In 2009, tech entrepreneur couple Andrea Chavez and Daniel Putterman decided they wanted to leave San Francisco for a more rural area, but weren’t quite ready to give up city living. “We were addicted to an urban environment,” Putterman says. “But we wanted to have the freedom and beauty” of the countryside.

They hit on Mill Valley, a city 14 miles into Marin across the Golden Gate Bridge, with a population of 15,000 people. “It’s 20 minutes from north San Francisco,” says Chavez, whose most recent startup is Pawscout, a digital pet tag. “We had offices in San Francisco for a while, and the commute was shorter than when we lived in the city.”

They purchased a 1.45-acre lot on a mountainside in 2011 and hired architecture firm Quezada to draw up plans for a 5,000-square-foot, five-bedroom, five-and-a-half-bath main house and a separate guest house.

“We began work with [Quezada principals] Alfred and Cecilia on Day 1 to get through the initial planning process,” says Putterman, whose newest company, Kogniz, uses machine learning to analyze security camera footage. “You have to invest quite a bit in design;  one factor was our living environment and aesthetic choices.” The other was to make sure it was congruent with the rest of the neighborhood. Most nearby houses are similarly low-slung and—because most the nearby lots lean into the mountainside—both private and unobtrusive.

That planning and permitting stage took close to a year; it would take four years for the couple and two young children to move into the house. “There was a solid year of land reconfiguration and then two years of property build. We didn’t move in until 2015,” Putterman says, echoing a lament familiar to anyone who’s tried to build a house from scratch. “It took longer than we anticipated.”

Nine years after buying the land, the family plans to relocate and is listing the property for $12.9 million with Josh Burns of Sotheby’s International Realty.

“I can say when we transact this property, we will not be making a significant profit,” Putterman says. “We invested at an extreme level and did the high-end of everything.”

An Underground City
The property is located on a hillside. After plans for the home were approved, the first step was to modify the landscape.

“It would have been easier to locate the house closer to the street,” Chavez says. “But then you wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the views and the big lot. So we ended up with this huge project with a long driveway and tons of retaining walls.”

For all the effort that went into it, surprisingly little of the mountain was removed, Putterman says. “Neighborhoods are always worried about how much dirt you’re carrying off, but we took almost none.” It was a matter of “reconfiguring it,” he continues. “If you did an X-ray of the hillside you’d see extensive drainage, diverting water to different parts of the land. It’s like an underground city.”

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