Ah, luxury. For some it’s a car, for others it’s clothes and for still others it’s a sumptuous home that brings them their greatest pleasure.
Not many homebuyers in the Lafayette area can afford a house that costs more than a million dollars. But for those who can, they’re likely to turn to Mark LaBorde Builders, a 25-year-old company focusing on luxury homes, those which typically cost $2-3 million.
“Our homebuyers are looking for a builder who understands their dreams. They’ve got to choose a builder who is as interested in the final product as much as they are. There’s a range between the right way and the wrong way to do build. It’s cheaper in the long run to do it the right way.
“There are a very small number of subs that do really great work, the sort of craftsmen whose fathers taught them their skills. They’re bricklayers, tile layers, flashing people, carpenters. These subs demand higher wages, but they prove you’re gonna get what you pay for,” LaBorde said.
In the luxury home market, details count, Mark noted. “I love the estimating part. It’s an interesting process. It takes a lot of time, a lot of time. Even though I use computer software, it will take about four to six weeks to estimate one of our homes because of the details. We’re dealing with subcontractors who are artisans. We don’t build quick, but we keep the momentum going,” he added.
“My least favorite part of the job is when a customer says ‘I can’t believe it costs this much.’ After I explain the process, the materials, labor, equipment, allowances and the chosen subcontractors to the customer, they find it’s hard to cut things out and usually stay with the original plan.”
The majority of Mark LaBorde Builders’ homes are designed by registered architects, most often by Kevin Gossen of Gossen Architects in Lafayette. “The majority of architects don’t concentrate on residential work as he does. I was very fortunate to develop a great relationship with Kevin and an understanding of his homes at the beginning of his practice. He’s extremely talented and fun to work with,” LaBorde said.
LaBorde and Gossen now have worked together for decades, and occasionally their clients will request that Gossen accompany them on overseas buying trips to help them select the unique details to make their homes spectacular.
Exposed to blueprints and design by his father, a Baton Rouge commercial architect, Mark briefly considered a career in architecture himself. But his father discouraged him because most architectural work is commercial/industrial, and Mark knew he wanted to focus on residential design after studying another Baton Rouge architect while in high school.
When LaBorde was growing up, the legendary A. Hays Town was gaining national recognition for his distinctive residential work. Town’s use of recycled materials, such as bricks, wood flooring, and flagstones, was revolutionary and had a big influence on him, LaBorde said. From the beginning Mark LaBorde Builders has been known for using antique cypress, aged pine wood beams and unique bricks. “I like to say we were building ‘green’ many years ago because of all the recycled materials we used.
“Town studied how people lived in their homes and built houses appropriate for the region” (with large roof overhangs, breezeways and cross ventilation to provide air circulation). “He was a master of proportion, just a phenomenal architect,” LaBorde commented.
Instead of pursuing architecture, Mark focused on building. He believes it takes a really good knowledge of true architecture to be a builder. “A lot of building boils down to good architecture. We have to follow plans to an exact T and make sure everything comes out right.”
To help him get the details right, LaBorde employs a superintendent, an office assistant and three or four trim carpenters. The carpenters work on the job site. “They’ve got it kinda bad. We expect them to build a Mercedes Benz-quality product in the worse weather conditions. They don’t get good working conditions until they get to the very end” [of a project].
Working as a framer and engineer during college, he earned a bachelor’s degree in construction from Louisiana State University. Then right after college he worked in industrial construction. He came to Lafayette in the early 1980s to work for a contractor when he gained more on-the-job training while his wife started an occupational/physical therapy practice. In the next few years he earned a master’s in business administration while going to school at night.
He said he truly believes that God gave him the abilities and talent to be a builder, but he had to develop them and continually sharpen those skills.
He opened Mark LaBorde Builders in 1990. “I was fortunate to start my business doing fine quality homes and to continue in that market. In the beginning the homes were $300,000 and then $500,000, then $1 million, $2 million, $3 million. My biggest project to date was in the eight-figure range,” he said with a note of wonder in his voice.
“I’ve never built spec homes; it’s not my niche. The spec market is driven by price; it’s such a different ballgame. If I built to a certain price, I’d have to change all of my subcontractors because I use the artisans.”
However, he has always done remodeling for selected customers. Even now he will take on small jobs, especially for repeat customers. He typically has two or three remodeling projects in process in addition to two new construction projects.
After 25 years in business, he’s started getting some second-generation customers. He’s also started getting some repeat customers who say they are ready to downsize. However, he’s found that most people don’t really downsize. “They just want a new house. They rearrange. They go sideways,” he chuckled.
During his career he’s built two houses for his family. The house he and his wife live in now is 20 years old. “I’m ready to build a new house, but the kids are revolting. They don’t want us to move. ‘This is the house were raised in.’”
None of their three children is following in their parents’ footsteps. The oldest is an attorney, the second is a certified public accountant and the youngest is planning to go to medical school.
He understands that the children are on their own career paths. “You’d better have a passion for this type of work, especially in the luxury market. It’s 10 and 12-hour days. It never leaves you. I’ll be standing in the shower and wonder if the plumber did what he was supposed to. The only time I shut it down is when I go on vacation.”
Even after 40 years in construction, Mark still enjoys his job. “I really love dealing with customers. It’s fun on the front end and on the back end. It’s like painting a picture, but you start off with dirt. The really fun part is imaging how the family will live in the house.”
He envisions a future where he continues to work closely with an orphanage in Haiti that he has had a small role in developing. He also thinks about being a consultant for builders or homeowners who need someone who is able to see both the architectural and construction sides of a project. At this time he’s not sure how to market his expertise, but that’s years away.
But if the consultancy doesn’t work out, don’t worry about Mark LaBorde keeping busy. He’d love to play more golf!