The Conrado Company Inc.
The Conrado Company Inc., dba Conrado Home Builders, has been a leading builder of custom homes since 1988. Based in Saratoga, California, the company builds high-end homes in one of the country’s most lucrative housing markets — Silicon Valley. Building homes in the $3 to $4 million range, Conrado turns the Valley’s ample supply of tech dollars into custom-built homes complete with the latest features and amenities.
As a custom homebuilder, Conrado does not do any design-build work, but rather relies on an expansive, trusted network of architects and subcontractors to help deliver clients their dream home. In less than three decades, Conrado has built over 80 estates, with 10 more under construction and nine still in the planning stages.
Coming from a background in business and civil engineering, Conrado founder Paul Conrado has 31 years of experience as an estimator, leading him to take a different approach to the building process than most of his competitors. While Conrado does not bid on projects against other builders, the company still acts as if it’s vying for work over a competitor.
“Our bid process on a job takes six weeks because we will go out and get 80 or 90 bids from subcontractors and write out the scope of work for every trade on the job,” says Paul. “Other guys don’t do it like this; they make up numbers and just hope, but we don’t hope about anything.”
Founded amid the housing market collapse of the late ‘80s, Conrado has internalized the lessons of that era and now relies on lean business practices to assure the continued success and liquidity of the business. “We have a lot of cash on hand because we are never going to run out of cash again after ’88,” says Paul. During the recession the company’s volume dropped by half, but Conrado was still able to retain all but one employee by switching to a four-day week and halving his own salary.
Today Conrado is truly a family affair; Paul’s wife, Libby Conrado, serves as part owner and chief financial officer while their daughter, Colleen Ferguson, runs the company’s home maintenance services company, Conrado HomeCare.
While the housing market suffered from the recent recession, Conrado’s rarefied client base did not feel the pinch as acutely as others, which kept the company busy during a historically slow time in the industry. “It really hit us in ’09, but by January 2010 we started to grow again and we’ve been growing ever since,” says Paul. Again Conrado attributes the company’s resilience during tough times to its ample supply of capital. “The amount of cash on hand we have to survive these emergencies is way more than most other people have,” he says.
From home building to home care
Based on the western edge of the Silicon Valley, Conrado serves a relatively small, but extremely lucrative geographical area extending north to Atherton and south to Almaden Valley and parts of San Jose, California. This strategically small reach ensures that Conrado can offer every client the quickest, most efficient service. “By limiting our area to a small space, we make sure we can take care of people. If you do work outside of your geographical footprint, you can’t provide that top-notch service,” says Paul.
The limited geographical scope also ensures that Conrado can continue to use the same trusted team of subcontractors that it has developed strong relationships with over the years. This is particularly important as Conrado subs out every aspect of each job, acting mostly as a project manager. “We have a very robust sub list of about 500 subs that we can draw from,” Paul explains. “We have qualified and vetted subs in every trade and there are probably 60 trades in the average home.”
Conrado maintains strong relationships with its subcontractors by making sure they are paid for their work quickly and consistently. “Cash flow is everything in construction — they love us because we bill every two weeks and we pay every two week,” he says. Established in 2005, Conrado’s HomeCare division is one unique service offered by the company. Described by Conrado as “a concierge service for homes,” HomeCare can be called upon to perform a range of basic home maintenance tasks, from changing a lightbulb to sealing a crack in the driveway or unclogging a toilet, and says it goes to show the level of trust the company has established with its client base. “Because we have this subcontractor base that is vetted and presentable, people trust us to go into their homes and fix things for them. I don’t know how many homes we have keys for,” he says.
While the HomeCare division only accounts for 8 percent of Conrado’s volume, it has the added benefit of growing client trust and leading to referrals. “It keeps our name out there; you can’t find contractors out there to do this kind of work because there is not a huge amount of money in it, but we are large enough that we have this division that can just focus on small things” says Paul.
Building for the future
From 2,200-square-foot jewel boxes to 16,000-square-foot luxury estates, Conrado has completed a litany of high-profile homes and remodels over the last 28 years. Some recent project highlights include the Saratoga Hilltop Contemporary.
Designed by Louie Leu Architect, the 12,000-square-foot single-family home nestled in the Saratoga Hills took three years to complete and offers unparalleled views, a guest house, 85-foot infinity pool and large garden.
Like all of Conrado’s projects, the European- and Asian-influenced Saratoga Hilltop Contemporary features a rooftop array of photovoltaic panels, which drastically reduce the home’s energy consumption off the grid. The home also features its own well — a vital amenity in water-strapped California. “We drilled a well and installed a reverse osmosis system, so it’s basically bottled water coming out of every fixture” says Paul.
The company took its energy efficiency practices one step further when it came to designing the Palo Alto Net Zero Energy Craftsman. The 100-percent electric home generates all of its own power and features rooftop solar panels, and has been constructed to exceed California’s Title 24 requirements for energy efficiency. Radiant floor heating, natural vegetation and an underground cistern that recycles rainwater further boost the project’s environmental cred.
When Conrado isn’t busy building some of the Palo Alto area’s finest homes, he is bottling his own wine and olive oil. As a winemaker with 25 years of experience, Conrado both runs his own winery where he produces wine from his own vineyard as well as making wine from 10 to 12 local area vineyards.
“We don’t sell our wine, we give it all to charity or use it for marketing purposes,” he says. Conrado also throws an annual bottling party, bringing together a range of clients, friends and acquaintances for a big part that has led to more than one new project. “I’ve probably gotten six or seven jobs due to the winery alone and planted about 10 vineyards at clients’ houses,” he says.
Having earned a reputation as trusted name in one of the nation’s most lucrative housing markets, The Conrado Company Inc. is sure to remain a leader in providing high-end houses and driving innovation alongside its customers in Silicon Valley.
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