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KB/MSClearly, it's not just the Martha Stewart brand that's succeeding right now in residential real estate. Branding by way of coming up with unique and repeatable ways of adding quality to residences is super hot. The building boom of recent years produced stamped-out and almost universally identical homes — McMansions. I spent part of today with a marble and granite wholesaler and his business is going gangbusters as renovators and home-sellers are trying to put unique touches on their properties that buyers won't get either through a development builder or from the neighbor trying to sell. New paint, carpeting, and stainless steel and granite in the kitchen doesn't cut it any longer. That's all assumed by buyers. What buyers want now are the custom touches, limestone walls and ceiling in the bathrooms with heated floors, floor to ceiling marble on the fireplace wall, heated garages, etc. — which development builders can't do because their designs, supply contracts and assembly line procedures and business models are not equipped for it. So everyone in the renovation business is experimenting, trying to find what works. The discounts available for buying superior building materials in bulk is substantial. Buyers are also no longer impressed by off-the-shelf upgrades they can easily do themselves, steamshowers, LCD TVs, fancy appliances. Buyers are beginning to show a strong preference for workmanship. The skill most in demand, I find, is stone masons, mostly for building or rebuilding real fireplaces. All of the true stone masons I have been privileged to meet were Italian. It is a vocation that has been beaten down for the past several decades. I hope it has a resurgence.


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