Dacoda Homes builds energy-efficient luxury homes that combine traditional and modern designs, and tie in natural elements of the Pacific Northwest. By Tim O’Connor
Eric Lubert’s interest in the construction business began as a child. His father built every home his family lived in growing up, and Lubert enjoyed watching him pace the work sites and interact with the subcontractors. “I could really see his passion for the process and design, as well as the business side of things,” Lubert says.
That fascination with homebuilding stuck with Lubert through adulthood. In college, he majored in construction management, and his first job out of school was for a large production builder in Detroit. But several years later, the Great Recession hit and Detroit was among the cities hit hardest by the mortgage crisis.
Lubert saw the region’s construction market collapse, so he looked for cities where there was still opportunity. Seattle, a hotbed for high-tech firms such as Amazon and Microsoft, resisted the economic downturn better than most other markets, and Lubert headed to the Emerald City, landing a job for a smaller builder specializing in environmentally efficient spec homes.
At the new company, Lubert began to discover that small builders are often incubators for great ideas, but tend to lack the experience and resources needed to pull them off. The large production builder he began his career with had the opposite problem: It was more efficient and better at managing projects, but its sheer size made innovation difficult.
Lubert saw an opportunity to pull from the best of both experiences and formed his own company, Dacoda Homes, in 2015. Dacoda Homes aims to meld the efficiencies of a large builder with the creativity and passion of a small firm, delivering spec and custom green luxury homes in an urban environment.
Bringing efficient processes to the small builder structure requires good planning and foresight. That’s made more difficult because of Seattle’s building boom. Seattle had 62 construction cranes up at the end of 2016, according to Rider Levett Bucknall, a consultancy firm that maintains a count of cranes in major cities, making the city the crane capital of the United States.
All that activity is creating a shortage of available contractors to work on projects. Lubert leans on relationships he established with loyal subcontractors earlier in his career, allowing Dacoda to move forward while competing homebuilders must wait for construction schedules to clear. “There’s a lot of building going on and there really aren’t enough qualified trade partners to get the work done,” he says. “So having those relationships is a huge plus.”
Seattle is a market with several unique challenges. It’s a mature city, bordered on one side by water, and on the others by mountains and national parks. Little open land remains available and the lure of high-tech jobs has hiked the cost of property.
Underlying all that is a tension between the natural architectural style of Seattle’s established neighborhoods and the clashing look of the modern, geometric homes popping up in the market. Together, those factors are creating a complex environment for homebuilders to navigate.
Dacoda’s projects are designed to bridge those requirements. Its latest project, located in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood, blends mid-century modern design with Pacific Northwest elements, and features a hip roof, cedar wood touches and front-facing stonework. “We don’t want local in the neighborhoods we build in to feel like we’re coming in and throwing down something without consideration,” Lubert says.
“The goal is to create something that’s not just efficient and modern, but great to look at,” says Alison Lubert, his wife and business partner.
Dacoda is projected to complete 15 to 20 homes in neighborhoods across Seattle in 2017. The high price of the real estate market, coupled with Dacoda’s focus on green building and smart home technologies, puts the company firmly in the luxury market. Single-family houses start at around $1.6 million and its multi-family projects range between $700,000 and $1.2 million, but Lubert says there is no upper limit to the price range Dacoda works in.
Demand for new housing in Seattle continues to grow and Dacoda is poised to expand alongside the market. Lubert embraces the opportunities but wants to be careful the company won’t lose his personal touch even as it ramps up to 20 projects annually. He plans to hire a project manager to help with the increased load, but wants to remain involved in each home to ensure it retains the small details and touches that sets Dacoda homes apart.
“We want to grow, but I don’t want to get to the point where I’m not involved or able to provide exceptional service to our clients,” Lubert says. “Every week I’m at all the sites. We don’t get into projects and hand them off to a superintendent.”
“It’s exciting and it’s challenging, but the challenge makes it interesting,” Alison Lubert adds. “We’re really a part of a transformation of the city and we have a real passion for doing that responsibly and thoughtfully.”