

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5) Your experience spans the gamut of manufactured and modular homes, and more recently, with hybrid homes. Please walk our professional readers through what a “hybrid prefab” style house is, and what attracted you to them.

The hybrid prefab home utilizes the synergy of combining what can best be built in the factory with what can best be built on site. Examples of on-site craftsmanship are dramatic roof lines, articulating building footprints, craftsmanship inspired exterior treatments incorporating large site-built social areas and soaring ceilings that push the hybrid home to another level that is on par with custom traditionally built homes.

My passion for homebuilding using factory cores increases every time another home is finished.

The hybrid prefab home methodology has been readily accepted by traditional construction contractors, investors, lenders and the ultimate homeowner.

Another success is creating and managing the plan set that addresses the entire vertical construction of the home. Historically, this has been the largest dysfunction when building a home that is replete with factory-built nuances that traditional contractors have not dealt with before.

These nuances are viewed as weaknesses because they haven’t been utilized in mainstream construction. After attending my classes for general contractors, these contractors become our spokes people.

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6) What type of feedback have you had from retail home shoppers to these hybrid houses?

Our retail shoppers are typically millennials that embrace technology and are looking for more bang for their buck without sacrificing green, sustainable and energy saving features. They wonder aloud why all homes aren’t built in the hybrid manner.

A large percentage of interest is from spec builders and investors for single lot or small subdivision/townhome projects.

In the past it was impossible for them to compete with production site-built companies that set up their own production lines in the field and have purchasing power due to their large subdivisions.

By placing the majority of construction in the factory setting, these small builders now have the ability to lower their construction costs to compete more effectively.

By removing the parameter limitations of trying to build everything in the factory, completed hybrid homes look and feel like a well-built custom home on the outside as well as the inside. The streetscape choices for hybrid prefab homes are unlimited. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

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7) It is no secret that manufactured homes or even modular housing can be tainted in the public mind as a ‘mobile home’ or as a ‘trailer’ because they are trucked into a job site. While there are significantly fewer modular homes being built today than manufactured homes, nevertheless, when mainstream media is reporting on factory building, they often give more love to modular

Do you see that pattern in reporting? If so, what is your reaction to it?

The pattern has not changed in 30 years. The public today has received some education regarding the construction standards of modular buildings versus the HUD [Code] standards of manufactured homes. Today’s modular factories and contractors exploit the fact that their construction model is on par with local traditional construction.

In California, John Q. Public typically perceives HUD Codeto be less than normal. They tour a factory to see 2×2 roof trusses and 2×3 interior walls. This is one reason modular proponents and media spend the time to differentiate the two levels of construction.

For our hybrid prefab clients, we have experienced a profound deterioration of confidence when we walk them through a factory that has manufactured homes in production and have decided that factory tours should only be scheduled when the modular product is in line.

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I can see the retribution coming from these comments, but want to say that it is tough to have the client see the HUD Code home in production at the factory and attempt to explain that the hybrid prefab is not built the same.

HUD Code homes have a great construction story, but we haven’t figured out how to interlace them with modular in the factory very well yet.

Updating the general perception of manufactured homes should be a never ending process for all us. Pick up the classified ads in just about any newspaper today and check the section where manufactured homes are for sale. The section is almost always titled “mobile homes” and there isn’t a single “mobile home” in the listings. They are all manufactured homes.

There needs to be a concerted, activist effort that once and for all convinces the managers of these news purveyors to bring their advertising nomenclature current.

When speaking with newspaper management, responses I have received are that the public has a better idea of what a mobilehome is than a manufactured home is.

The public clinging to the lowest common denominator as their idea of today’s manufactured home is why companies that are utilizing modular construction are doing their best to distance themselves from this old outdated vision.

(Editor’s Note: Orsburn is of course correct in saying that perception naturally influences people. However, the truth well told matters too. For those readers who don’t yet know that manufactured homes are built to a performance standard that makes them dynamically equivalent to conventional onsite construction, see this video interview with the expert, linked here.)

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8) As noted in the previous (#7) question, because modular builders don’t want to be thought of as mobile or manufactured homes, some tend to ‘put down’ their factory-built housing cousins. Editorially, MH ProNews has taken the position that no entry level computer or car maker that also builds a more expensive line of luxury cars or high end computers puts down the entry level side; so why do some in the modular side of the factory-built home industry feel the need to disrespect ‘mobile homes’ or manufactured housing? Aren’t we as factory-built home professionals wiser to elevate all of factory-built housing, and then go into the nuances from there? Give us your feedback to that analogy, please.

In my experience it has never been advantageous to speak negatively about other product to persuade the prospect to consider yours.

My job is to listen to my client’s vision and guide them through education of the attributes of what we offer based on what their vision might be. They make their own decisions.

9) How do hybrid prefab homes compare price and value wise with conventional construction in your market?

Single family hybrid homes have generally been constructed at 75 to 85 percent of traditional construction costs. The construction timeline at 50 to 60 percent is very favorably viewed.

The value of knowing what the structure will cost before it is built is well received too.

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10) What kind of applications or settings do you believe that hybrid construction makes the most sense? In what price points or applications do you think some other form of construction might make more sense than hybrid building?

In California, hybrid homes have quite a few applications. Single family, granny units, duplexes, townhomes and apartments can be competitively built.

The most successful locations are higher cost housing areas of which California has many. The bay area, coast cities, the central coast and city infill are prime markets. Price points for single family homes generally start at $145 per square foot for vertical construction.

11) New energy standards are coming in California in the next few years. How are builders reacting to those standards?

Everyone I talk to is grumbling except those generating the new standards. There doesn’t seem to be much weight given to the cost versus return on investment.

Californians are literally being priced out of homeownership opportunities today.

Putting a family into a home should have more weight than adding more R-value into the insulation. Local jurisdictions all preach that they want affordable housing, but when it comes working on how to accomplish this, energy standards advocates have shown no mercy.

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12) You’ve won a number of honors and recognitions over the years. Please share with our readers a good sense of your accomplishments, as recognized by others.

As a member of our state organization, the California Manufactured Housing Institute (CMH I), I served as chairperson for two terms, headed a State Task Force for manufactured housing and organized regional meetings educating local government about the advantages of manufactured homes and how to incorporate them into their housing plans.

This included professional videos.

I was also honored to receive CMH I’s Jack E. Wells award as industry person of the year and receipt of two Chairman awards.

Two of my subdivisions were awarded the best in the nation by MH I, and they also recognized my company as developer of the year.

Both federal and state government bestowed Innovation in Housing Technology awards and over the last 5 years my last endeavor included 8 awards by MH I for homes that were the best in their class for modular construction.

My current venture includes consulting for a 167 unit subdivision utilizing hybrid construction that is currently getting ready to begin joint trenching with modules arriving in Spring 2017.

I have been invited to speak at many regional housing organizations as well as giving classroom instruction to licensed general contractors seeking to utilize hybrid prefab construction. State regulators, lenders, and realtors have attended these classes too.

13) We recently did an article that reflects the incredible international growth in factory-built housing. Why do you think that America – where first pre-fab and later manufactured and modular styles of factory building really got a strong start – has been slow to re-embrace this proven and common sense solution to a growing affordable housing crisis?

While I have seen news like your article reveal the many projects popping up around the globe, America has their share of accomplishments and I expect with the ascending economy that we will remain the leader in factory-built construction.

Getting the news out via MH ProNews and other major news publications is the key. Keep up the great work!

14) When it comes to your involvement in industry news and functions, do you keep up with manufactured and modular housing news, focus more on system building and pre-fab news, all of the above? Do tell, and explain why.

The industry I am in is housing. I love to read anything that is shelter related. The fact that I specialize in the factory-built sector does catch my attention when the news is about this, but I believe my success comes from experiencing the entire shelter industry and applying this to the specialty of hybrid prefab homes.

It is my goal to become even more involved in industry functions to share and learn of the successes that companies of like disciplines have attained.

Learning never ends. Sharing one’s experience so that others may succeed is very rewarding.

15) Design flexibility is one advantage of a hybrid home building. Please share some images and information that will give readers a clear idea as to why hybrid prefab homes makes sense in certain applications and customer profiles.

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16) When you do this form of building, is it fair to say that there is a blend of GC kinds of duties as well as the types of details that modular or manufactured home builders may encounter? Please lay that out for us.

Have you ever heard fish where the fish are?

There are so many more general contractors out there than there are MH set up companies.

I figure if I design a product that the typical GC understands, they are more apt to want to build my hybrid prefab homes.

The result is a large pool of contractors available in many areas. Instead of having to rely on someone with hydraulic jacks, rollers, trans lifts and other MH specialty equipment, I favor cranes where the module is just lifted and placed on the foundation.

I teach the nuance of bringing multiple sections together, removing crane slings, understanding ceiling height differences between the factory constructed portion and the site-built portion, and a few other considerations that bring the factory-built portion in line with general construction practices.

Minor modifications in the factory that help ease site-built integration without disturbing the production line are top considerations. I have easily tripled construction capacity in the field while still using MH contractors where special equipment is needed.

17) Give us a sense of your management style. How do you like to tackle a problem? What do you try to do to capitalize on an opportunity? How do you prefer to create a good, productive team environment?

I rely on continuous learning, allowing my team to make decisions, and believe true success isn’t measured by what you do right, but how you handle a situation when things do not go as planned.

I ask that before presenting a problem, give thought to solutions.

This creates a true team environment that everyone feels vested in. When you catch someone doing something right, tell them.

I have been in environments where all people talk about are the problems and not enough is said about accomplishments. Create team goals that are written and achievable. Ask team members to create personal goals too, not just in business, but in their personal life. Have something to look forward to tomorrow.

18) Closing thoughts, sir?

I am honored to be able to participate in this Cup of Coffee chat with you and your readers.

Providing homes for families is very rewarding for one’s soul and our passion or lack thereof shows whether we like it or not. Innovation happens every day and we should strive to align with those great minds and do our utmost to be one of them.

Share your successes, there is enough market for everyone.

Cheers! ##

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