By Kathy Bowen Stolz
“We began with building one spec house, and business has really grown from there,” said Earl Lattier, Sr., who started the company in 1992 with his late wife Paulette and son Earl Lattier, Jr., after years of working in the oil fields. They focused on building quality homes from the beginning. “We do quality work, not quantity. We base our reputation on it,” Earl, Sr., said.
And having that reputation for building quality products pays off regularly. Not only do their clients refer the Lattiers to their friends and families, but also some of their clients come back as repeat customers. It’s not unusual for Louisiana Classics to build a first home and then a second or third for clients. Sometimes the clients are upgrading and expanding their homes, and other times the clients are downsizing after their children leave home.
The Louisiana Classics’ team builds 12-14 houses each year, with 5-7 of those under construction at any given time. While most of those homes are pre-sold custom homes, the company also builds one or two spec homes at the same time “just to keep our name out in the public,” Earl, Sr., said.
In addition to Earl, Sr., and Earl, Jr., the company team includes architect David Hamer, and bookkeeper/design assistant Germaine Lattier, the second wife of Earl, Sr., whom he married in 2008.
Their homes average $250,000 – $300,000 these days, a step above the average cost of a starter home in the Lafayette area, Earl, Sr., said. But he said the company still likes building starter homes for young families in the $200,000 range.
“We build any style of home the customer wants. Whether it is a big or small house, the challenge for us is to please the customer from start to finish. We work with them and make recommendations to fit their needs and budget. If there is something we can do to make it better, then we do it,” the senior Lattier said.
All of Louisiana Classics’ homes are “truly customized” for individual homebuyers. “Customers come to me and tell me what they want. I set up a meeting with my architect, and from their ideas we design their desired home,” Earl, Sr. said. The Acadian and Southern Traditional styles remain local favorites.
One homebuyer requested an extremely open floor plan, which created its own challenges. “There was no wasted square footage in the house, which caused the framing to be a unique challenge.” The company used antique beams to bear the load of the structure while creating a design element at the same time.
But the most challenging house during his 25 years of building is a plantation home fashioned in the style of a Hayes Town design that the Laittiers built for the Nauman family. “The Naumans’ house was full of obstacles because of the style and the way it was built.” Located in the Broussard area, the house was built on a dirt pad six feet off the ground. “We did a post tension foundation on the top of this six-foot, compacted, elevated pad. The prep work for the foundation was a real challenge.”
Another challenge in the Naumans’ house was the floors. The home’s interior contains old, rough-cut, 9- and 10-inch-wide antique heart pine wood floors.
But Louisiana Classics is up to challenges. In a different project, the homeowner requested that the new house incorporate cypress cabinets made from the barn of the homeowner’s great-grandfather. That barn was located in the Maurice area. “They tore down the barn, brought it to our cabinet maker. He straight-lined and planed the cypress to make the cabinets,” Earl, Sr., noted with pride.
Earl, Sr.,’s role in the company is to meet with the customers and to work with the budget and pricing of each home. “Everybody has a budget, and after meeting with the homebuyers a few times, I know what that budget is. When we start off, we have, to the best of our knowledge, a construction estimate of what the structure will cost. From previous experience we are able to help the customer stay within their price range.”
Earl, Jr., focuses on working with the subcontractors. “We work closely with the different subcontractors and clients on a daily basis. We stay on top of each job so we don’t lose any time. We plan for the next group of subcontractors to join in and complete their portion of the project,” Earl, Sr., said.
“We’ve used many of the same subcontractors for almost 20 years. It took us about six years to put this group together, and we would put them up against anybody. They work well with us and with our customers,” he stated.
“My son and I go to each building site sometimes three or four times a day. If there’s something we can do to make [a house] better, then we do it. Successful completion of a customer’s dream home is not just the effort of the contractor; it’s the effort of each sub in their specialized field. Our goal is to leave a satisfied customer at the end of every project.
“We pretty much cater to the customers throughout the whole process, especially with the finishing touches,” Earl, Sr. added. One of the things that the Lattiers do to keep their customers satisfied is to have the homebuyers create a punch list of items that need attention after they’ve received their certificate of occupancy. After they’ve been in the house for six to nine months, the Lattiers return, touching up paint and such that may have been damaged during the finish trim process. After the air conditioning draws the humidity from a house, drywall seams may also need to be touched up, he added.
Additionally, “We pride ourselves on the cleanliness of the job site. Cleanliness leads to better safety, and our customers appreciate the effort,” Earl, Sr. noted.
Earl, Sr., and Germaine live in a Louisiana Classics’ home – in fact, it’s the fifth one of the houses that he’s built that he’s occupied. They use their own home as a showcase for clients. “We meet them all there and walk them through the house to show the quality of work we do.” The clients appreciate being able to see the full-size examples of their work, he added.
Earl, Sr., loves the building process, taking a house from start to finish. “I’ve always wanted to build. I should have been doing this my whole life. I love it.”